Waiting for Inspiration

Garden Inspiration - Guenette photo

The days slip by since my last post and my blog views fall into the basement of the stats page as I wait for inspiration to come a calling. Lest it seem I sit still and attempt to drag that inspiration out of the air, nothing could be further from the truth. My hours and mind have been active with many things.

The rain has come to our corner of the earth. Yesterday, I was out on my recumbent, stationary bicycle making my way towards Sayward on my imaginary journey across Canada and the rain was coming down so hard beyond the covered deck, I simply couldn’t believe I was staying dry. Recovery on my injured knee is going well. I can now ride thirty minutes at a stretch virtually pain free.

Proofreading - google imageI’m proofreading Maelstrom and making incredibly important though picky changes while ensuring that I don’t mess something else up. The mistake in the little Google graphic to the left says it all about what one is up against at this stage of book production. The process is time consuming and draining. Bruce reminds me once again that cement is an ingredient in concrete and thus there is no such thing as a cement dam. Thanks … really … I mean it.

 

Home preserving is going on at a steady clip. An abundance of tomatoes and a large gift bag of apples turned into five-alarm chutney and the most amazing Yellow Tomato Marmalade. If you are a marmalade fan, give this recipe a try. And don’t be limited by not having yellow tomatoes. I chose a selection of not-quite-ripe, on their way from green to red tomatoes and they worked out perfectly. Bruce says he’s not a big marmalade fan but this stuff is definitely bringing him into the fold.

Yellow Tomato Marmalade - Guenette photo

Yellow Tomato Marmalade

· 4 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes (I sieved mine to make sure they weren’t too juicy)

· Rind and juice of one large lemon (I added the juice and rind of a small lime to make things interesting)

· 6 cups of sugar

· 1 bottle or package of Certo ( I used crystals rather than liquid and it worked fine)

· Optional: I added some chopped crystallized ginger in one batch and it added a nice flavour.

Cook tomatoes, covered, for ten minutes without water. Add lemon rind, juice and sugar. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring constantly. Boil hard for one minute. Turn off the heat. Add Certo and stir vigorously for 5 minutes. Bottle in sterile jars. Makes 3 pints.

Now, as to that chutney – next time I will not follow exactly a recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon of dry mustard and 1 teaspoon of cayenne. But on a lentil daal with sour cream, this chutney is going to rock.

Grouse in the Apple Tree - Guenette photo

On alternative days from stationary bike riding, I get out around the place for walks. Greta the Grouse has been a constant companion. In the picture above, I caught her up in the apple tree. She’s great company except for those times we startle each other. Then she fluffs herself up like a stuffed version of a grouse and makes a racket that has me thinking I’m about to be run over by a bear. It is easy to see in the picture below how one could almost walk right over a grouse and not see it. They blend into the background like one of those crazy Waldo pictures.

Grouse - Guenette photo

A recent purchaser of the Crater Lake Series checked in the other day to say that she couldn’t put the books down once she had started reading. She went right through the whole series and said the stories were addictive. I love the feedback. What writer worth her salt wouldn’t enjoy knowing someone couldn’t put her books down?

Well, there you have it. Inspiration decided to show up this fine Sunday morning. As Milton Berle is quoted as saying,

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

I wish each of you the best of luck with all your September projects and endeavours. And may inspiration crawl through a window if you can’t knock out a door.

Garden Friday–Summer’s Stars

Montbrecia - Guenette photo

Dirty hands, iced tea, garden fragrances thick in the air and a blanket of colour before me. Who could ask for more? (Bev Adams – Mountain Gardening.)

Our garden star this week is Montbrecia. We were given bulbs for this plant a few years ago and had retained no memory of what it was or how it would bloom. (Though I’m sure we were told.) Last year, these amazing fronds appeared drooping with gorgeous, flute-shaped, brilliant, orangey-red blossoms. This summer, the plant is even more of a show-off. The hummingbirds are in love with it and the whole patch is like a war zone as the buzzing little creatures zoom in and out.

I resolved to find out what the heck we had growing out by our bean trellis. Many thanks to Maggie Flostrand. She gave us the bulbs as well as reminding me of the name. Lovely in flower arrangements but invasive. Her words – I was always very brutal with keeping them cut back. Lucky for us, we have the space to push bits and pieces of invasive plants to the edges. Point in fact – our hearty little (so far) patch of bamboo growing on the cliff.

And here’s another tidbit that I picked up from a Facebook contact. Montbrecia is considered quite a pest in Australia. Maybe their version of Broom? Thus proving the point that any blooming thing can take on weed status when it grows where it shouldn’t.

pattypan squash

Sharing the spotlight with the Montbrecia, is the Patty Pan squash. (I got this picture from Google because we ate ours too fast to photograph.) These little summer squash had Bruce and I reflecting and lamenting on lost gardening knowledge. We have one plant that is filled with patty pans. A few had fallen off and we wondered if they could be eaten that small. Going off to trusty old Google, I discovered that one is supposed to pick Patty Pan Squash when it is between one to four inches in diameter or in other words – small. Dah … our parents and grandparents would have been well aware of how to deal with this colourful vegetable. Thank you Grandma Google.

Last night we had steamed Patty Pan Squash with butter and fresh, chopped basil. In a word – delicious.

Yearlling bear - Guenette photo

And, of course, what would a Friday garden blog be without a picture of our regular visitor. She (arbitrary gender assignment since I referred to last year’s bear as he) is a newly independent bear, fairly small and innocent looking, but still managed to tromp on a small rhodo the other day in her relentless pursuit of salal berries. Wow betide us when the blackberries and apples ripen.

Homemade Bread and the Writing Process

Bread - finished product - Guenette photo

Homemade bread. Ah . . . the feelings those words evoke – everything from nostalgic images of Little House on the Prairie to mouth-watering memories of Grandma’s kitchen.

Bread Book - Guenette photoI’ve had various flirtations and more than a couple of long-term relationships with homemade bread over the years – all of them satisfying. More years ago than I want to admit, I received a gift copy of a book by Ellen Foscue Johnson entitled: The Garden Way Bread Book: A Baker’s Almanac. What a jewel of a cookbook. The book is sprinkled with black and white line drawings and filled with recipes time tested over the years to a level of perfection. Ellen Foscue Johnson and I have been through a lot!

My latest foray into the bread making world has me thinking about the parallels between making bread from scratch and the writing process.

Line drawing of wheat - Guenette photo

I’ll say from the outset – there is nothing particularly difficult about making bread. No special talent is required beyond patience and a bit of elbow-grease when it comes to kneading. The similarities with the writing process begin when I think of the flow experience I have with each.

Bread sponge - Guenette photo

Between morning tasks of checking out social media, making coffee, starting the wood-burning stove and whatever else needs to be done, I’ll toss two cups of water, two tablespoons of sugar (or other types of sweetness – honey for example) and one tablespoon of yeast into a large bowl.

Sometime later, I’ll add oil, salt and some flour and whip that up for a couple of minutes with my hand-held mix-master. Most of the time, I toss a tea-towel over that sponge and go about other tasks. When I get back to it, I add more flour and knead for ten minutes.

Kneading process - Guenette photo

We tried to get a decent photo of kneading but apparently I was moving too fast. Kneading can be a good work out and gives lots of time for thoughts to wander. I let the dough rise, punch it down, form it into whatever shape takes my fancy and let it rise again. Then it’s into the oven to bake. Easy-peasy as my granddaughters say.

Bread in the pans - Guenette photo

Like bread making, the writing process requires patience and elbow grease. Imagination and fledgling ideas are the writer’s yeast. We sprinkle those ideas out on a warm and receptive surface and let them bubble. Later, we outline and storyboard, do research and take notes – we’re about adding our writing flour. We whip everything together. We wait and we think. Then comes more structure and planning as we work the whole mess into a smooth story – so similar to that neat ball of dough we get after kneading and kneading until we’re sure we can’t push that dough around the floured board for even one more turn. At some point we need to leave the story alone. Let it rise. We punch it down and rework it a few times, forming it as we go. We bake it up with editing and formatting and then we send it out into the world. Hopefully our efforts are met with the joy that accompanies that first bite into a fresh-baked loaf.

Bread - first slice - Guenette photo

If you’re a writer, I suggest you bake some bread. Even if the process doesn’t match what you go through when writing, the results will be mouth-watering enough to make you forget any thorny, little writing problems you might be experiencing. And when the other people in your life take that first bite of hot-out-of-the-oven bread slathered with jam, they will forgive all the times you neglect them to be off in your own writing world.

Here’s the basic, white bread recipe from Johnson’s book – enjoy Smile

Bread Recipe - Guenette photo

(I used a half a cup of mixed, ground sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and slivered almonds in the loaves I baked today. Use any combination of flours you like – add an extra tsp. of yeast if you go heavy on the whole wheat.)

A Funny Harvest Story

Mama bear and cubs - Guenette photo

I’ve written before about bears roaming freely along the paths around our cabin. We generally see the first of our visitors sometime in April and then, depending on the year (and I imagine this has to do with a complex number of factors) we may see them wandering around right through early October. Usually visitations increase in late August and September when the salal berries are at their best. The pictures (above and just below) were our 2011 visitors. These little guys were hilarious. They got up in that tree a few times.

Cubs - Bruce Witzel photo

This year we were absolutely bear free. Not one sighting, not one speck of bear evidence to be found. So, wouldn’t you know it . . . the day before my daughter and granddaughters were to arrive, in the third week of August, I found a small pile of bear scat on one of the trails right behind the cabin. That raised a red flag and I filed the information away, telling myself to pay attention when the kids arrived.

About three days into our visit, my daughter and I, with the granddaughters, Emma and Brit running ahead, strolled into the back garden where Bruce was sitting at a table tinkering with watering timers. (That subject could be the basis of several blogs all entitled our ongoing trials and tribulations with automated watering.) The kids took off for the little slide set up on the edge of the garden. We recently found this discarded piece of back yard fun at the recycling depot. Emma had just come down and Brit was at the top, when I heard an odd sound – something like a loud flapping – almost as if a huge bird had flown right over my head.

I turned to my daughter and said, “Did you hear that?”

She looked up and jumped out of her chair telling me, “There’s a bear cub climbing up the alder tree.”

Well, the alder tree is almost directly behind the slide. She grabbed Emma, I grabbed Brit right off the steps of the slide and we all made our way into the house as fast as possible. A bear cub means a mother bear somewhere close by and no one with any sense wants to end up accidently stuck between the two.

Baby Bear - Bruce Witzel Photo

The next half an hour was spent watching the cub in the branches of the alder tree right outside the living room windows. The mom finally appeared and coaxed it out. The next day, Emma and I were on the kitchen deck getting ready to go down to swim when I heard the distinctively loud rustling of salal bushes – sure enough – mama bear and baby bear right out front, leisurely grazing along and blocking the stairs to the beach. No swim for us. That evening we were sitting at the kitchen table getting ready to play cards and Emma heard a noise. She glanced out the window and jumped back a foot, “Grandma . . . the bear.” Sure enough, mama bear is on the grass directly below the window.

Mama Bear - Bruce Witzel photo

Things peaked the next day when baby bear climbed one of our smaller apple trees and mama headed for the big one. Bruce said, “Enough is enough.” He grabbed a few rocks and from the safety of the deck near the back door began pitching rocks toward mama bear. She wasn’t keen on that and quickly trotted away with baby in tow.

Bruce spent the next half-an-hour picking all the apples – not a huge harvest – maybe fifteen pounds – but we are fiercely committed to anything we grow ourselves. No sooner was he in the house, apples in hand, than the kids started jumping up and down and pointing. Both bears were back again and mama was making for the emptied tree. A few more rocks drove them away and we haven’t seen them since.

Brit - Bruce Witzel photo

 

Three-year-old Brit is convinced that the baby bear came around when she was here because he wanted to play on the slide with her. None of us can believe that the only time we saw bears this whole summer was when the kids were here.

 

Bruce and I got busy yesterday and peeled all those apples so I could can a few jars of applesauce. Nothing says domestic diva like the popping sound of sealed lids.

Applesauce - Guenette photo

Do you have a funny harvest story? I’d love to hear it.

For the Love of Kale!

Baby Kale - Francis Guenette photo

Have you heard the news? Kale is a trending vegetable. Kale is out in the Twitter world with its very own hashtag. You know something has ‘arrived’ when that happens. Until quite recently, I was not sold on the wonder of kale.

Let me take a gardening digression, here. Many years ago, my father-in-law presented me with an envelope that had the words Russian Kale written on the sealed flap. He proceeded to tell me, “I brought these seeds home from the prairies on our last visit. It’s a particularly hardy variety of kale. It might grow well where you guys are.”

Kale gone to flower - Francis Guenette photoTruer words were never spoken. That year we planted a few of those kale seeds. Not understanding that this type of kale is best eaten when it is young and tender, we let it grow and we weren’t wild about the strong taste when we tried it. We didn’t bother with the rest of it and a few of the stalks got as thick as a small child’s wrist, overwintered and flowered the next spring and into the summer. Quite pretty, really – assuming, of course, one didn’t realize the inevitable outcome – four or so feet high, delicate green leaves with deep purple veins and yellow flowers. These huge plants, bearing innumerable seeds, eventually found their way into the compost.

Suffice to say, we never planted kale again. Every single year we get carpets of tiny kale plants coming up everywhere that we had spread compost and even some spots that I am sure we didn’t. What a pain! We patiently weeded these kale plants out, letting a few go to flower for the drama of it all. We were not kale eating fans.

This year all that changed. We discovered how wonderful the small kale is as a salad green. I tried out a recipe for quinoa/kale patties that we simply love. Kale, chopped fine and layered into lasagne – let me just say, you will not miss the spinach. Our newest garden strategy is to allow those baby kale seedlings to grow. As they get to be 3 to 4 inches high, we thin them out and use them. Eventually, the other plants take over.

Baby Kale - Francis Guenette photo 2

Here is my somewhat adapted recipe for the quinoa/kale patties. There is a bit of chopping involved, so I like to make a double batch and freeze the excess. You can tell from the photo that these are the frozen ones – we ate all the fresh ones before I could take a picture – darn! They were so good, though.

Kale-Quinoa Patties

Kale-Quinoa Patties - Francis Guenette photo

  • 2.5 cups of cooked quinoa – I use an organic red variety
  • 4 cups of kale, chopped small
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ cup diced onions
  • ½ cup chopped chives – I’ve used fresh parsley or basil or a combination of all three
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • ½ cup grated cheese – I used a really strong Romano last time and it was great.
  • ¾ cup finely ground bread crumbs

Form into patties – this is a cinch since cooked quinoa is really sticky. Fry on each side, in olive oil, for approx. 5 minutes. And there you have it – a delicious treat with two super popular foods rolled into one yummy package.