Category Archives: Nature

MY MAY GARDEN

I took these pictures about a week or so ago. In gardening time, a week is equivalent to a year. Flowers come and go with such speed that it makes this gardener wonder if maybe those small purple irises were, in fact, a figment of her imagination. But no, here’s the photo to prove that they did have their time of glory.

Irises
Those Irises!

Now I am waiting for the tall irises to bloom. These lovelies must be supported. They are fine until the inevitable June thunderstorm comes and knocks them this way and that. So support them I did, with help from my husband, Clif.

At our little house in the big woods, it is not easy to grow vegetables. (Thus our decision to join Farmer Kev’s CSA program.) Simply put, we have too much shade and not enough sun. Our backyard gets the most, but even then only about six hours a day. I have found a tomato—Juliet—that does well with my part sun/part shade backyard.

Tomatoes
The fair Juliet

Also, for some reason, cucumbers really thrive. I have one little raised bed, where I have planted cucumbers and Juliet tomatoes.

The little raised bed
The little raised bed with tomatoes and cucumbers

Herbs also do quite well, and soon I will be planting, in pots, parsley, basil, rosemary, and sage. I have a thyme oregano that wintered over as well as a mint.

This is as good a time as any to make a confession. Notice that I started this post with flowers rather than with vegetables. This is because somewhat ironically—even though I am certainly a good eater, one might even say an obsessed eater—I am also obsessed with flowers. While I am normally a quite frugal person, my willpower is practically nonexistent when I go to our local nurseries, where I pile annuals and perennials in my cart in a way I would never, say, pile clothes or shoes or pocketbooks. I gulp, a little, when the nice man or woman at the cash register announces the total, but I justify the expense by reflecting on how lovely our yard is and how much we enjoy the flowers. Then, if the bill is really high, I remind myself that the flowers are not just for Clif and me. No, indeed. They are also for passersby, who can take in the beauty. Therefore, I am providing a public service, of sorts, by supplying beauty in a world that is often unbeautiful. (Oh, how we justify!)

So in my backyard, in the long, rectangular bed that could conceivably grow vegetables, I have planted flowers. Once in a while, the thought flickers through my mind that I could replace the flowers with vegetables, but then I recoil in horror from the idea. No small purple irises to begin the gardening season? No tall ones, with their sweet but not cloying sent, to soon follow? No red lilies? No sweet William? No humming birds whirring in and out of the flowers? And what about the phlox?

Clearly, the flowers must stay. I have Farmer Kev and the many other farmers who sell their vegetables at the Farmers’ Market in town.

 

 

MARY AND TOM’S GARDENS

I love looking at other people’s gardens, at their flowers, vegetables, shrubs, trees, and garden ornaments. Every garden has a distinct look, created by the gardener who literally plots then toils and worries. There are triumphs, and there are failures. Some years the tulips are outstanding. Other years blight gets the tomatoes. Seasoned gardeners are all too aware of the vagaries of nature, and they plant a wide range of flowers and vegetables, thus assuring that something will bloom or bear fruit.

Yesterday, my husband, Clif, and I delivered a loaf of bread to Mary and Tom Sturtevant. Their house is just off our bike route, so we tucked the loaf in Clif’s bike pack and rode to Mary and Tom’s. They live in a lovely old house that once had an attached barn, as so many Maine houses did. Unfortunately, the barn had to be torn down, but in its place, Mary and Tom have put stonework and benches and gardens. As a result, their half acre—in town—is abloom with flowers and bursting with vegetable seedlings, a wonderful example of what can be done with a small amount of land that gets full sun.

“May we see your gardens?” I asked Mary. (Tom was out.)

“Oh, yes,” Mary said.

“May I take pictures of your flowers?”

“Anytime,” she replied.

Here are a few pictures of Mary’s flowers. As the season progresses, I might go back for more photos. After all, her place is just off our bike route, and my little Cannon—my stealth camera—pops right into my bike pack.

Tulips

 

Bee in flowers

 

Lily of the Valley

 

PHOTOS ON A GRAY MAY DAY

Another gray day in the neighborhood. Too wet to work in the gardens, even though they really need attention. What to do but take photos of the wet beauty in the backyard?

The irises are just starting to bloom. I love their vibrant purple.

Purple Iris

Some Jack-in-the-pulpits seeded themselves—with a little bird help, perhaps?—in the way back. I’m amazed that our dog, Liam, hasn’t trampled them, and I’m hoping he doesn’t.

Ms. Watson is inspecting the garden. I try to discourage her from taking a bite out of the plants, but you know how it is with cats. They pretty much do as they please.

Everyone at the little house in the big woods is hoping the sun will soon come out!

TEA AND COOKIES ON A RAINY APRIL DAY

Yesterday was a day of April showers. Actually, it poured. But all the better to take away the last bit of stubborn snow that clings here and there in our yard. Living in the woods is great during the summer, and we are protected from the worst of the winter winds, but it also means that on Narrows Pond Road, our yard is one of the last to lose all its snow.

cookies on plateMy friend Sybil came over for tea and chocolate chip cookies, and nobody can brighten up a gray day like Sybil. She had just returned from a trip to Chicago, where she had visited with her son and her daughter-in-law, who is a choreographer. Indeed, Sybil went to Chicago especially to see her daughter-in-law’s show, and Sybil said it was marvelous. Apparently, even the Chicago Tribune agreed, giving it a very good review.

In May, Sybil will be going to Cornwall, to visit a friend and stay (I think!) for 16 days. “I’m going to bring the Joy of Cooking so that I cook some meals while I’m there,” Sybil said. “That’s a long time to stay with someone. My friend will help me convert the measurements.”

“What a lovely time to be going to England,” I said.

“Yes, the bluebells will be in bloom.”

“Listen for the cuckoos,” I said.

“Don’t you think they sound a lot like our mourning doves?” Sybil asked.

“Maybe a little,” I said. “But it seems to me that cuckoos have a crisper call.”

“I’ll listen for them,” she promised.

From there, we moved on to discuss BBC, specifically Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Sybil recalled how during the 1970s, when Upstairs, Downstairs premiered, her children used to come running as soon as they heard the theme for Masterpiece Theatre. “Even my husband, Ray, eventually came to like the show,” Sybil said.

Good for Ray! Let’s just say that not all men like period pieces, and leave it at that.

From Upstairs, Downstairs, which I also loved in the ’70s, it was on to the current remake of Jane Eyre, which is playing at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.

“We must go see it before I go to England,” Sybil said.

“Yes,” I replied. An unsurprising note: Clif is not at all keen on seeing Jane Eyre.

All too soon, it was time for Sybil to leave. I packed some chocolate chip cookies for her. “Just give me four!” she instructed. “I have no self-control with those cookies.”

Well, my daughter Dee has said they are my specialty, and I have to admit those cookies are not too bad.

I gave Sybil five. “One for the road,” I said.

Sybil laughed. “One for the road.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIGNS OF SPRING AND TOWN BUDGETS: INCLUDES RECIPE FOR CHICKPEAS IN CURRIED YOGURT SAUCE

Chickpeas in curried yogurt sauceWhile it would be wrong to say that  signs of spring are everywhere—daffodils, tulips, and crocuses haven’t even begun to show their beautiful faces—we do have faint glimmers that warmer days have arrived. One of the most exciting signs is that our driveway is nearly ice free. This sounds trivial, I know, but it means that we can walk to our car without wondering each time if we are going to take a flip in the driveway and wind up with something horribly broken that will put us out of commission for weeks and weeks. Yes, those icy driveways add a certain touch of excitement, but it’s the kind we are happy to see leave our lives for another year. The older you get, the more you fear falling. We are not yet at the stage where we worry about broken hips, but broken ankles and wrists are no treats, either.

On Monday, when I walked with the dog, I saw further signs that spring is on its way. The swampy little pond up the road has water as well as ice. I’ll be keeping track of when the ice is completely gone, and I’m anxiously waiting for the peepers. The snow banks have pulled back from the road far enough to please the dog, who loves to sniff, scratch, and do other doggy things on the newly emerged shoulder. (Note: I always keep a plastic bag in my pocket in case clean-ups are necessary.)

But the best thing for me is that I was able to walk without wearing a hat, and I was perfectly comfortable. I hate wearing hats—how glad I was that I didn’t need to be treated with chemo when I had breast cancer last fall—and going hat free is pure pleasure after the long months of “hat confinement.”

Then there are the bird songs, triumphant after a mostly quiet winter. Chickadees lead the chorus, but I’ve also begun hearing tufted titmice, those neat little gray and white birds with the black-drop eyes and the jaunty crests. To me, their calls sound like “phee, phee, phee.” I’ll be hearing more birds as spring progresses.

The coming of spring also means the coming of town budgets, and this unfortunately is not such a happy thing. The country, the state, the towns are all grappling with horrible shortfalls, in Winthrop’s case over a million dollars. How to make up for this lack of money? As the federal government and the state clamp down, the towns feel the full brunt. I can’t speak for other Maine towns, but it seems to me that Winthrop is a no-frills community that still manages to provide decent services—among other things, a relatively good school system, a fire station, police protection, and a wonderful little library that is becoming a cultural hub.

My husband Clif and I went to what will be the beginning of many meetings where the town council decides how in the world it will make do with a million dollars less in its budget. Over and over I wonder how it is that we can be one of the richest countries in the world, and yet little towns have to twist themselves in knots worrying about how they are going to pay the bills. It’s not right that big companies should make such huge profits and yet pay so little. (In some cases, not at all. See US Uncut for more about this.)

While Clif and I are library advocates, we also care about schools and other town matters. We want the town to flourish. We want the younger generation to get a good education. We are concerned about the town and its effect on the environment.

At the meeting, the people with the most intensity spoke the longest and loudest and often repeated themselves, if not endlessly, then frequently. Hats off to the town council for listening so patiently.  

After the meeting, it was home for a quick supper of curried chickpeas. Before going to the meeting, I had prepared the mushrooms, garlic, and red pepper. The chickpeas were cooked. All I needed to do was cook the rice, sauté the peppers and garlic, then make the curried yogurt sauce.

Chickpeas and riceAs we ate, Clif and I discussed the meeting. We’ll be going to more as the season progresses. We’ll probably be writing letters. In the meantime, there will be ever more signs of spring to cheer us up.  

 

 

Chickpeas in Curried Yogurt Sauce (Serves 4 or 6, depending on appetites)

This is the kind of recipe where you can use whatever odds and ends you might have in the refrigerator. It is also the kind of recipe my daughter Shannon hates. Except for the sauce, there are few measurements, only guidelines.

Here, more or less, is what I used.

20 oz of mushrooms, sliced
1 half of a red pepper, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
2 cups of cooked, drained chickpeas, more or less according to taste
Peanuts (I have no clue how many we used. We just threw them in until it seemed right.)
Olive oil for sautéing

For the sauce

1 cup of milk, plus a little more for thinning
1 cup of plain yogurt
4 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of flour
1 ½ teaspoons of curry powder. (Or more according to taste.)Salt and pepper to taste. (This could include red pepper flakes to jazz up the sauce.)

2 cups or so of cooked rice. If you are using white rice, this should be started before the sautéing of the vegetables. If you are using brown rice, start at least 45 minutes ahead of time.  

In a large frying pan, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil. I had to do this in two batches. Place in bowl and set aside. In same pan, add more oil and sauté the red pepper until it starts to get soft, but not too soft. Add the garlic and sauté for probably half a minute. Don’t let the garlic burn. Place the red peppers and garlic in a bowl. Have ready the chickpeas and the peanuts.

In a large skillet, melt the butter, add the flour, and stir and sizzle until it’s golden brown. Add the milk all at once, stirring vigorously so that the milk and flour are smooth, and the mixture is bubbling. Turn off the heat and add the yogurt, curry powder, salt and pepper. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little milk until you get a consistency that you like. Turn the heat on very low and add the chickpeas, mushrooms, garlic and red peppers, and peanuts. Heat through, taking care not to bring the mixture to a full boil and thus curdle the yogurt.

Spoon mixture over rice served in individual plates. Or bowls.

Another alternative would be to put the rice in a casserole dish, spoon the curried mixture on top, add some bread crumbs, maybe, and heat through in 350° degree oven.

This is a very flexible dish. Broccoli, onions, celery, and carrots, to name a few, could also be used.