Tumultuous weeks call for introspection, of sorts, and this last week has been tumultuous on many levels. In that spirit, I have come up with seven things I learned in the last seven days.
I have learned that:
- Now is not the time to stay neutral by remaining silent. I stand vehemently against racism and the white supremacy movement. I have been riveted (addicted) to the news coming out of Charlottesville, Virginia. I have been watching news clips, reading editorials and opinion pieces, and been glued to twitter. Nothing POTUS has said, or not said, has surprised me. (I spent three anxious months after the election fearing most of what has already come to pass. Those months inoculated me against disbelief and sleepless nights.) We are at a cusp and the choice is to move forward with less fear and hate or to combust. I choose to move forward and will do whatever I can to help others move forward also.
- I can’t live without my glasses. I lost my glasses while I was gardening on Monday and I spent over an hour looking for them like a madwoman. I crawled under hosta plants, combed through the foliage on every bush, and inched my way over all the newly worked soil. Bees have nothing on me when it comes to covering ground in the garden! I finally remembered I had gone down to the brook to wash my face.
- It requires bravery to repair miscommunications that have resulted in hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I am far from perfect at it, but in my own stumbling way I open up the conversation. And it is so worth it.
- Knitting is good for my nervous system. I stopped knitting sometime in April when I returned from vacation and changed my focus to getting the house and gardens ready for the new season. I picked it up again this week. Knitting is my meditation. It allows me to sit, empty my mind, and come back to the present – one stitch at a time.
- Monarchs are a beautiful reminder of the fragility of our eco-systems.
- Old friends are the best. Even if we have all taken very different paths, the connections that brought us together in the first place are still there. Old friendships seem solid and grounding like no others.
- Hard weeks are important now and then. How else do we become stronger and braver?
I have been thinking about wild places lately and by that I don’t mean the wilderness that surrounds me just steps from my gardens. I am thinking more about those untended places that grow scrub grasses and bushes. I remember reading years ago that people in Europe always left sections of their backyards wild. The mystical among them thought it would be good karma to leave space for the wee folk and fairies. Others might have garnered that these wild spaces were very valuable real estate for other reasons. Wild spaces are homes to birds, insects, butterflies, bees and other pollinators that are crucial for the crops that feed us. It’s about having a balanced ecosystem.
What got me thinking about all this was seeing that at the corners of our fields and in the untended place the milkweed have returned and along with them the monarch butterflies.
When we first moved here our field had been left to revert to its wild state. It was overgrown and alive with milkweed, Joe-Pye weed and goldenrod in the late summer. I remember the air being full of the silky seeds from the milkweed pods on breezy fall days. This changed as we became managers of our field and plowed it to grow vegetables and then after that had it cut once or twice a year for hay. The floods these last few years have left the edges of the field difficult to cut and they have once again returned to their wild state.
I think all of this is a very good thing for our property and for the eco-system we are trying to nurture. As an added bonus, the wild areas at this time of year are very, very beautiful. They are dominated by goldenrod and Joe-Pye weed, a truly magnificent combination of mustard yellow and rose-lavender. In certain lights the blending of the two just takes my breath away.
I have been checking out the health of the newly returned milkweed plants and have noticed that they have already formed the green cob-like pods. I was also looking for signs that the monarchs I have seen around are laying their eggs for their last transformation. There is a bit of urgency now because the newly hatched butterflies will have a long migration ahead of them before the cold weather sets in.
I found a leaf in the field that appears to have an egg on the underside of its leaf and have brought it home so that you and I can watch this miracle happen. If you have never seen a monarch pupa, you are in for a big treat. Let’s hope that I have found the egg I am looking for.
It’s blueberry season here in Quebec. I always freeze blueberries for the winter, but I have never made a blueberry pie. In fact, I rarely make pies at all, so it’s a bit surprising that this summer I have made two.
My 96 year old mother asked for a Shoo Fly pie for her birthday this year. (This is an old Pennsylvania Dutch recipe that uses flour and molasses as its base.) My mother has been a pie maker all her life and would think nothing of making pies most days. Me…not so much. Her birthday wish forced me to revisit pie making. I felt it was the least I could do – a little pay back for all the pies she made me over the years.
The problem I have been having with pies lies in the crust. Most of the flaky pie crusts I have tasted made by country cooks are full of vegetable shortening or lard. I am not happy eating or cooking with these fats and long ago switched my allegiance to butter. The few butter crust pies I have made have not been flaky and rolling them out has been something of a nightmare. That is, until this summer.
My daughter and son-in-law gave me this book a few years ago…and well, I am thinking everyone needs this book.
The Cook’s Book is full of techniques and recipes mastered by chefs. In this rather heavy book, I found the recipe that has altered my view of making butter crusts or pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry). This pastry can either be made by hand or in a food processor. For full disclosure here, I have to tell you I ran into the same problem with this recipe as I did with all of the others I have made. The recipe itself is a breeze and the dough comes together well, but like all shortcrust pastries, they call for it to be chilled in the fridge for at least two hours before rolling. This is where I broke with tradition. I recently read that it doesn’t matter when the dough is chilled – just that it be chilled before baking. I decided to roll the dough while it was still pliable and then chill it in the fridge in the pie pan. Some far better and much more experienced pastry chefs might dispute this, but all I can say is it worked for me. There was far less swearing as I was rolling out the dough and for that alone the switch-up was well worth it.
For this blueberry pie, I had only one crust, so I made it with a crumble top. I combined two online recipes that I found for blueberry crumble pie – one from Epicurious and one from Allrecipes. I used the filling recipe and the baking temperature and time from All Recipes and the crumble topping from Epicurious. It turned out well. The crust was flaky and the pie delicious.
I just might turn into a pie maker after all.
I have just recently been introduced to the French term l’heure bleue. L’heure bleue rolls off the tongue and sounds romantic, and magical, and a bit mysterious. As it turns out, that is exactly what it is. It is said that flowers are more fragrant and birds sing more sweetly during this hour of the day. L’heure bleue, translated as the blue hour, is that time early in the dawn or late in the dusk when the sun is still below the horizon and its indirect light takes on a blue shade. In the morning, l’heure bleue is followed by the golden hour when the landscape becomes bathed in golden light. This is reversed at dusk when the golden hour is followed by l’heure bleue.
It just so happens that these are my two very favourite times of day, so I am often outside marvelling in them, or if I am lucky, capturing a photo of the magic they weave. Even though they are referred to as hours they are actually a brief forty minutes in length.
I have just started exploring photographing l’heure blue even though I know it on a visceral level from all my evening walks.
Photographing a full moon during l’heure bleue.
A spring walk.
A photograph from last night’s walk.
If you are in any doubt about l’heure bleue, listen for the birds!
Golden hour which just precedes l’heure bleue in the evening has a very different quality of light. Everything seems to be bathed in gold.
Roses on Solstice Eve.
Cows enjoying the golden hour.
Golden hay bales.
Golden hour and l’heure bleue have two very different feelings and qualities of light. Both very special. Both worth being out there enjoying.
The beginning of August marks a turning point. The sun has shifted in the sky and sets just a bit lower and earlier than it did a short month ago. Nights have become cooler. (We have just had our first 6° and 8° celsius nights here in southern Quebec.) The plant world has stopped exploding with new growth and has started setting fruit.
August 1 was the beginning of Lammas in the medieval agricultural year and marked the end of haying and the beginning of the harvest season. Very exceptionally this year the haying season was delayed because of the constant rains. It is unusual to see farmers still making their first cut so late in the season.
I always greet the light and temperature changes with some sadness. It is hard to let go of the headiness of those first summer days. Maybe that’s the beauty of old celebrations centred around this time of year. It’s a reminder to move forward whether we want to or not: much better to be in step with nature rather than ignoring its pull.
Along with the sadness of a season passing is the excitement of the new one on its heels. Time to reap the rewards brought to us by the long, sultry summer days. The tables at the farmer’s market here in our village are piled high at the moment with fresh produce and local blueberries and fresh corn have made their first appearance. What’s not to love about the bounty of this latest growing season?
Our eyes may have shifted into a more forward gaze but these last warm days of summer can be the best just because they are the last. My wish is for us all to savour August this year.
Happy August everyone!
Nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
There is something about the quietness and warmth of mid-summer that brings reminiscences of summers past to the forefront for me. It happened the other day when I passed the chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace flowering on the roadside as we drove the backroads in the area near where I grew up.
For a fleeting instant, I was sixteen or eight again out for a summer drive, windows down, bare suntanned feet pressed into the seat in front of me. Nostalgia has a way of grabbing an experience from the air at just the moment when life felt peaceful, or joyful or special in some way and freezing it in time.
The word nostalgia is made up of two parts from the Greek: nóstos meaning “homecoming” and álgos meaning “pain” or “ache”. The ache part of nostalgia perhaps is what I need to write about today. I think in that moment, driving in the car, I wanted to be pulled into a dream of summer: to re-experience that perfect moment when the warmth of the sun on my body and the sound of the cicadas and the breeze stirring my hair made me one with summer. These moments are so fleeting, past or present, and perhaps that’s exactly what fuels the nostalgia.
Maybe my longing is to be fully present to summer in ways I haven’t been this year because I have been caught up in the “doing” part of summer instead of the “being” part. Maybe what I need to remember is, “how to be idle and blessed…” After all, we only have one “wild and precious life.”
I have been a bit of a pot luck star this summer and I’m going to make you one too. Our summer gatherings here in the country tend to be pot lucks. It is an easy, affordable way for people to gather for a meal on a warm summer evening. Except for this year, I have been much more likely to bring something savoury to share rather than something sweet. That all changed when I intercepted this recipe being shared online by Canadian cook, Laura Calder, who self confessed that she couldn’t stop making them. Of course, that piqued my interest and the total simplicity of the recipe settled it for me. Since making these cookies, I have noticed that there are a number of different variations online. Some of them use salt, vanilla extract and cream of tartar, but I find this recipe is just fine as is. I like adding the unsweetened sifted cocoa because it does seem to cut the sweetness a bit. Enjoy!
Chocolate Chip Meringues (photo credit kd7167)
Chocolate Chip Meringues
3 egg whites
1 cup of sugar
2 T sifted cocoa
170 g dark chocolate chips
Optional: small handful or scant 1/4 cup of roasted sliced almonds
Whip 3 egg whites while beating in a cup of sugar a spoonful at a time. The mixture should become thick and glossy. (This usually takes about 8 minutes.) The mixture shouldn’t taste granular at this point. Fold in the sifted cocoa, the chocolate chips and the nuts if you choose to do so. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment lined cookie sheets.
Bake at 275 for 35 minutes.
Here in the country the woods are our backyards and tall grass abounds. We have a woodland path that connects our house to our neighbours a ten minute walk away. When the children were little we used this path many, many times a day. Summers are steamy here, so we wore shorts and t-shirts and had flip flops on our feet. Forward twenty years later and nothing still brings quite as much pleasure as escaping the heat of the day in the canopy of the forest.
When I walk in the other direction to our rural mailbox, I often cut through our field on the way home, thinking little of the detour and often stopping to see what’s growing or living in the tall grasses.
The days of carefreeness on these walks has changed now. It is sad to think that walking in the woods or taking a shortcut through the field brings hazards these days when it was done without a thought just a few short years ago. We have always had ticks in this area and I would frequently find them on our animals, but Lyme disease which was not identified until 1977 lingered to the south of us. Lyme was never an issue here until climate change meant winters have become milder and the bacteria (Borrelia burgdorferi) has been able to survive these warmer temperatures. It is now in our area just north of the Vermont border.
What does this mean for us and our closeness to the natural world? Experts say we should dress head to toe in long clothing, tuck our pants into our socks and douse ourselves with Deet before venturing into the woods. This makes sense if the goal is to make sure that nary a tick lands on you. But what of short forays on steaming hot days when dressing in this way would just deter you from going at all? And that’s my fear. Not the ticks as much as the thought of losing a carefree lifestyle we treasure. We moved here so that we could play in the woods and fields.
My husband and I have both found ticks on our bodies in the last few years and so have our neighbours. My husband didn’t discover his until it had been on for a few days and he had developed the classic bull’s eye rash. This meant a visit to the doctor and a round of antibiotics. My tick I discovered while showering after working in the garden. It had only been there a short time and I removed it carefully with tweezers making sure to not squeeze its body. Since it had only been attached for a few hours, I only had to watch for any symptoms that might emerge in the next 3 to 30 days. I wish I could say that I am relaxed about having ticks in this area, but I’m not.
I think twice about spontaneously going into the woods these days or cutting through the field. I make sure when I am in the woods to wear long pants and a hat. I often shower when I get back and check myself very carefully, not ignoring strange places like between my toes and behind my ears. I probe my scalp and hair feeling for any raised bumps. It’s a drag. And it has changed our lives. But it is not stopping any of us from enjoying the woods. It is why we moved here. We are still roaming our properties, albeit more cautiously than a few short years ago.
I have started this post a few times now as I try and bring myself (and you) up to date. I have been mostly transitioning back to our country property after our trip to London. That has meant doing all of the immediate things that have required doing – staking a few plants, getting food in, and taking stock of the changes that occurred while we were away. It has been raining almost non stop here these last three weeks. There has been so much rain that there was a small landslide on the cliff on the other side of the brook which has altered the course of the stream and created a new little waterfall. As I was surveying this on the weekend, I noticed lots of mushrooms growing along the banks and that is where my curiosity is leading me this morning.
I have studied wild flowering plants that grow in this area for years but never paid much attention to the mushrooms and fungi that grow here except to stop and admire a particularly large or unusual one that I would happen upon on my walks. That has all changed since we bought our neighbouring 15 acres of woodland next door. As I get to know this land, I have decided to learn about the mushrooms and fungi growing there as well.
I was only able to take a short walk this morning, kind of a scouting mission if you will. But I did come across this:
monitropa uniflora (ghost plant, Indian pipe, Ghost pipes, corpse plant)
This is not the first time I have seen this ethereal plant in a woods. It is quite striking as you can see. It is considered scarce or rare in appearance but I discovered a healthy colony of them growing not far from the house.
I have a number of mushroom identification books to help me in this new study and I brought my first two mushrooms home to identify. Many many more, I left in the woods for another day.
Baggage is on, fuel is loaded and we’re ready to go.
We’re off to the country of double decker buses and……
double decker strollers.
Needless to say we have been a tad busy, but did manage to take in Canada Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square.
and visit John Singer Sargent The Watercolours at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
When we were entering the gallery we ran into Ben Wilson the London bubblegum street artist refreshing one of his designs. He was happy to chat about his art and life on the street.
And here I am taking advantage of a quiet moment waiting for the train at the end of another busy day.