Spring Snow

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote or visited other blogs regularly. It was an odd winter without winter weather (except for some bitter cold after the new year) and I kept waiting for winter to come so that I could dive into seed catalogs. Needless to say, I was late, spurred on by signs of spring–blossoms, new leaves, early flowers, but I have been gardening and have some things planted in the cold frame, the pop-up tent accelerator, and under row cover; I just keep forgetting to take my camera to the garden!


The pop-up tent and the row cover in another year and later season.

Good thing they’re all under shelter because today we had a snow storm.


I didn’t believe it would happen as all winter, snow missed us.

I can’t even say it was first of the season, because, well, it’s spring now, right?


Forsythia under some pressure.

The forsythia and the early cherry blossoms were out.


These will not be looking sprightly after the snow melts.

Daffodils were blossoming and other early flowers had begun to emerge.


These will do fine, hardy little shoots…

It was a heavy, wet snow that clung to branches and wove a fairyland overhead.


Luckily, there wasn’t much of it…

There is such art in the look of it, the way it drapes on the branches.


I put two blueberry bushes out last weekend (sent to me at the “appropriate time for my growing zone”), but I covered them with little plastic cloches made from 3-liter water bottles. I hope those are sufficient protection. Otherwise I’ll be buying more blueberry bushes. In the meantime, happy spring!


There will be more flowers, I know…

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Sourdough Inspiration

I started reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan a week or so ago. It’s the story of a young woman named Lois, who works for a tech company that makes robot arms in San Francisco. She’s highly skilled in coding and works to refine the movements the robot arms can make. They can’t crack eggs or peel them yet.


All the talk about sourdough starter made me want to make my own. It had been a while, but I successfully started some up.

Her coworkers are the motley group of young people, some merry and good-humored, hitting the bars when not working late and talking companionably in the cafeteria. None of them eat at home and Peter, her manager, dislikes the idea of taking time to eat so much that he advocates for a nutritional slurry that comes in single serving packs. That one isn’t good humored.


The starter bubbles when it has collected wild yeast and they are happily eating.

Lois, on the other hand, isn’t averse to good food. She just never saw much growing up. Apparently nobody in her family had cooking skills, except maybe her grandmother, whose most famous dish was ‘prison loaf’ baked, yup, for a prison. She starts ordering dinner from a storefront carryout that serves soup and bread. The bread is sourdough. The food, including the spicy soups, is made by two brothers of Mazg heritage (Okay, Sloan made this up; don’t go looking online for Mazg–you’ll find references to the book).


Sourdough is messy because it’s a sticky dough. I will refrigerate mine overnight next time, which makes it easier to work before the second rise.

When the brothers close shop and leave, they give a sample of their sourdough starter to Lois, and after a look around her kitchen, some tools, and a quick lesson in how to care for the starter and how to make the bread. They leave her a CD of Mazg songs, that sound magical and like some a cappella choir. Lois almost kills the starter, but revives it, plays the music to it, and finds that it thrives. In fact, sometimes at night it sings, glows, or rattles the lid of its crock.


The sponge, as it sometimes is called, rose overnight, I folded and worked it, and put it in a baking dish to rise.

Eventually, Lois makes a couple loaves of bread. They have a terrible unhappy face on them, but they’re delicious. She gives samples to her neighbor and takes some into work to feed colleagues. The chef of the cafeteria tries some and asks if Lois would sell her eight loaves. Since her oven will only bake two at a time, this is a problem until Lois checks out an online site and finds out how to build a simple brick oven in the back yard.


It rose all day under a damp dish towel. As Elizabeth David said, “Bread takes time, but it doesn’t take your time.”

Eventually, she’s baking bread that has happy faces on it, and Chef Kate at the cafeteria encourages her to try to sell it at farm markets. That’s where I am right now. I like this book. It’s fun and interesting so far, so I figure I can recommend it because it’s unlikely to go south.


This is what it looked like before I put it in the oven to bake.

Meanwhile, I mixed up my own sourdough starter last weekend and made my first loaf with it today. It’s a bit dense and not the most beautiful loaf, but it had the tastiest crispy crust. I’ll change a few of my techniques for the next loaf.


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Winter Respite and More Baking

Goodness, we had the most extraordinarily lovely weekend. It was probably 60 degrees. I did not wear my winter coat on any of the myriad errands I ran. The air smelled that way it smells when it warms up after the cold and you get a whiff of thawed earth and something sweet, perhaps sunlight. Ahhhh…. I am not ready to think about spring; being season-wise, I know there is a lot of winter left. But oh, my, what a lovely respite. I feel like I can almost bear to look at the seed catalogues!


This is the best of the selections I’ve received so far. Still, I’ve avoided looking at them…

What I am doing, primarily, is baking. I bake every weekend, usually muffins, sometimes breakfast breads or coffee cake. Last week, I was looking for a recipe in my cookbook and came upon Apple Pie Cake. This is an old recipe I got from my Aunt Gene.


It starts with apples.

My mother and her sisters all had their wedding dinners at the Park View Hotel in Clintonville, Wisconsin. Sadly, it appears not to exist anymore. Apparently this was served as dessert at the dinners and my grandmother asked for the recipe.


I think the next time, I would chop those slices so they’re chunks…

I always tell the age of a recipe by the proportion of sugar to flour. In this recipe, it’s one to one. There’s also an odd direction to put the soda in warm water, which I won’t do again. It works out better if I mix the soda in with the flour and other ingredients.


This calls for salt, which I wouldn’t add next time, given soda is the leavening. I’d also mix the soda in with the dry ingredients.

I’m not sure why it’s called apple pie cake, as it bakes up something like a cobbler would, though rather than pouring the batter over the fruit, it’s all mixed. The batter is also a bit stiffer than a cobbler batter would be.


I always have nuts on hand for pilafs, salads and baking.

It calls for 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup shortening, 1 tsp soda in 2 tablespoons hot water, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp of salt (I might leave this out next time), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup raw nut meats (I used walnuts), and two cups of sliced apples (I think I would chop them next time).  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until browned.


Here it is ready to go in the oven…

I mixed all the dry ingredients and all the wet ingredients, then folded them all in together. It baked up into a pretty dessert, and I think I will make it again with the edits I noted. I hope you all have a good week that includes your just desserts and that they’re as sweet as you want.


And here it is fresh out.


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Happy New Year!

Well here we are, some of us in the deep freeze, as the world keeps turning toward the morning. I’ve had a lovely 12 days off work, some of that with family, cooking, talking, visiting with friends. The last few days I’ve had at home–more cooking, lots and lots of rest and a little bit of knocking long-standing tasks off a much ignored list.  In the new year, I want to read more, meditate more, exercise more, and in general, take better care of myself.  So best wishes to all of you. If you have set intentions for the new year, I wish you well with them.  If not, I wish you well in whatever fills your days.

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Old Recipes, New Recipes

Susan at Our French Oasis recently published a recipe both for mince pies and their filling. It was too tempting to resist. I have long had my grandmother’s recipe for mock mince meat, which was quite tasty. Still, when I received the recipe, I was astonished at the quantities, even as someone who cans. It is in pecks and pounds. There is a lot of boiling and re-boiling and rinsing and boiling again in it. So even though it was delicious, I have not made it.


Susan’s recipe was smaller, very similar to my grandmother’s except for the green tomatoes, and did not require boiling water processing. I thought, ‘now here’s something I can make.’


The recipe calls for raisins, currants, sultanas, orange and lemon, apple, brown sugar, spices most people have on hand, and a little brandy. I got to work this afternoon and pulled all that together on the stove. Susan mentioned she likes to toss in a handful of cranberries, which were not available in France yet, but I had them on hand.


She recommends making the pies in a muffin tin. It works a treat!

This stuff smells fabulous while it’s cooking, which is part of the point of holiday cooking. Once it was done, I followed her instructions for making mince pies using a muffin tin.


And here they are with their tops. And a bit of cinnamon sugar…

The nice thing about these delicious little treats is that they are small and–at least with this recipe–not too sweet. I can see having these with coffee, tea, or a robust red wine. Check out her blog for all the details. These are fast and very tasty.


I’ve been feeding these to people and so far, they have all been pleased.

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A Lovely Day Out

Yesterday I went with my friend Les to pick up her wine order at Paradise Springs Winery outside Clifton, Virginia. We planned to stop in Clifton, which is an old town with a history of railroading and lumber. It has a lot of gift shops and small businesses, including the Italian restaurant, Villagio.  We came out from a fine lunch, thinking to head to another gift shop before moving on to the winery, but walked right into a parade.


There were a lot of people watching and some trapped cars.

There was a fine crowd there for it. It must have been to kick off the Christmas season, because there was also a house tour scheduled for the late afternoon and there was an art show as well. Les was told it was the horse parade.


It started with this tractor pulling a wagon load of carolers and Santa Claus…

The horses came after, some decorated with hats and some with riders decorated and dressed for the season.


Some of the horses had Christmas themed leg wear.

And some of the horses were decorated with wreaths, tail bows, and assorted other finery.


Odd the Christmas theme here, since the rider is wearing a Grinch sweater!

And then there was the Grinch!!!  Leading a very cute donkey decorated with Christmas tree lights.


It’s a Grinch!! Look at those adorable little donkey hooves…

The Grinch was closely followed by a contingent of cavalry, who drew their swords at one point, perhaps trying to scare the Grinch away.


The parade made a circle through the town.  It was followed, coming and going by some people with a wheelbarrow and shovel.  Yes, they had some work to do…


By the through loop, many of the children were off their ponies, which might or might not have behaved badly in the parade. We did see one horse kick another, but all told it looked fun for everyone. Except maybe the street cleaners…

After the parade, we went out to the winery, which was also hopping.  We tasted some wine and bought some wine.  I’ll be going back here for the quickness of the get-away, the nice little town, and the fabulous winery.  It was really a delight to make a trip and be surprised by a celebration.  Do I need to get out more, or what?



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Ah, the Joys of Thanksgiving Weekend

I must say, Thanksgiving weekend was fabulous. A good dinner with friends; sleeping in; getting my 40 year old recipe book reorganized and the new recipes that had been stuffed in the front or back put on pages and inserted in the right place; and as you might expect from me, some work in the garden!


Yup, garden put to bed. I still need to clear the small Plot Against Hunger Garden, but that should not be too hard…

I had also been wondering what to give a friend who is expecting a baby in February. It is her third, so she is pretty fully equipped. Nonetheless, every baby needs some new things, so I thought about a stuffed felt animal, but then I thought maybe I could make some slippers for the cold February.


I did a little research. How big is a newborn foot in inches or centimeters? Well, as you might guess it varies, but a three inch sole was recommended for slippers, so I went with that. My guess is they won’t fit for long.


I wanted to blanket stitch them together, but they were too small, so I did that around the top.

May you have warm slippers yourself as we head into colder times!

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