The Constant Reader, Remodel or Not

I have weather whiplash. We had ice Saturday morning. Today it was in the 50’s. Now the wind is blowing a front through, and undoubtedly the temperature will drop again!


Yesterday morning, I could have used a version of this in the ice.

Some of you may know that I am in the midst of kitchen remodel. Yesterday, I had an appointment with an appliance distributor to pick out appliances. And I did. In an hour and a quarter, I got a range, a refrigerator, a microwave that doubles as a convection oven (who knew?) and a disposal. I stayed on the budget in my head, but went a bit over the one I had written on paper. Now I need to pick out flooring and a kitchen faucet. That doesn’t seem too onerous.


Now this is the perfect position…bring on the books!

In the past few months, I have been doing a lot of comfort reading, defined in this case as all the Tommy and Tuppence mysteries by Agatha Christie. I don’t think I ever read them. They are very cozy, with evil people vanquished. Finally I felt up to breaking out of comfort reading and bought a copy of Cathleen Schine’s They May Not Mean To, but They Do. Those of you familiar with Philip Larkin will know that particular line. I have only read one other book of Schine’s and I liked it a great deal. It was called Finn and Lady and told the story of a young boy orphaned and taken into the care of his sophisticated (he thinks at the time) older step sister. It’s worth a read, and so is They May Not Mean To, but They Do.


I am not a fan of coming of age novels. Something about them irritates me. They May Not Mean To, but They Do is a coming of old age novel. It is not a fast read. The plot moves at a stately pace, so that you get to know all the characters well and you also get a little humor in the grim, familiar situation. This book is about all the ways children of elderly parents get it right and badly wrong; about the worry, the anxiety, and the misunderstandings; and about the way a person still in charge of her life can move on in spite of all the well-meant interference. It is a crisp, incisive novel full of empathy and wit.


After that, I turned to the blogosphere’s own Laurie Graves of Notes from the Hinterland. She has written Maya and the Book of Everything and it’s a wild ride. This one does not move at a stately pace, but whirls you along through time (and, dare I say, space) with magic books of knowledge. This is a young adult novel and it takes on issues of knowledge, truth, facts, and the responsibility to use them wisely for the good of the world. There is a hint that it may be the first in a series. I’m beginning to understand all those adults who were reading the Harry Potter books. Write on, Laurie!


Picked green before the last frost and ripened. Slightly better than store bought…

Other than reading, I have tried to use some of the food I had from the garden. I made pumpkin and white bean soup yesterday, and today, I roasted the last of my tomatoes.  At the end of the season, I had so many green tomatoes. Yeah, you can fry them once or twice, make chutney or pickles with them, but I wasn’t keen on any of that, so I set them in a cool place and waited for them to ripen. I had to monitor them, as some were determined to rot first. In the end I had a few to roast with some oregano, olive oil and pesto. They’ll be nice accents in winter rice dishes and stews.


Not much juice in them, but roasted they have some good flavor.

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Decorating, Baking, and Gardening

This weekend, I got my little potted tree out. Last weekend, I dug out the decorations I was willing to deal with this year, so things were ready for it.


I’ve had this for a number of years now. I almost didn’t buy it because I was sure it would die. Then I touched it and realized it was rubber or something…

I hung some garland on a couple windows and some decorative bulbs as well.


It’s nice to have a festive window.

It didn’t take long to decorate the little tree. I greatly enjoy it during Advent and Christmas.


Lots of old ornaments, lots of memories.

I also did some baking. Kerry had asked for the recipe for the banana berry walnut cake and I needed to make it more than once to have the proportions in my head. The one I mentioned in the last blog is still steeping in rum. I have no idea what it will taste like. The breads I made today are quite tasty, not as sweet as one might expect, as I tend to make them for breakfast.


Here it is, all mixed up.

So here is what you will need to make them, liquid ingredients first: two bananas, mashed; 1/2 cup oil (I used walnut); two beaten eggs; 1/2 cup buttermilk; 1/2 cup brown sugar (could also use cane syrup or molasses); 1/2 cup dried berries of your choice; 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (pecans would make this sweeter); vanilla to taste (I am a bit of a demon about vanilla, so I will leave to your discretion); stir together until well mixed. To the liquid add 1 1/4 cups cake flour and 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour with a tablespoon of baking powder mixed in. Beat until just mixed. Put in greased tins for baking.


I like to use the small tins as I can keep the breads fresher. If you are feeding a bigger group, just put it all on one tin.

Last week I made a large loaf; this week I made three small ones. The large loaf takes about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The small loaves all in the oven at once take about 35 minutes.


The loaves, cooling on racks. If you want to add rum, it soaks in nicely. For a large loaf start with half a cup, drizzling it over the loaf. Wrap it to store in a cool place to absorb…

I also made it out to my neglected garden, where I found parsley flourishing in the cold frame, along with some lettuces that aren’t quite there yet.


So glad I hadn’t bought parsley this weekend!

I also brought back a considerable quantity of arugula, which looked wildly happy about the cold weather. If you ask me, this is the time of year for an arugula, goat cheese and walnut salad, perhaps with some pumpkin and white bean soup. I baked the pumpkin today too, and brought some sage leaves back from the garden. Soup to come…


I had a few leaves while standing in the garden…

And to make the season a bit more discombobulating, there were roses…



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Coming Up for Air

After weeks of intermittent internet, I finally have service again!! Yay! It must be a gift to myself. For more than a year, my internet was slow, but I could do what I needed to do, so I didn’t think much about it. Then it got downright balky. Turns out my internet provider had moved the transponder (that might not be the right word) out of range for me. I wondered why they hadn’t mentioned this while continuing to charge me for internet…


Brisker weather has me thinking about fires…I did promise more photos from my workshop and they are here…

I canceled service with them and alternately used my iPad as a hot spot and rented wifi from a company that I was considering buying permanent access from. Whew. Good thing I tried them out. Their transponder only worked from late morning to, oh, say 10:30 at night. Not good. And it wasn’t very secure and I started to get phishing emails that were quite good, and might have fooled someone less alert to their wiles.


Those phish baiters must think we’re mushrooms. But aren’t these lovely?

Today, I worked from home and waited for the technician to come who would convert me to fiber optic phone and internet. Poor guy was here for three hours running wires and testing, but when he left, I had blazing internet!! Hurray!


Fire dogs. Number 2 size…

So I will try to start posting regularly again. I have yet to put the garden to bed; other things have intervened, so if I can get to that, I’ll let you know what’s up there.


Dawn at the outdoor fireplace…

I did some massive baking and granola making on Sunday. Olive oil pumpkin bread and a banana-berry-walnut cake that is now soaking in rum. That latter is going to the office Christmas party. I hope it’s good.


I needed a different setting for this photo, but still like it. These are the rings that once held a barrel together…Lovely light, just a bit too much of it!

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Happy Thanksgiving

It is good as we gather today to take a moment to reflect upon our wealth, counted in many  ways.  May you have blessing on blessing and recognize each one.


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Learning to Use My Camera

I said last time that I’d let you know how the digital photography workshop went. It was at Shrinemont, which is in Orkney Springs Virginia. Regula Franz has been running these workshops, spring and fall, for 8 years. She teaches in Richmond and travels extensively.


This picture symbolizes the past week for me. Murk, decay, a little clarity, and a few bright spots…

I would never have known about the workshop if I hadn’t been thinking I could use a retreat, and Shrinemont is the retreat center for the Episcopal Church in Virginia. Originally, it was a spa where people went to take the spring waters. Virginia House, which may be the largest wooden structure in Virginia, was built in the early 1800’s. Other buildings on the grounds date to before the Civil War. It was a place where people built “cottages” they could escape to in the hot summers.


Virginia House. It has one of the dining halls, as well as reception, a library, gift shop, ball room, and guest rooms.

It has miles of hiking trails, a pond, canoes, and family style meals. During our stay, there were a number of churches on retreat and a number of groups like ours. You are assigned a cottage and a dining hall and in your dining hall, there are little signs on the tables for groups to gather. It’s hearty country food and they set platters of it on the tables. When a group empties them, they bring more.


Tucker Hall, where my group dined, has folks streaming in for a meal. They ring a bell to call people in.

The Episcopal Church has had a long relationship with the hotel and spa, and they bought it in the 1970’s. At that point, they modernized and remodeled Virginia House and have been updating the cottages as well. Basically, the road into Orkney Springs ends in a loop on the hotel grounds, which are backed up to a mountain. Hike over the mountain and you’re in West Virginia. The hotel has slowly been buying up private houses that remain in the grounds as they become available and turning them into guest accommodations.


This tempting hammock was right outside my cottage.

If you read the blog regularly, you’ll remember I bought a new camera in the spring. Unlike my fantasies, it was not like an SLR film camera and it had so many settings that I had neither the time nor the patience to figure it out. So, in search of a retreat, I saw Regi’s workshop and made a decision to go. It was a very good decision.


This may be my favorite shot of the weekend, an old storage shed.

Regi was familiar with almost all of the cameras her pupils brought to class and could tell us how to set them, gave us checklists and lectures on the settings we were unfamiliar with, and then sent us out into the Shrinemont grounds to use our newfound knowledge.


The light was lovely to play with, here the paths of a labyrinth.

I can’t tell you how great it is to learn something and put it right into practice. And Shrinemont is a photographic treasure trove. There are mountains, woods, old buildings, flowers, and water to look at.


Here, I had to try more than once to catch the light on the leaves and grass…

Once I got all the settings right on the camera, I fell back into a rhythm of fixing the aperture and speed, adjusting to the light, and generally reveling in capturing something I saw. We came back from our ventures out and loaded our photographs onto our laptops so we could share them. Ultimately, we selected our best and donated them to Shrinemont for use in brochures and advertising. It was time well spent, and I feel as though I can start using that new camera now…I will try to publish some more of the photos in the coming weeks.


Looking up the mountain at the turning trees.


One of two or three locked doors at Shrinemont: it leads to the bell tower, and no doubt keeps venturesome children from ringing the bell at all hours.

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Sorry I Haven’t Written

Goodness, what a month! I jetted off to California on the first and had a great time with my former college roommate and her husband, who live at the end of the BART line in Walnut Creek. When I returned, that strange and horrific hurricane had dropped enough rain that I needed to bail out my car. Yes, bail as in a leaky boat. My internet also had completely conked out. After five hours on the phone and at least four more of troubleshooting, I am now purchasing WiFi by the week while I look for another internet provider. It’s not optimal.


Ah, the Golden Gate–shot from the Presidio.

Meanwhile, I had delightful guests on two consecutive weekends: my niece, who was in town working on an article on Virginia wines, and my cousin and her husband, who are generally hosting me, came up to tour the Textile Museum, Washingtoniana collection and (drum roll) Dumbarton Oaks, my favorite place in Washington (search Dumbarton Oaks on the blog and you’ll see it gets an article a year, at least).


At the Japanese Tea Garden, a little spike buck peers from the trees.

The California trip was really nice. I am normally in charge of transport and destinations while on vacation and this time, I wasn’t! I was retrieved from the airport in San Francisco and driven down to Half Moon Bay and a tour of beaches that included Miramar, where the observatory is. We also experienced a great deal of California traffic. In the ensuing days, we saw the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanic Garden (do my friends know I like gardens, ya think?).


The Japanese Tea Garden pagoda as we approached…

Then we went to the Legion of Honor, established after the Great War. It has a large collection of Rodin Sculptures and paintings that run the spectrum from De La Tour to Whistler and more modern painters.


Through the arch for a LOT of Rodin’s sculptures…

There was also a Holocaust memorial. I found this very powerful, and only photographed it from the back.


This memorial was emotional and evocative for me.

Close by the Legion of Honor was a coast path from which you could see the Marin Headlands and San Francisco Bay. It was lovely.


The Marin headlands. Gorgeous, huh?

Later in the week, we went to Amador County in California gold country and visited two wineries. At Vino Noceto, we got a tour of the grapes and the winery from the owner, who let us sample the grapes and also very generously gave us some barrel tastings.


Noceto uses both stainless steel and oak barrels to age. I bought a pino grigio, a rosato, and their specialty, sangiovese, as well as a barbera. I hope to be back on line and visiting you all regularly again soon. But for now, I’m off to Orkney Springs, Virginia for a photographic workshop. Cheers!


Swimming toward full internet access, we hope…

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Fall Comes On

This weekend I cleaned up the Plot Against Hunger gardens and then went to my own to work. It is beginning to look like fall in the garden and elsewhere.


The zinnias, though, are still glorious!

The rats have been temporarily vanquished. As a result I have tomatoes!!! I also got some peppers and eggplants.


Quite a haul for this garden season. I knocked the green tomato off trying to pick one of the ripe ones.

I am hoping to have at least one butternut squash. This is the only winter squash I didn’t rip out to keep the rats from feasting. We’ll see if I get any.


Possibly two butternuts. We’ll see. I may have to cover the plant with something…

I also have arugula, which nobody eats except me! What a treat.


Note there are some new arugula seedlings coming up on either side of the mature crop.

The oregano is having a resurgence, and is lovely in pasta.


My oregano seems to intermingle with sweet peas and still keep the upper hand.

I am hoping to get another eggplant or two, but I think there may not be enough left of the season.


I fear those three incipient eggplants above the mature one may not have enough time left…

Just for kicks, though, have a look at my turnip sprouts. The season will be long enough for them!


Turnips are another thing that, Like arugula, only the gardener is eating…

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