To Alex -

To Alex...who is far away in person, but never far from my heart. I miss you. Enjoy these snippets of everyday family life here in the states.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

And then I was home.

Home, to my beach, my lake, my dunes, my woods. Yes, I was home again.
The water welcomed me back by showing itself in an extraordinary green hue and the waves tumbled over themselves in an effort to get to me first, to welcome me home with their soothing, rhythmic music. A blast of wind rushed over the water and blew my hair every which way, half blinding me with it's exuberant greeting after my long absence. Sand filled my shoes in an attempt to weigh me down, to prevent my leaving again.
There was a bit of housekeeping to do. Footprints needed to be laid down so I could find my way up and down the beach and rocks needed to be placed upon their pedestals again. They must have fallen during the winter storms.
A father and his young daughter needed to explore the shore again, you know, to make sure no rocks had gone missing. (That would be my oldest son and my granddaughter.)
Sir K was eager to do some reverse river tracing. This is one of our favorite rivers as it's only 2 miles down the beach from our campground and we can easily spend a entire afternoon playing in the water, climbing the dunes, hiking up to the falls, lazing on the beach as we inspect rocks...there is always something to do here.
The ascent. Daddy and Sir S have scrabbled their way up the river to the falls. Now what?
Ah yes, Daddy shows the little one how to pick his way amoung the rocks and place his feet sturdily in the stream, picking their way higher and higher.
Conquest. They've made it to the top. They'll continue moving upstream and I'll lose sight of them for the next few hours as they explore deep into the woods, and they couldn't be happier. They will eventually show up back at camp long after the rest of us have returned and begun the process of preparing dinner. Boys...
Youngest son also picks his way carefully. He's familiar with the nooks and crannies of the ascent - he's been doing this since he was a boy.
He knows from experience that these rocks are slippery. All fours is truly the best way to scale the face.
To the victor!
The beautiful Sable (Sah-ble)Falls. We've been climbing these falls for 20 years and getting to them always brings us joy. I never tire of watching and listening to the water tumble over the rocks.
And here we have Taiwan son who is so not used to the cold Lake Superior shore. It is good to have him back with me for a while.

Stay tuned, there is more to come...

Friday, August 19, 2011

It's been quite a summer.

And I've been enjoying it immensely!

The gardens are loving the heat this year and they've certainly had a lot of it. Whew! I was practically melting there for awhile. My flowers are blooming prolifically and what's left of the food garden is producing fast and furious. I'm amazed at how early my tomatoes ripened, but it's perfect because the basil has outgrown it's boundaries and I've been forced to make bruschetta and pesto just to stay ahead of the bounty. Did you read that? Yes, forced to make our favorite summer foods. Darned bossy garden!
On a side note, I noticed last night that my compost space is looking better than the vegetable garden. Dang, I didn't plant there because I thought it didn't get enough sunlight, but the seeds have gone bonkers. What's up with that? 

We've been doing a bit of swimming at the ole swimming hole. As a kid, I don't think you can beat a lake for cooling off in this heat. In Michigan we always get high humidity along with high temperatures, which means it's been a double whammy sweltering sort of summer. Yep, swimming has been extra refreshing this year.
We celebrated a birthday for Sir S. He is ever the gracious birthday child. Oh, he knows how to make it his day, but he's always concerned that his guests are having a good time as well. What character!
We enjoyed our first sunrise at the new place. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about this in the future, we just haven't had time to properly enjoy it. You should see more updates this fall as we get into the sunrise paddling again. Heck, let's make it a sunset paddle too.
Tried my hand with the dehydrator and the results didn't turn out too bad. My favorite is the pineapple...oh, so sweet. Mango is on the left, then the pineapple and then strawberries. All of this was added to trail food for Favorite Middle Son who came back from Taiwan for a visit, but has now left on another adventure to bicycle around Lake Michigan. Alas, he's not home for good, darn it, just for 75 days so he can have a family vacation with us before his brother deploys, and to see his sister get married in October. Right, and to pedal around the lake...not like it's a big lake or anything. Ha! My brother said Alex should have pedaled the coast so I could paddle with him. Hmmm....sounds like another adventure brewing.
I tried my hand at kale chips. I have so much kale coming in and I just didn't know what to do with it. Several people have posted rave reviews about the chips, but I dunno. I think they're...okay. Not really. I sort of liked them initially, but then I chucked the whole bowl out in the garden for the birds after deciding that they just weren't good enough. Once you bite them they dissolve into nothingness on the tongue and I detected a slight bitter aftertaste as well. Did I do something wrong? Guess I'm back to freezing the excess, but I don't mind. There are plenty of dishes I can make this winter with frozen kale.
That family vacation I mentioned? Well, it seems Ruby Junes have become a huge hit up there. This pretty bottle is ready and waiting for departure. It looks and smells so good that it's hard to ignore it in the fridge. Soon, very soon.
Once you make the syrup you're left with this delicious rhubarb pulp that simply can not go to waste. I had a very unsuccessful attempt at making tarts with the leftover pulp and, well, they taste delicious, but they do not look pretty. Guess the tummy doesn't mind.
I spied this pretty at a summer festival and I've been lusting one ever since. I really am. I must have one of these. I will have one of these, but I promise to use it for more than just making pizzas, no matter how good they are. How about breads, or pies, or tarts, or...anything. How cool would this be as part of an outdoor kitchen?
So, it's been an incredible summer thus far and the best part is that it isn't over yet. The best is yet to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Apricot Jam

Somehow, someway, I got an idea into my head that I didn't like apricots. All my life I've turned up my nose at apricots as something distasteful, but the truth is, I had never eaten a fresh apricot until one week ago. Having found this jam recipe on Culinate, I needed to try them because the recipe sounded delicious and I thought, "it's jam, how could it taste bad?" I happened to be at the farm market and one of the offerings was fresh picked apricots. I bought two, just to try. Honestly, I still don't like the fuzzy skin, just like I don't like the fuzz on peaches, but once I blanched the fruit and slipped the skin off....oh my, I was wrong. Apricots are a heavenly fruit. Back to the market for more apricots.

And the jam? Yes, just as delicious as I suspected it would be. Do you have other fabulous recipes for apricots? I think I should make good use of these fruits while they're in season.

This basket of kale and basil were put up over the weekend. Basil became pesto which is now residing in my freezer and I froze the kale as well. For two years now I've grown both kale and collard. I feel so earthy when I walk out the back door, grab a few greens and toss them into whatever I'm cooking, so last year it seemed such a shame when I lost all the greens at the first hard frost. I had no idea they could be frozen until I went in search of a way to preserve them and let me tell you, it's crazy simple. Remove the tough stems as far up as possible, tear the leaves into 2" pieces, blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes (collard is blanched for 3 minutes), cool in ice water, pat dry, lay out on a cookie sheet so the sides don't touch and put them into the freezer. Once frozen I dumped the batch into a zip-lock bag for use this winter. Come on, how easy is that?

I love the harvest season.

Friday, August 5, 2011

On finding inspiration

Every year I say I'm going to tear out my grass and turn my yard into complete gardens, and every year I still have grass. I have an idea of what I want to do, but I can't visualize how I want it to turn out. I was in need of inspiration, I was also in need of a granddaughter fix, and there just happened to be garden tours going on last weekend. Trifecta! I have Nicola to thank for reminding me about garden tours as inspiration.

The delightful Miss M stayed with me Friday night so we could go for breakfast together Saturday morning. I admit, I kept her up far too late on Friday, but there's so much fun to be had with this girl that it's difficult for us to get to sleep. Mm hmm, that lack of sleep did not help her decision making regarding what to eat at the restaurant. I went through the whole list of food choices with her and in spite of the fact that she's not a picky eater, everything was, "nah, no, yuck, don't like that, etc.," until I finally laid the menu on the table and said, "look, I've just read the entire menu to you so you just tell me what you feel like eating and I'll order it." "Fine," says she, "I'll have pancakes." Good! We'll have an order of buckwheat pancakes and Cuban eggs, please. Our plates arrived, and we ate and talked cheerfully for a bit until Miss M laid her knife and fork across her plate, leaned towards me and asked, "could we please switch plates?" Um, okay. She thought my Cuban eggs looked delicious and proceeded to devour them. This girl is eating beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, Gaia sauce, eggs and sour cream for breakfast - there might have been avocado in there too - and loved it. Oh, I love this girl. We ended up sharing my breakfast and ate her pancakes later for lunch.

Okay, time to wander over to the garden tours, but first we had to stop at a yard sale that looked interesting. I told her we weren't buying junk, but if we found something we absolutely couldn't live without...and we did, she did. See, I have a briefcase beside my desk that holds all Miss M's paper crafting supplies. Things like paper, scissors, stencils, pens and colored pencils, glue sticks, and she always gets my tote of paper punches out to make books and notes for everyone. She spends a great deal of time decorating her papers, punching out shapes and gluing them in her handmade books. Well, she spied a very large flower punch that was only 50 cents and right next to it was a complete stack of 12x12 scrapbook paper in patterns that a sweet 6 y/o couldn't help but swoon over, and it was only $1.50. As she walked to the car with her treasures she assured me that, "this is the best day ever." Oh, darlin', I know just how you feel.

I'm thrilled I brought her along on the garden tour. In her innocence she wandered everywhere in the gardens and found many cozy and hidden nooks that I would have missed. I followed her lead as she explored every area of every garden and she wasn't ready to move on to the next garden until we had covered the entire space. She made me look closer at the small touches that people used and how they formed their conversation spaces. What a day.
Water was a popular feature in these gardens and with the temperature well into the 90's by the time we were done, you know we had our hands in it at every opportunity.
See that wall behind her? It's not really a stone wall. It's actually a wooden wall covered in the fake stones. How smart is that?
Miss M found these cute little faces hidden amongst the hostas. I probably would have missed them, but she gave them a well deserved awwww.
(Where does she learn that pose from?) She loved this shady area tucked into a side yard. There was just enough room to walk past this table, but the area was so well decorated that you really wanted to sit down and have tea and sandwiches or something.
It's a path so it must mean there is something interesting at the end of it. There was, another water feature and while I don't have a picture of it, this house also had a larger pond that I was sure I would be slipping into in the evenings to cool off from the heat. When I asked the owner if he used it, he looked at me like I was crazy. Something about it being a fish pond? I'm telling you, I would have gotten in - that's how welcoming he made it look.
A clever use of stones. I have plenty of moss growing in my back yard and I thought this might make a nice patio area to sit.
See that red flower? It's a cut up water bottle. I'm pretty sure this idea will end up in my garden as a way to keep color during those lulls between blooms that inevitably happen. And the beads gave a wonderful sparkle to the tree. I have lots of beads.
Now here's a cute craft idea for me to do with the Littles and I get great garden decor as well.
Oh, she was a trooper. I had her slathered in sunscreen and she was practically melting at one point. We took refuge in a coffee shop for iced tea and water with lots of crushed ice. My gosh it was hot out!
She fell in love with these iron chairs and thought they were just the right size for her. We spied them in several gardens and she sat in them each time. You  know I'll be on the lookout for some of these, but I'll have to decide if I'll put them in my garden or give them to her for her own home. We'll see. She would have done well with a gauzy dress and a parasol this day.

You can't see it but there's a stone heart on the ground near her that had a saying like, "all the trees in a garden have music, you just have to quiet your heart to hear it." She took that saying to her heart because I had called her to move on and she mouthed something to me that I couldn't hear. Three times I asked her what she said before walking over and telling her I couldn't hear her. She whispered, "I'm trying to hear the music." Just about melted my heart, I tell ya.
Another great use for all those feathers I've collected over the years.
Part of what intrigued both of us was the coziness of the paths. It all seemed so quaint and tiny and I think that was the point of the conversation areas too. I need to remember that when I implement my garden. Lots of winding paths leading to sitting areas.
Oooh, another fish and this one will use up those jars of shells in the cellar.

I think we walked a total of 26 city blocks before we were done. She hung in there though, right up until the very end when she hit her wall. Both of us were grateful that the tour was finished, but thrilled with our day. So many ideas. Such a wonderful time with Miss M. Best day ever!

Why didn't I do this before?