Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Easy Pickling

I love pickles! I make them out of almost any vegetable. They are the perfect accompaniment to a cheese platter, chopped up in salads or best of all, a quick snack! In the picture above, I added the last tiny purple brussel sprouts from the garden with store bought onions. Apparently the color of the brussel sprouts infused in the brine turning it all a pleasing pink. Simplifying the basic recipe makes it so I make them more often.

Here is all you need to know for the pickle part:
1 part water to 1 part vinegar
1 (or slightly less) tablespoon of salt for each cup of liquid

After that, the fun ingredients are up to you! Garlic cloves, mustard seed, dill, coriander seed, red pepper, and fennel seed are often used in different combinations. You can use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar or a combination. I boil the liquid and salt and then pour over packed jars. It is that simple! Any vegetable will do, onions, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms to name a few.

Last summer I succumbed to buying this book after seeing it in a library in Nova Scotia, The Joy of Pickling by Linda  Ziedrich. I take it out to show anyone who compliments my pickles (that will teach them!) It has more recipes for all kinds of pickles than most people will ever get to, but it is good inspiration for interesting combinations. 
So next time you have too many of a good thing in the garden, or see something particularly beautiful on the produce shelves.....pickle it!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pintrest Possibilities

Tremella mesenterica - Golden Jelly Lichen

How do you use Pintrest? I have several boards that I share with everyone, but I have a few boards I keep hidden for my own use. One board I call Moss and Lichens. I use it as my own digital field guide that I add to. When I take walks and see a moss or lichen, I bring it home to identify. Culling through images, I find what I think is the quintessential image, pin it to the board and add the common and Latin name. 

Cladonia  cristatella - British Soldier Lichen

This way I have a quick and easy reference when I can't remember what something is called. Being a visual learner, this has potential to be a better field guide than any book. I say potential because it will only be as good as what I make of it!

Leucobryum glaucum- White Pin Cushion Moss

 Sifting through all the online images and finding the one that shows all the combined characteristics of a species is a quick contemporary version of how naturalists of the past created field guides. Roger Tory Peterson painted his 1934, A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America
 by studying all the aspects of one species and then combining all the definitive attributes in one view.
How do you use Pintrest?
Look for more Art of the Garden posts on Pintrest.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Forward Step!

It has been almost two years since I started this blog, and today was a big day in the journey as I bought the domain name! I am full of idea possibilities. Thought I would post this picture of the ginger I bought this fall as a reminder that there is so much right in front of us, and we can only hope to notice a small portion of it. One foot in front of the other!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cole Crops Still Going Strong

At this time of year we have only a few hardy souls left in the garden, but those we have seem to be flourishing! Tuscan Kale, purple and green brussel sprouts, onion, shallots and the last of the bok choy. Kale, bok choy, and cabbage are cole crops that get a bit sweeter with a frost or two (or ten!) Read here for a quick overview of cole crops that are crucial to a Maine gardeners season. Not only are they cold tolerant, they have great amounts of protein and vitamins. (Read this to see why cabbage is the healthiest food on earth!) I finally got a day when it was nice and I had the time to bring in most of what is left. 

Now I have large grocery bags of kale and cabbage in the refrigerator and more cabbage heads in the basement. This Tuscan Kale is particularly beautiful and even at this late date I have regrets about taking it down. This will be a staple next year again for color and texture. Such dark green leaves and now they look a little like a palm tree!

This now calls for creative cookery with all things cabbage and kale. I have a few recipes that are true winners that I will share soon. But what I wasn't planning on was Lily (our American Eskimo dog) loving kale as much as I do! She follows me in the garden and has picked up some habits (good or bad depending on what I am looking at for dinner!) from watching me. She loves blueberries!  Her blue lips and smile are a tell tale sign she has stolen the days crop! She also developed a taste for cherry tomatoes, which she bulls through other things to get to, trampling everything to get to the sweet red balls. But now I see, she LOVES brussel sprout leaves! As I was harvesting the sprouts, I heard crunching behind me, and Lily, with paw poised on the stem to hold it steady (does that count as using a tool?) she was eating leaf after leaf of the brussel sprouts as I cut them down. Could that be her nibbles on the sprout head that I assumed were from the snails? Ok, I know that it is good for her, but should I be encouraging this behavior? Ok, yes, is the answer!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

With all the rain we have had lately, you might see these mushrooms cropping up along the roadsides. Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) mushrooms are one of Maine's edible mushrooms, and these cool and wet days are perfect conditions for them to grow. In late summer and fall, they grow fast and deteriorate faster so don't hesitate if you plan on trying these beauties. Like with all mushrooms, you must be absolutely sure about your identification before eating! But for those that feel confident, they say that they go well with meat. Read more about Shaggy Manes here and here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Harvard Museum of Natural History: Glass Flowers are Just the Start!

A couple of weeks ago we went to Boston and went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I never tire of natural history museums, especially older ones that have the history of the institution layered on top of the specimens seen there. Though the three other Harvard Museums underwent renovations, they preserved the charm of the original displays here at the Natural History Museum.

This small museum has a few treasures, but most amazing is the glass flower collection commissioned back in 1886 by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of Harvard’s Botanical Museum. Over 49 years, this collection was hand made by Leopold (1822-1895) and Rudolf Blaschka (1857-1939), father and son glass artists who lived and worked in Hosterwitz, Germany, near Dresden. Every one is perfectly detailed.

There are 847 life-size models representing 780 species and varieties of plants in 164 families as well as over 3,000 models of enlarged parts. The Glass Flowers are on permanent display in the where they draw nearly 200,000 visitors each year. My husband walked by this example of his favorite weed, the great mullein, not realizing that it was made from blown glass. Once it sunk in, he looked at every specimen, stunned. These artists also made magnified replicas of the reproductive parts of each flower that are fascinating.

This artist team also made many glass examples of marine life. These were so delicate and exquisite. Here are a few pictures (that may be a little blurry) of some of the specimens. Some so odd and difficult to make out of glass!

But then we came into the great hall of mammals. I got the same feeling as when I was a child at a natural history museum, being dwarfed amongst the giants that roam the earth.  This museum is laid out like natural history museums of its era, where there is a gallery on the second floor, to view it all from above.

Their tiger collection is exceptional and they have a hanging whale skeleton that comes right into your space as you walk the second floor.

Their bird collection was impressive in range but a bit worn looking. Many of these animals were collected at least a hundred years ago - so I think tired goes with the territory, so to speak. You certainly wouldn't want new specimens collected! I did love the hand carved little stand for each display though - these were clearly made for the original displays.

This is what makes this museum so rewarding, is its own institutional history being on display for all of us to sense our place and time in the continuum. It is a museum of a museum in a sense. Our need and love to collect, categorize, and display our world can be seen in this old world gem.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

I had not made it to the Botanical Gardens this summer, so we decided to drive up on a gorgeous fall day. Thinking that most things would be past, I wasn't ready for the beauty that was still at it's best.

Supplementing all the gardens were arrangements of pumpkins, artfully adding color.

I realized that in summer I look at the plant varieties, learning new hybrids, but in the fall it is all about structure. Color and form become more apparent. The drifts of foliage in fall colors were stunning.

I love the living roofs on both the children's garden and the labyrinth hut. In fall they take on the look of hair that has been in the sun all summer!

Living roofs are being used more and more in architecture especially in urban contexts. Keeping urban places cooler by absorbing heat instead of reflecting it back into the atmosphere, they provide good insulation and absorb rainwater.

A well done display of pumpkins..this vignette by the children's garden has really matured since I last saw it. Grasses have come in around the pond and there is something for the eye in every corner.  It reminded me of Marie Antionette's Petite Trianon...a fantasy land for children and adults!

The pumpkins lead your eye along the paths.

My favorite walk though is down to the meditation garden. We always stop at the waterfall to get ideas for water features at home. There is something satisfying about these planters and the cutout granite basin.

Probably the most familiar sight is this glass sculpture on the hill providing a beautiful contrast to the woods around it. The cut glass twinkles in the understory. Perhaps most striking this time of year, this piece becomes more part of the landscape as moss grows on the bottom and roots itself into the forest floor.

The setting sun was stunning as we reached the bottom. The only people in the meditation garden, we sat for a long time enjoying the smells and sounds around us. We might have been the only relaxed entities in the forest though. All the animals were very busy- no time for meditating! We were almost run over by squirrels running around defending territories with their squawks. Birds madly flew from tree to tree eating seeds and insects. Everyone was so focused on what they were doing we could get very close. Here a little red squirrel munches on perhaps a bud for next year. All this activity made us hungry for our own into Boothbay Harbor we went. What a perfect afternoon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Backyard birdfeeder: Seeds and Fruit Aplenty

How many goldfinch can you see in this photo? We seem to have a flock of American Goldfinch in our yard all year, but in the fall the flock grows to at least 35. Very social, they fly from the white pines in the yard to the lilacs by the feeder in groups. You know they are there before you can see them by their constant chatter and high chirping. They love the fact that I didn't deadhead my echinecea.

It made me look for all the seeds and fruit near our house. Here are the small but abundant hips from the small pink swamp rose that is all along the roadside.

Elderberry is blue black this time of year.
Native peoples used this plant as a diuretic, laxative and wound poultice, but Robins, Nuthatches, Bluebirds, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, Kingbirds and Phoebes all use this berry as a food source. Our area is rich in Phoebes, so we can't know which comes first the bird or the berry!

Here another beauty, wild on the side of the road, maybe escaped from some old farm..a wild crabapple I think. Laden with fruit that is small enough for birds to dig in. Rich in Vitamin C and seeds for protein.

Here is another crabapple- just wild along the road. So pretty..who knows the variety from years past. It isn't one that I am familiar with, the tree was more spindly than those we find today in garden centers...but wow, that fruit is gorgeous! So much to eat out there, the bird feeder stays full, but the yard is full of chirping. Be on the lookout for what birds like in your yard...and maybe plant more of that next year. It is great for them and very entertaining for us!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Probiotics: Sauerkraut is supreme!

There is a lot of talk about how important it is to keep the bacteria in our gut alive and healthy. 

My great grandparents knew this as did all peasants. Pickles and fermented foods were a huge part of their diets. These foods have all the bacteria we need to keep a healthy digestive tract. Mostly importantly though, they are delicious and have been incorporated in traditional cooking in every country! Southeast Asians know how Kim Chi can balance a meal, the Germans know that sauerkraut is the perfect balance to a heavy sausage. The world has always used these foods that aid in digestion.
With our medicinal use of antibiotics, these foods have regained the notice they deserve as a way to restore the bacteria we destroy.
There is little so beautiful and good for you than cabbage. To make this super easy recipe for sauerkraut here is what you will need:
5 lbs of cabbage
3 tablespoons of sea salt
and a container in which to ferment.
Process the cabbage the way you like. I used a food processor that I have had for 30 years set to make slaw. Finely chopped it will all ferment together nicely, but you can certainly hand chop your cabbage for a heartier texture. Add the salt as you go, in between layers so that the salt covers everything.  This will make the water release from the cabbage and create it's own brine. After 24 hours, add a touch of water to make sure it all is under the brine.
The brine is what you want. Pack the cabbage in a container that you can also apply a weight. Now is where I have to talk about one of my favorite friends, Carol Patterson. A docent at the Portland Museum of Art ( where I've worked for the last 9+ years), we always find so much to talk about every time we meet for lunch. One day the topic turned to pickles! She, of course, had made many pickles in her day but hadn't in recent years. She offered me her wonderful crock made by an artist on Peak's Island some 30 years before. This crock is made in the traditional way, where the weight for the pickles, fits perfectly inside and is heavy to keep the vegetables below the water line. Where the fermentation happens and the oxygen is crowded out.

Any ceramic bowl will do, and then look for a plate to fit onto the top. You can weigh the plate down with a milk jug, stones or anything  heavy enough to keep all the fermentation below the water line.
Eh voila! In a a week or so things will start to burble and froth. You can skim off froth and mold, but these are only on the surface..fermentation is happening. Happy biotics are cooking along. After you try this batch..and are ready for another...add any vegetable you like..onion, carrot, beet..anything ferments in this way. Couldn't be simpler or healthier.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best Summer Photos

It has been a cool and fruitful summer. We have enjoyed great harvests,
and so have the woodchucks. Luckily the woodchucks liked the raddichio
best, which I had planted too much of, and they left us some of
everything else, (although we will see who wins the battle over the
Tuscan Kale!)

Garlic, red and green cabbage, Tennis Ball lettuce, Bright Lights Swiss chard, Cherokee lettuce, summer savory, grey thyme and my favorite Chioggia beets. The strings defining each row are more a dog deterrent than for straight lines. If I put a string on each side of the row, our dog Lily is less apt to run all over the rows!

Every year I say I will paint these antique architectural brackets before the rose comes in, but then spring hits and I promise to do it in the fall. It has been over 4 years now...

Reseeded from the fields, I don't mind this native version of rudebeckia, it is welcome color in the late summer.

 In this herb garden, in the spring it is all purple/blue. Catmint, baptisia, chives,
egyptian onions, lovage, lemon balm, lanium and boxwoods.

 In early summer the peonies bloom under our sunroom window, the hostas are still in control. Here is the Euyonomous that got hit by the Bradford pear next to it one winter ago. Luckily you can cut these back hard and they will fill in within a season.

Fairy rose did well, and the new Bloodgood maple near the birdfeeder is a hit! The birds love waiting their turn on the branches, and the color is a eye stopper!

Pre-woodchuck, the kitchen garden at its best.

Always expanding, this part of the kitchen garden is stakes and large things. Tuscan kale, tomatoes, onions, shallots, purple brussel sprouts and snap peas. This was taken before the woodchuck dug the whole to the center of the earth in the middle!

Mid-summer there is always the next planting. Here I added more compost to power up the soil for the next flush. It all looks so dark and moist when you first put it down.  This year I tried the no dig method, and though it saved my back, the compost straight from the pile gets dried out fast. I may turn it in a bit next year...I guess I just have to dig!

 Daisies, always welcome. At dusk they glow.

Brights Lights swiss chard and Mammouth Red Rock cabbage...gorgeous!

 Perhaps my favorite picture, taken when color, texture and variety are at their best in the kitchen garden late July. Fun to remember how it all on to fall!