Thursday, November 19

Feeling A Little Dirty...

The Meyer lemon is about halfway to full bloom now, and it smells heavenly in my dining room. Its wonderful lemony perfume that wafts through the house, especially when the heater kicks on and swirls the scent around. And the pristine white (which I usually am ambivalent about at best) blooms are gorgeous in their elegant simplicity.

At first I thought that I would just enjoy the fragrance and flowers... but after so many people commented about waiting on a crop of Meyer lemons themselves I had an about-face and decided to try for the trifecta.  I feel a little silly and inept going around to all of the blooms with the soft paintbrush every day (like a fumbling but enthusiastic 15-year-old boy?!) but I'm really not sure when exactly to pollinate, so I'm covering all my bases.

I understand that I won't get to enjoy the lemons themselves until next year... but I'll know whether any of my ministrations bear fruit--literally--in the next few months, I think!  Stay tuned...  

Saturday, November 14

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2009

 What a beautiful weekend!  As I was out taking photo after photo for November's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day (hosted each month by the lovely and funny Carol of May Dreams Gardens) on Saturday, I kept thinking, "Wow, and there are flowers on THIS, too?" and, "Really, who would have guessed that I'd still be seeing such a show from my salvia guaranitica 'Black & Blue' this late in the season?"  But there it was:

Which brings me to why I participate in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day each month:  Not only is it a lot of fun to see what's blooming in OPG (Other People's Gardens) but also it keeps me on track with the whole "garden journal" purpose of my blog.  While the images were downloading onto my computer, I went back through previous Bloom Days and discovered that LOTS of plants that are blooming today were still blooming here in the past few Novembers, too, including:


Top to bottom, those images show:  'Munstead' lavender, 'Hameln' pennisetum with blue caryopteris, self-sown red snapdragons with one branch of the still-blooming 'Walker's Low' catmint behind, 'Purple Dragon' lamium, 'Jumping Jack' (zygopetalum) orchid, 'Vodka' wax begonias, pineapple sage fronting 'Rotstrahlbusch' switchgrass, lonicera sempervirens--a the native honeysuckle, 'Sweet Kate' tradescantia, 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage with 'Sweet Kate' behind, 'Ozark' strawberries, and 'Caradonna,' which is my favorite of the long-blooming perennial purple salvias.

I admit, I was a little bit disappointed to find out that many of my "Special November Flowers" weren't really all that special after all!  But there are a few new things blooming here in the garden, like:


Top to bottom:  Mandevilla sanderi, 'Albury Purple' St. John's Wort, 'Meyer Improved' lemon--which is scenting the dining room wonderfully!--above dark purple begonia foliage, unnamed variety of calendula, lemon verbena, the insidious but pretty 'Neon Lights' mini snapdragons (linaria aerugimea) that self-sow everywhere, and a tiny sprig of alyssum peeking out from a mound of silver 'Amazon Sun' lotus vine foliage.

Other things in bloom at my house this weekend, but not shown in pictures, include:  Peace lily, Thanksgiving cactus, 'Dragon Wing' begonia, 'Grosso' lavender, golden oregano, and 'All Gold' hakonechloa.

Want to see more November blooms?  First check out Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day Post, and then visit the links at the bottom for more.

Monday, November 9

Any Given Sunday

The sun shone brightly all weekend... as if it somehow KNEW that there was no way Cleveland residents were going to be subjected to yet another Browns loss, and it wanted to celebrate with us. (Maybe Ma Nature has NFL bye weeks marked on her calendar?!)  I was on the garden center schedule until 5pm on Sunday, but when things slowed down around 3:45 I was able to head home to do some work in the garden.

There is still lots of color in the front yard (above) and the oakleaf hydrangea just gets more stunning every day.  But it was the backyard that needed the majority of the work today, so I didn't linger in front for very long.  I did, however, stop inside for a second to take a picture of my blooming Thanksgiving cactus:

The poor thing really need to be repotted out of the small birdbath where it currently resides--and I will do that as soon as its show is over--but there wasn't much time to even think about that.  Daylight is precious and short in the after-work hours right now, and I had a lot of cleanup to do. There were still tomato plants, peppers, and even herbs left in the garden to clean up!

Once the sun set, I headed back inside with a huge basket--trash can lid, actually!--full of the almost-last produce of the gardening year.  I stopped at the computer to search for an interesting green tomato recipe that didn't include the word "fried" in it, and was surprised to find more than a few references to "green tomato gratin."

After checking out both the recipes online and the contents of my cupboard, I decided to do some freelancing and came up with the dish shown both above and below: 

My version of Green Potatoes Gratin:  Rub sides of 9" square baking dish with butter. Cut green tomatoes in a large dice, sprinkle with 1 large garlic clove (minced) and about 3/4 cup of panko (or other breadcrumbs, or some other sort of filler) and dot with about 2 Tbsp of butter.  Then top with 1 tsp. freshly ground sea salt, cracked black pepper to taste, grated white cheddar (all I had left in the fridge, about 2-3 oz.) and a few more Tbsp. of grated asiago.  Bake at 375 covered for about 45 minutes, then another 15 minutes uncovered to brown the topping, then another 10-15 minutes or so, covered, until the largest tomatoes are fork-tender.

When finished, this dish was amazing. Green tomatoes are pretty flavorless on their own and not as acidic, so the taste was hard to describe.  It tasted a bit like baba ghanouj, just without the sesame/tahini flavor.  I am definitely going to make this again--and soon, since I have lots of green tomatoes left!--but I think I'm going to add some smoked paprika.  And maybe make just a batch of roasted green peppers to use as a different base for a baba ghanoj-type spread, just for the heck of it.

While the tomato gratin was baking in the oven, I devoted the rest of my evening to cleaning up the rest of the pears.  They simmered on the stove along with cinnamon (bark,) cardamom, maple and vanilla, and will be turned into all kinds of yummy goodness this week. 

I decided about halfway through the evening that I would not have made a very good pioneer woman, however.  Not that I couldn't have accomplished the tasks at hand, but I have enough trouble escaping my head anyway... and peeling and dicing pears gave me way too much time to think!  But I did sleep well, at least... with the sweet scents of spiced pears lingering in the air.

Hope you all made good use of this beautiful Indian Summer weekend, too!

Friday, November 6

Pear Pie, Lemon Buds and Fried Green Tomatoes

Seriously, is this not one of the weirdest blog post titles you have ever seen?  It's definitely been a strange stretch of days, both garden- and cooking-wise, though, so the title "fits" my week pretty well!

The weirdness started on Sunday night, when I freaked out a little bit because the temperatures were supposed to drop down into the low 30s for the first time.  I had left my tomato plants up in the garden as a little experiment to see just how long into a Northeast Ohio November they would survive... but I had a LOT of green tomatoes out there, and I hated the thought of them all going to waste.  So I went out and picked a bunch of the largest ones left on the vine:

A not-quite-ripe 'Pineapple' with pretty yellow stripes but (sadly) no red streaks

On Monday nights, I head over to Steve's apartment and we watch "Jeopardy," "Heroes," and "Castle," and just generally chill out while Steve makes dinner.  Sunday night, I told him that I needed to make use of some of my newly harvested green tomatoes, and offered to fry them up as part of Monday supper.  Sliced to about 1/4 of an inch, breaded first in flour seasoned with smoked paprika, sea salt and black pepper, and then in cornmeal... they were delicious.

On Tuesday after work, I noticed a distinct pear smell when I walked into the kitchen.  Last week, during a quick trip home, my grandma and I filled up a large grocery bag with fresh pears from her neighbor's tree.  Eloise doesn't do anything with the pears anymore so she's glad when someone takes them so they don't go to waste... and I'm planning to bring her a jar of pear butter as a thank you when I go home for Thanksgiving.  But Tuesday night, I skipped the pear butter and made this instead:

It's a mishmash of two recipes from Epicurious, Pear Pie with Maple and Ginger and Pear-Cardamom Pie with Almond Crust.  Steve and I tasted it while it was still oven-warm, and it was... absolutely amazing:  The flavors were  more subtle and delicate than I thought I was capable of producing in a pastry, and completely balanced.

The next day, though, I had a small sliver of pie after work and was surprised to find that it tasted completely bland!  In a panic, I tossed it in the microwave for a few seconds... and luckily that did the trick.  I handed out a few slices to friends with the warning that it needed to be reheated, but I'm still curious:  Why would both the spices and the luscious pear flavor itself disappear like that at room temperature?  Any of my foodie friends have a guess as to why the heat restored the flavor excitement?

Speaking of excitement, this gardener is extremely excited about a certain development in her indoor garden:

There are 51 (yes, fifty-one!) flower buds on my Meyer (Improved) lemon!  I'm sure that they won't all turn into baby lemons--and I know that the ones that do will not be ready to pick for a while--but I will definitely enjoy the flower fragrance in a few weeks.  And if I get enough to make even just one of the yummy-sounding Meyer Lemon recipes I've uncovered, I'll be ecstatic.

Hope that everyone has a wonderful weekend, full of similarly pleasant surprises!

Sunday, November 1

The Year of Should've: A Hike to Brandywine Falls

I'm noticing a trend here lately in my blog posts.  They all start off with, "What I should have been doing was A," and proceed to talk about how I spent my free time frolicking and following Plan B instead.  This theme continued throughout my past week of vacation.  On Monday, Steve took a day off of work as well.  We bummed around all day, having delicious corned beef sandwiches (and a cream puff as big as a football--which we both shared for dessert on Tuesday night as well!) at Simon's in Brecksville, and then nosing around Leener's and buying stuff to brew our own Root Beer. 

And then we headed to the Stanford House in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to take a short but fun hike to Brandywine Falls.  When you arrive at Stanford House, you kind of feel like you're trespassing, because you have to drive behind this big old barn to find the parking lot:

Recently, Stanford House was also a hostel, and also served as a retreat place for some local school groups.  Now, they have rustic campgrounds there that you can reserve, with both water and chemical toilets for your use.  They also have this blue tanker labeled "Drinking Water," which I wouldn't be brave enough to use but which looked pretty against the yellow fall leaves:

This great old maple tree was near the trailhead.  When I looked up at it before we got started, I felt like it was kind of giving me a hug--because its branches fanned out all around:

I assume that this was once a chicken coop or some other kind of animal area... but maybe someone better versed in farming can set me straight here?  Whatever it was, it may be on its way to a return to its former glory, judging by the recent addition of plywood and other boards:

Isn't that old brick great, by the way?  I love the texture, and the sheen:

Steve spotted this huge millstone, on the edge of a field, from a good 50 feet away.  He has good eyes--mine skimmed right over it, assuming that it was just a regular old rock:

The same millstone, with our feet (mine are a women's 9, his are a men's 14) near the center to give you an idea of how huge this millstone was. Notice the leaves inside? There was a foot or so of space below the stone, which makes me wonder if it covers up something like an old well shaft. There's no mill or creek around for a while, so no other reason for it to be here:

While we were checking out the millstone, a rustling and tapping in the nearby field caught our attention.  It wasn't long before we spotted the woodpecker--a male downy woodpecker, I think?--tapping at the browned tubes in search of dinner.  Taking a photo of him was another story. This single clear photo was probably photo #11 or 12:

Photo accomplished, we headed off toward the falls.  The first part of the walk is through a meadow area, and I loved how the bright white shocks of opened milkweed seedpods punctuated the field of grasses. In the late afternoon light, they reminded me of tiny deer tails:

If I had to guess, I would say that this is a ground cherry... but it doesn't have that papery husk.  Anyone else want to venture an ID for this bright yellow fruit?

There's something kind of lovely about the meadow of browned plants against a light blue sky, with still-green grass at its feet:

I loved the quirky shape of this already-bare tree, spotted just off the path:

Finally, the first footbridge, leading into the woods, of the 4 that you encounter on this trail.  I've done this hike at least 6 or 8 times now, mostly toward evening time, and this is always the marker for being "out of the woods" on the way home.

You rarely encounter any humans on this trail until you reach the falls, but don't think that doesn't mean you are really "alone" out here.  The woods have eyes!  Do you see?

We probably saw half a dozen deer, and heard at least a handful more, during our hike.  It's such a seldom-used trail that the sense that you are encroaching on their land (which of course, we were) really hits home.  And it also struck me how big woodland animals like deer are typically very quiet (identifiable by single branch cracks) while the small animals like squirrels and chipmunks make enough noise for animals 10x their size.

Steve and I were making just as much noise, shuffling through the carpet of newly-fallen leaves:

Very few wildflowers were still blooming here--it's just a half hour south of where I live, but they get frost and colder temps much earlier than I do.  (Thank you, Lake Erie!)  A few asters, and this dainty little persicaria, were among the bloomers:

The fungus "blooms" were everywhere, though, including this huge "bouquet" at the foot of a fallen tree:

The trees that still were upright with leaves were mostly those showing yellow coloring.  It made for a golden, warm, cathedral effect as the sun streamed through to the path:

The walk is fairly hilly (190ft vertical over the course of the walk, not counting the falls) and when you went down into a valley, just the tops of the trees around you would be sunlit:

It amazes me how much the color of the sky can change from photograph to photograph, even when the camera settings remain the same.  Check out how much bluer the sky looks in this zoomed-in photo below, as compared to the one above:

The plants weren't all golden, however.  A few deciduous trees still retained their green leaf color, and many little colonies of green ferns popped up here and there.  They were particularly abundant in this little creek ravine:

And this hillside, near another footbridge, was completely covered in green:

I have "a thing for" twisted fallen trees, and can rarely pass one without snapping a picture or two.  I would love to have a piece like this to use as a focal point/natural sculpture in my front yard:

This, I believe, is a new footbridge that they built over the summer.  Very sturdy, and they picked a color that would work well with the surroundings:

We soon exited the woods, and picked up a crumbling old road that has long been closed to car traffic.  We were very close to the Falls, but couldn't resist stopping to try to get a few pics of some impressive wildlife.  See them in the white box below?

Not sure what you're looking at?  You might still not know after viewing my blurry photo below (zooming all the way, in low natural light, leads to blurry pictures!) so I'll give you a hint:  If they weren't on National Park land, they might have to worry about being served for dinner somewhere in a few weeks!

Giving up on the wild turkey photos, I shot one last picture down the ravine.  Here, the water from Brandywine Creek starts to calm back down after its trip down the falls... but it's still a rocky creek bed.  We could hear it better than we could see it through the evergreens:

As we descended the stairs that lead to the observation deck, the view opened up to give us a better look at the rocky creek:

When we rounded the last corner, we were glad that so many of the leaves were already gone.  You generally can see the last stairs and observation deck from here, but when there's no leaf canopy, you can immediately view the falls themselves as well:

Brandywine Falls were first formed between 300-400 million years ago.  The lighter layers at the top are made of Berea sandstone, and the darker layers at the bottom are made of Bedford shale.  (Berea and Bedford are two local towns, so I assume these stone names just designate that they are the "type of sandstone like one could find in X town."  But I'm not sure.)

Anyway, the sandstone is harder than the shale, which chips away much more easily, and that's why you see the overhang at the top:

I wonder if, a long time down the road (as in, not in my lifetime) the lower level will be taken away entirely by the power of the water?  And what would be left would be a straight drop of water, uninterrupted, from the top of the Berea sandstone into a deepening pool carved out of the Bedford shale below.  Whatever the life cycle of the falls is meant to be eventually, right now it's a gorgeous "bridal veil" style waterfall:

But we didn't have a lot of time to admire it.  The darkening sky and the time on Steve's cell phone sent us the message that we had to hustle unless we wanted to get stuck in the woods in the dark.  We started to ascend the 69-step, multi-tiered decking to head back to the trail:

But I couldn't resist taking this cool shot of a fern growing out of the rock ledge overhead:

We wasted no more time on photos, and little time on conversation, as we powered back through the woods to our starting point.  Remember the "out of the woods" footbridge I mentioned earlier?  I know I can make it through the meadow part in almost complete darkness (don't ask!) so we were aiming to reach the footbridge by the last remaining daylight...

.... and we made it, just in the nick of time!  By the time we got back to the car, our cheeks were pink with an autumn chill and with the exertion of our speed walking.  And we were a little too tired from our day of bumming to brew any root beer yet that night... so that will be another post.

Unless, of course, I find something else to do when I "should be" brewing root beer.  Who knows?  After all, this IS turning out to be "The Year of Should've!"