Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Apple-Rhubarb Crunch

This recipe comes from a book which Les gave me called, The Joy of Rhubarb. She knows how much I love this stuff! In addition to great recipes, I like the way it looks.

Apple-Rhubarb Crunch

3 cups apples, pared and sliced
2 cups fresh rhubarb, diced
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 375º F.
Mix apples and rhubarb in a shallow, ungreased 2-quart baking dish; sprinkle with sugar. Drizzle with vanilla extract.

In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, oatmeal, cinnamon and salt. Cut in butter until crumbly. Spoon over fruit mixture. Bake 25-30 minutes or until fruit is tender. Serve warm with sweetened whipped cream.

My notes:
I diced the apples rather than slicing them.
Both sugars were Sugar in the Raw brand.
I used regular rolled oats.
Definitely butter!
I greased the dish with cooking spray.
I didn't have whipped cream, but it was delicious in plain yogurt.

This is one of my favorite rhubarb treats so far! Well, I guess I always think that, but this is really, really good.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Today's poem by William Carlos Williams

The Widow's Lament In Springtime

Sorrow is my own yard
where the new grass
flames as it has flamed
often before but not
with the cold fire
that closes round me this year.
Thirtyfive years
I lived with my husband.
The plumtree is white today
with masses of flowers.
Masses of flowers
load the cherry branches
and color some bushes
yellow and some red
but the grief in my heart
is stronger than they
for though they were my joy
formerly, today I notice them
and turned away forgetting.
Today my son told me
that in the meadows,
at the edge of the heavy woods
in the distance, he saw
trees of white flowers.
I feel that I would like
to go there
and fall into those flowers
and sink into the marsh near them.

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Farm and Garden Report - May 27

My motto for May must surely be 'I can't keep up.' From gardening to housework to reading to making supper to writing my letters, I am constantly behind. A couple years ago, I offered a Christopher Morley quote:
April prepares her green traffic light and the world thinks GO!
That's exactly it, with just a change in month. May is when everything really happens around here. Almost minute to minute you can see the grass grow or a plant come into flower.

The first miracles in the garden are rhubarb and chives.

These workhorses come up year after year, providing food and beauty with no help from me at all. We've got four big plants of each, and we've had to divide them over the years because they outgrow their spaces. I use the chives at almost every supper, and the rhubarb often. I have frozen 9 cups of the latter, and honestly could probably freeze 99 cups! But there are just so many rhubarb desserts that we can eat in a year. I'm trying something different this year. The author of the recipe in Country Living which I posted said that she freezes her rhubarb with a little sugar. I've always just chopped it up and frozen it, so we'll see if the sugar addition makes any difference.

The early days of May were all about color at the bird feeders. After months of the winter visitors, clothed like their surroundings in browns, blacks, whites, and grays, suddenly three kinds of birds brought the bright colors of red, yellow, and blue in the form of purple finches [query: why are they called purple when they are so clearly red?], gold finches, and blue jays. And the mourning doves' orange feet! Have they always been that color and I've just never noticed?? We took down the feeders mid-month. Feeding had slowed considerably, and on the 16th Margaret looked out her window and saw a black bear ambling into her yard. We thought we'd better take away any incentive for showing up at our house. You may remember that I told you in the May 4 report that Tom saw a bear. Wonder if it is the same one? Just yesterday one crossed in front of us down on the main road. Ah, spring.

The first lawn mowing happened on Mother's Day evening. The light was so very beautiful and impossible to capture, just as is the lovely smell of fresh mown grass. Look for a lawn mowing related posting soon.

We've made a decision that we aren't going to build a patio off the kitchen, not this year and maybe not at all. We can't afford it in either time or money. We've just bought six new replacement windows for the study and the living room. We lose a lot of heat through those rattly old windows.

L - old, R - new

L - old, R - new

And we had to replace the porch roof. Remember that beautiful paint work Tom did in the study? Well, the ice built up on that old roof and we had terrible leaks in the porch ceiling and the water dripped right down into one window, and one wall, buckling the sheetrock.

We got a cool slate blue metal roof!

The cost wasn't bad because the man put it on right over the old roof. Maybe someday the whole house will be roofed in blue, but that is quite a ways off. The other thing we want to put time and money into this summer is painting our kitchen. That room has been looking sad for a lot of years now. Tom is almost finished with the butt'ry space but still must fix the window and door before they can be painted.

Heard the wood thrush on May 12, surely the sweetest bird song.

On May 16, 'our' rabbit appeared! We never see more than the one, but he or she usually shows up several times in the summer. We never have trouble with it in the veg garden. I think it greatly prefers the fresh green grass.

The bluebird couple are definitely back, about which we have mixed emotions. The male is that beautiful blue color, and they are spoken of as the 'bluebirds of happiness' after all, but you may recall the anguish and hassle they brought last spring. It's like a romantic comedy in the north pasture. This morning the bluebirds were on the wire, with nesting material in the female's mouth, and they were all shook up because just below them on the ground the male turkey was doing his love dance to two (!!) females. I opened the window to coax the turkeys to move along so the bluebirds could get back to their homebuilding.

Not great shots, because they were through the window with the zoom on the little camera, but you get the idea. But look at this one! I think those are two males. Geez, does that mean we have two nesting pairs??

The robins are already nesting. I only see them occasionally when they come out to get food. No visible nests. I think a flicker is nesting in the old crabapple out back. I've heard a new bird I can't identify yet. A sparrow perhaps.

There are lilacs everywhere.

The early crabapples have come and gone and the later one is in bud.

The honeysuckles - red, cream, and pink are full of bumblebees. This is the height of the year for fragrance.

The lily-of-the-valley is still blooming beautifully, while the violets have started to fade.

After a year of not using cocoa mulch because our store didn't stock it, we're putting it on the flower gardens again.

I really love this stuff. Of course the smell is quite appealing, but also it enriches the soil, and makes it easy to pull the weeds.

As this fleeting month of May comes to a close, I wish my US readers a happy Memorial Day weekend which we view as the true beginning of summer.

I'll close this report with a John Deere ad I just love.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A late May evening at the movies - Of Gods and Men

As I sat in the theatre last evening, I lost track of time and space and felt as if I were in a little Algerian village. Though there was poverty and illness, there was an almost idyllic quality of life. Christian monks, of the Order of the Cistercians, better known as Trappists, and Muslim people existed together in peace. Both groups participated in the market, the monks bringing honey from their bees. The Christian doctor ministered to his Muslim patients with great love and care. When there was a special Muslim occasion, the monks were all invited, and were clearly very moved by the ceremony.

We see a young girl seeking innocent romantic advice from this old monk. She asks if he has been in love, and he said, yes, many times but it was sixty years ago, and then he found the greatest love of all.

There's a scene that is almost painful in its everyday normalcy where the monks' car has broken down and several Muslim women walking the road stop. They banter like old friends, and then go their separate ways.

The landscape is amazing. The town is full of steps connecting the different levels. There are wide empty spaces outside of town. In one scene we see two monks building a wall, and one of them just forgets the work as he stares off into the vast, beautiful countryside. I learned after the movie that it was filmed in Morocco, but my guess is that the feeling of the land is the same.

This film is based on a true story which occurred in the 1990s during the Algerian civil war. Suddenly, startlingly some people are brutally murdered. They were Croatian workers, killed in an anti-foreigner rampage. Now it is clear that the monks are in danger if they stay. They talk and pray about it. Do they leave their calling, or do they stay and risk death? This is the underlying question of the movie but the viewer almost forgets as the monks go about their quotidian routines.

This is not a fast-paced movie. The viewer becomes almost a participant in the monastic life. When the monks chant, the filmmaker shows the whole thing, not a little fragment. There is stillness as a monk loads wood onto a cart. We feel we are observers of something sacred and we are changed by our being amongst these quiet believers in this truly wonderful film.

Before I show you the trailer, I want to share some words of Mary Oliver which I read just this week.
You have to be in the world to understand what the spiritual is about, and you have to be spiritual in order to truly be able to accept what the world is about.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today's poem by Amy Lowell


False blue,
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.

False blue,
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.

Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.

False blue,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)

On the cover of Time Magazine, March 2, 1925. She died the following May.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Necessary As Blood by Deborah Crombie

41. Necessary As Blood - thirteenth in the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series
by Deborah Crombie
mystery, 2009
Kindle book - 22
finished, 5/13/11

The book begins in such a beautiful way. A textile artist and her young daughter are in the top-of-the-house space where the mother does her work. When a disparate note crept into the description I had to stop and read it again, thinking I had read it wrong. But no. This troubling hint comes back much later in the book.

The further I read in Necessary as Blood, the more I felt this is partially a story of the challenges parents face who work outside the house. I'll try not to give too much away, but here in the thirteenth book in the series, Gemma James has a family and a home. Yet she is seldom there. We have seen in other books that her partner can't pay attention to all the details of home either. In addition to the pulls between work and home, her mother is very ill and Gemma gets so wrapped up in her work that she doesn't visit that often. Maybe that's why we mystery readers see so many people in this job who are solitary like Erlendur in the Arnaldur Indridason books. Maybe they do drink too much, and eat bad food, and have rather small lives outside of work, but perhaps this is what makes them great investigators. I certainly couldn't do this work if I had a husband and kids at home. Every missing child case would make me fearful about my own kids.

If you are watching The Killing on television, you know that the main detective is a single mother who can't even find time to move away and get married because of a murder investigation. Her son is suffering, and actually does something very bad involving photos from the case which he got off his mother's computer. The fact is that it is very, very difficult to raise a family and have a relationship when you are a police detective.

Deborah Crombie does such a great job of covering all the facets of her detectives' lives, with different aspects covered in each book. One may deal with friends, another with family or love or childhood. And these personal details are all interwoven with the current crime which is being investigated. So, while the books may be read out of order, there is a depth which comes from reading them as they were published. What we learn in one book carries over into a later one, just as in our real lives.

The setting here is the East End of London, and the changes in population and economics over the years. Early on the French Huguenots came to Spitalfields to 'escape persecution in Catholic France.'
New waves of immigrants had followed the Huguenots - the Jews, the Irish, the Bangladeshis, the Somalis - but none had prospered as the Huguenots had done, and the houses had sunk into a long, slow decay.
Until now. Despite the recession, the City was moving relentlessly eastwards, encroaching on Spitalfields, bringing a new wave of immigrants. But these were yuppies with fat pocketbooks who were snapping up the houses and warehouses of the old East End, pushing the lower-income residents out as they came in.
These books are rich with details about the ongoing characters and the situations and locales they find themselves in. Necessary As Blood has a particularly satisfying ending. This will be my last Deborah Crombie book for a while, since the new one doesn't come out until August in the UK and February in the US. It's been such fun reading one right after the other for a while. I'll miss being in the company of Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rhubarb Crisp

You may visit Beth Fish Reads for more recipes.

The rhubarb is ready for picking, and I've already made one dessert. This recipe comes from the June 2009 Country Living Magazine. It's a really delicious rhubarb dish. You could substitute strawberries for some of the rhubarb if you want, though I didn't, and it was still very sweet.

Rhubarb Crisp

5 cups rhubarb, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
2/3 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Zest of 1 large orange
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup old-fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 350º F.
Evenly divide rhubarb among eight 1-cup ramekins.
Combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, and orange zest in a large bowl.
Cut in butter using a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Toss in oats and crumble topping over rhubarb.
Bake until topping is browned and filling is bubbling, 40-50 minutes.

My notes:
I didn't have ramekins so used a 9x13 pan which was greased with cooking spray.
I used Sugar In The Raw only.
I didn't have an orange, so used a lemon (and it gave a really nice taste!)
My butter was salted, and I used two knives to cut it in.

This is a perfect fruit dessert for a spring day. I'm sure whipped cream or vanilla ice cream would have been a nice addition, but honestly it was great all on its own. If you want more ideas for using rhubarb, you may click on the Recipes tab under the blog header photo, and then Fruit Desserts.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A spring evening at the movies - Another Year

The season has begun at our small town independent theatre. It is a wonderful old place with wood floors and tin ceilings. As I've written before, Tom is the volunteer projectionist/ticket taker at the Wednesday evening half-price show.

In the brilliant Mike Leigh's newest film, Another Year, we meet Tom and Gerri Hepple, who have been together since their university days. The actors, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen are so very perfect that you kind of forget they aren't the characters.

They live a quiet, gentle, enviably happy life. He is an engineering geologist - 'he digs holes' says Gerri, who is a counselor. They adore their son, played by Oliver Maltman, as he does them. Tom and Gerri let him live his own life without interference, and with humor. They are that rarity in films and books, a really happy, loving family. They are not extinct. In my rather small circle, I know many such families.

Yet, we all know people who are not so lucky. The saddest case in the Hepple's circle is Gerri's co-worker, Mary who is quite desperately lonely and cannot hide her loneliness even from strangers. She talks too much and drinks too much. She latches on where she shouldn't. She tries everyone's patience. Mary is played brilliantly by Lesley Manville. We feel sorry for her, while at the same time we can't stand her. Tom's childhood friend Ken, played by Peter Wight, is quite as troubled, though not as offensive. We can't help but worry about his physical health as he over drinks, smokes, and eats. He must continually wipe the sweat off his face during a meal.

The film begins in spring and takes us through the year. Just 'another year' with all the ordinary, happy, and sad occurrences. We see Gerri and Tom working on their allotment. They are deeply contented there, growing their vegetables, tending the soil, enjoying the weather.

And their London place is wonderful, wonderful. There is a cozy, welcoming living room and a kitchen that isn't just a showplace. Tom and Gerri both like to cook, and you see 'stuff' all over the counters, just like in real life. Don't you get sick of the sterile, every-one-looks-the-same kitchens in the magazines? Well, I do. Their kitchen is a kitchen that is full of love -the love between the couple and their love of food.

And the backyard is what we dream of. It is lush and beautiful, with sitting areas, a tree house, a swing.

Each season brings encounters with family and friends; some we meet just once while others we see more often. There is love and loss. The people who are sad don't magically become happy. But those who are happy don't become sad either. Around the internet I've seen some great descriptions of this film. The Daily Mail says,
It's love, actually, for Tom and Gerri as Mike Leigh does The Good Life
While St. Louis Today notes,
Another Year is a mature ode to joy
There is a review here which I just love. And one from Roger Ebert.

You may visit the official site for a trailer, and more information.

Not everyone loves the film. I have read of some resentment against the couple; that they are too good to be true, and are condescending toward their friends. I don't buy it. I think they are very real. It isn't fashionable to be content. In another film, Tom would have cheated on his wife. In fact, I was waiting for it. Waiting for a flirtatious gesture, a touch that did not happen. There is no jealousy between the husband and wife because there is no need for it. Mary is sort of a friend, but I thought she was more of an acquaintance that Tom and Gerri must put up with a few times a year. And Ken is a friend from 40 years ago, which doesn't necessarily mean the men have much in common these days. I thought Tom and Gerri did their best for these sad souls, without letting them overcome their own joy in life. Mostly Tom and Gerri are the unit, the friends. They are happy together. Their great joy aside from their marriage comes from their son, and the new girlfriend he brings to the house. Katie is a great character by the way, with a humorous outlook on life. She is played by Karina Fernandez, and you can just see the laughter in her eyes.

And this isn't one of those families who are the unit and anyone who comes in is an outsider. She is immediately accepted both for who she is, and for the joy she is bringing to Joe.

Every minute of this film felt real. The people look real. They don't have face lifts and eye repair and dyed hair. We see the characters as they are - most of them people around 60 years old. This is how we look, kids. I am so, so tired of seeing people doing everything they can to not look their ages. But you know what? We all can tell. We know how old someone is. I greatly prefer seeing the authentic person, with sagging face and gray hair. Gerri speaks of herself once as having 'middle-age spread' and her dear husband jumps right in saying how beautiful she is. And she is. She wears clothes that suit her just perfectly. I think it would be much better for young people to see older ones as they really are. It doesn't do any of us a bit of good to try and hide aging. It makes kids think that aging is a bad thing, and it makes the older ones look plain silly. When I was a girl, I looked up to older people. Maybe if we who are now older behaved in an age-appropriate way, and looked age-appropriate perhaps younger ones would look up to us, instead of seeing people who glorify youth so much they spend money to look younger. Did your grammy seem less appealing to you because she had wrinkles and a big belly? I think not. I think she was comfortable to be with. When we are young we see through the eyes of love.

There's a great scene where Ken is bemoaning that the pubs are full of loud young people, while Tom reminds him that he used to be one. And that's the way life goes. We aren't the same at 60 as we were at 20. And I say, thank goodness. As does Mike Leigh in this marvelous, excellent film, which just may be the best one I've ever seen.

Quote du jour/Rachel Peden

An apple tree does not have to justify its existence by bearing fruit. Its fragrance, so delicate that it is almost stronger in memory than in reality, is sufficient. Or the sight of it. Irresistibly you step close enough to inhale from the heart of one bloom, although actually the fragrance is more distinct if you stand back a few steps letting the sun-touched wind bring the perfume to you. No one can ever forget the smell or the sight of a wide spreading apple tree in full bloom.
Rachel Peden (1901-1975)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Today's poem by Christina Rossetti

O wind, where have you been,
That you blow so sweet?
Among the violets
Which blossom at your feet.

The honeysuckle waits
For Summer and for heat
But violets in the chilly Spring
Make the turf so sweet.

by Christina Georgina Rossetti
from Sing Song, a Nursery Rhyme Book, 1893

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Today's poem by Robert Frost

A Prayer in Sping
by Robert Frost

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in midair stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

For more poems by Robert Frost, and other poets, you may click the 'Poems' tab under the blog header photo.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith

40. Planting the Wild Garden
by Kathryn O. Galbraith
illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
children's book, 2011
finished, 5/12/11

Last year I was delighted to be offered a Kathryn O. Galbraith children's book to review in my letters. I loved the book and writing about it was a pleasure for me. Well, this year in February I received an unexpected birthday email. The same publicist offered me a copy of Galbraith's latest book for children called Planting the Wild Garden. And today [I originally wrote and posted this on Thursday, May 12] I read it, sitting outside under the lilac tree on a perfect spring day.

The book begins with a mother and son planting a vegetable garden.

This is the kind of garden a child may readily know about. He may have learned about seeds and vegetables either from his parents or in the classroom. But I would guess that not many young ones know how the wild areas in our landscape are 'planted.' And that's what this wonderful, wonderful book is all about.

We learn the different ways that seeds are scattered: by wind, birds, sun, and water. And we see how wild animals may plant seeds themselves.

And even people have their part in creating a wild meadow, as
Seeds travel on muddy boots. Hitchhike on sweaters. Snag on socks. Sail on a puff of breath.
Isn't the writing lovely. All those 's' words that will delight the listening child snuggled up beside her mother and father. The book is full of fun words like 'snap' 'whishhh' and 'plip-plop' - words which young ones will repeat with great gusto.

And the illustrations are really excellent. They evoke the wonder of the natural world of fish and squirrels and rabbits and flowers. The combination of Galbraith's words and Halperin's drawings is an inspired one.

This is the perfect children's book. I highly recommend you go out and get it for the little ones in your own lives, or just for yourself.

And there's an added treat for bloggers. The book is dedicated to
Pat Leuchtman, dear friend and gardener extraordinaire.
Pat writes the commonweeder blog.