Category Archives: gardening

Grocery Store Guilt

I am aware that being a “Reward Member” at my grocery store  isn’t just a way to sell me discounted gasoline and get me in on sales. It is a way to track what we purchase and get data on the buying trends of customers.

Husband and I probably  purchase of some of the more exotic items at the Cash Wise store here.  Who else buys all the celery root in the produce department two days running?  Cake yeast? I  have bought every pack the store had  each week for the past month.

There is a limit, though, on how much celery root and cake yeast a person can store. We tried to grow celery root in the garden last summer but it didn’t work. We use it in soups and stews and roast meats in place of celery.  I found 14 lovely celery roots at the grocery store last week and diced them, blanched them,  and froze them. We have enough now until next winter. The store hadn’t stocked them for ages, and I was delighted to find them. I also have enough cake yeast to last for months. Now I feel irrationally guilty and anxious.

I worry that  because of our exuberant purchasing,  the store will stock all sorts of celery root and cake yeast and it will all go bad because we don’t need to buy any.  That will make me feel guilty because I hate the thought of food going to waste.  I also worry  that due to poor sales of celery root and cake yeast, the store won’t stock them anymore after this, and when I need them I won’t be able to find them.

I realize as I type this just how ridiculous this is, how very little I really have to worry about, and what a lovely life I have. I guess that is the hallmark of anxiety-the irrationality of it all. I have baked for years using dry yeast, and I can always use regular old celery in a pinch.  I think the marketing people who track our purchases will find us hard to fathom.

What would someone tracking your purchases surmise about you?  Would it be an accurate reflection of who you are?

Perfect

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

I recently posted about discovering several hundred scanned slides from trips my erstwife and I took in the United Kingdom in 1974 and 1975. Most of the original slides were good, but the company that converted them to digital files did poor work. After being scanned the images were badly underexposed and had harsh tones. I spent five weeks editing the slides, making each image look nice, or at least much nicer.

Last Friday night my daughter invited me to her home to deliver a marathon slide show. I presented about 500 edited slides and explained the circumstances of taking them. I talked so long I lost my voice. As my daughter drove me home I realized, with some surprise, that I had just experienced a “perfect” evening.

This surprised me because I am not comfortable calling anything perfect. That is such an absolute word. My experience of life keeps showing me that everything we experience is good or bad in relative terms. I am skittish about absolute words and absolute judgements.

And yet the slideshow evening could not have been better. For a storyteller, an ideal moment involves telling stories to an adoring audience. For a photographer, sharing images with people who are thrilled to see them is total joy. For an old storyteller/photographer what could be better than an evening sharing old images and their stories with family members?

Actually, I learned that there is a way that such an evening could be even better. Something already “perfect” can become nicer.

On our first British Isles trip my erstwife and I spent three days in the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds are a region of England where the countryside and the villages are unimaginably charming. Visiting there feels like stepping into a Beatrix Potter storybook. Perhaps the most appealing Cotswold town is Bourton-on-the-water. Its homes and shops were built centuries ago with locally quarried rock. The architecture is consistent, dating to the same period, and perfectly charming. A little stream runs through the heart of town, with stone bridges arching over it. The honey-colored stone used for all buildings is offset by many by countless lush flower gardens.

Bourton has a famous model village. Local craftsmen created a perfect model of the town that includes all the homes, churches and shops just as they looked in the 1930s. Each building was recreated with meticulous detail at a one-to-nine scale. Topiary trees and shrubbery line the tiny stone buildings. The stream is there, of course, along with those cute bridges. While the model town is accurate in scale, a few buildings have been given big windows so visitors can peer inside to appreciate how perfectly the interiors have been duplicated.

Because the model village occupies a significant area, logic dictates that the model village has to include a miniature model of the model. And it does!

The cherry on top of my perfect evening was watching my grandson grasp the concept of an infinite regression of models within models. “Wait, Grampy,” Liam cried. “So the tiny town has a tiny model of the town in it? Whoa! That’s awesome! And does the tiny model of the model have its own tiny model?”

Yes! Of course it does! Liam’s smile improved an evening I thought could not be better.

What kind of day or event would be perfect for you?

Leaf Vortex Conspiracy

YA and her boyfriend raked the leaves yesterday. If you live in the Twin Cities you’ll be saying to yourself at this point “the last yard waste pick up was two weeks ago – why did she wait so long”.  Well, I’ll tell you why.  I live next door to the tree that waits until every other tree in Southwest Minneapolis has dropped its leaves to start shedding its own foliage.  Every. Single. Year.

In addition, we live in a leaf vortex, right in the middle of the block. My neighbors to the south routinely have 5-6 bags of leaves, my neighbors to the north 4-5 bags.  My house this year – 20 bags.  I really think that my neighbors have figured out a way to get their leaves to blow into my yard at this time of year.

It doesn’t help that I detest leaf raking. Actually that’s not quite true.  I don’t mind the raking part.  It’s the bagging part I don’t like, especially now that we have to use paper bags; the paper bags are so unwieldy and hard to fill.  This is kinda how I feel about yardwork… I don’t mind the work, I just hate the clean up.  A perfect gardening day is when YA follows me about and bags up all the weeds and detritus from my work!

Anything you’re sure of, even if it doesn’t make sense?

 

Leaf Pile Loss

Today’s post comes to us from Crystal Bay.

Have you ever lost your cell phone? If so, you know what it feels like to lose all contact with the outside world. A friend installed an ap on my computer recently called “Find my iPhone”. All you have to do is open this feature and it’ll make the phone sound alarms. I mistakenly thought I’d be home free with this feature, but without my phone, I couldn’t read what my password was in my contact list!

Today, I completed five days of blowing leaves into three very large piles – 3′ high and 15′ wide. Lots of leaves . Somewhere in one of those huge piles, my cell phone fell out of my pocket. Panic set in at the prospect of digging through the gigantic piles to find it.

It then occurred to me to then email a whole bunch of people, hoping one of them was home, labeling the subject EMERGENCY, and asking him/her to call my number until I answered it.

Mary, thank God, started calling me as I waited outside in the hopes of hearing the ring. It was like the old game of “Hot or Cold”. I frantically tried to follow the ringing. It took a few minutes to find it but not before tearing apart much of the work I’d done.  Last winter, I dropped my cell phone in a 2’ deep snowfall and had to dig up a lot of snow to find it. That time, I walked out to the country road, flagged down a car, and asked the driver if he’d call my number until I found it in the snow. He kindly did this.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s to never have my phone on me when blowing or snowing.

 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU LOST YOUR PHONE?

Death in a Jar of Salsa

I gave one of the nurses at my office a about 40 lbs. of tomatoes this year, since she wanted to make salsa. We had an abundance and I was glad to get rid of them. She said she got other tomatoes, too, and canned 60 jars of salsa. She gave me a jar earlier this week, and it was all I could do to smile and thank her when she handed it to me.  Once I got up to my floor, I flushed it down the toilet.

Perhaps I am overly cautious, but I would never can and process anything in a used Hormel ham hock jar using the original cap.  She hadn’t even removed the ham hock label.  I know that salsa has lots of acid in it from the vinegar, and that her salsa will probably be fine, but, still, this person is a nurse and there are some basic rules of hygienic food preservation that you just never violate. There was a story in the Fargo Forum a few years back about some well meaning woman in the eastern part of the state who invited people for Sunday dinner, fed them home canned peas, and killed half of the guests with botulism.  Those stories  stick with a person who does any home canning.

Tell about some gifts you would have rather not received.  Got any canning or food preservation disasters or horror stories? Am I being alarmist?

Truth in Advertising

I am always amazed at the deceitfulness of people who sell plants through catalogs and greenhouses.   It is easy to be fooled  into buying plants that just won’t work in your climate zone  if you don’t know your flora.  The most recent scam up here is the marketing of hydrangea macrophllya,  a group of hydrangeas that just won’t grow here but are probably the prettiest ones for stunning shades  of pink and blue. They are tempting, but it is just too cold here, and unless you are prepared to mulch pretty heavily in the winter, they just won’t do much after the first year. We have tremendous luck with hydrangea arborescens (the big, white, poofy ones) and hydrangea paniculata (ones with pointy flowers that often turn pink at the end of summer).

Hybrid tea roses were marketed for years as good to zone 4, but now are sold with the disclaimer that they are only good to zone 5.  They really only do well here if you cap them with rose cones in the fall and mulch heavily. We used to have lots of tea roses, but we got pretty tired of all the fuss. We planted Morden roses from Manitoba instead.  They are very cold hardy.  We have a few hybrid teas in the yard that do well since we seem to have created a micro-climate in the yard with shrubs and fences that keeps temperatures a little warmer than in other parts of the yard.  The pictures below show a hybrid tea we never cap or mulch that comes back every year and is a really stunner.

 

A couple of years ago we bought two Morden roses that were supposed to be only four feet tall at the most.  One turned out to be a climbing rose that had multiple, six foot long branches.  It was not labeled as a climbing rose. It was in a part of the yard that wouldn’t have supported a trellis, so it  flopped around and got tangled in everything around it. It mercifully died last winter so we dug it up, providing room for one nearby that we assumed was a four feet tall rose as it had been labeled. As you can see in the next photo, it, too, is starting to act like something else.

 

It is a little hard to see, but the rose put out a couple of stems that were at least seven feet tall.  Husband cut them off after I took the photo. I hope this was just a fluke.  I just don’t know who in the plant world to trust anymore.

Who do you trust?  When have you had something that didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to? When has a plant fooled you?

Borscht Closure and Cabbage Tiffs

We grew a short row of beets this year.  Husband started to talk about making borscht in June. He is an incredibly obsessive person who loves to compare and contrast recipes.  Borscht recipes started to appear on the lamp table near his chair in the living room, and with difficulty he finally settled on one recipe a week or so ago.  He had, of course, annotated it with suggestions from other recipes. It was a complex recipe with twenty-one steps.

Last Friday he started to make the borscht, beginning with a beef stock.  That took all Friday afternoon and evening, with Husband fussing over the vegetables and herbs  that were to go into the stock, and how long the stock was to cook.  It was finally finished at 3:00 am Saturday morning. I strained it for him later in the morning. He fussed and fussed, asking if I should skim off all that fat, was the beef tender,  and was it enough?  I reassured him it was. Then the real hysteria began, with the twenty one steps.

The vegetables had to be julienned in a specific way.  It was a clear borscht with beets, cabbage, onions, celeriac, carrots, potatoes, and our home grown fresh Vermont Cranberry beans.  Only he could assemble the soup.  I don’t quite know what the other steps were, but I went to bed at  9:00, and he finished the soup just before midnight. It made two gallons. The kitchen was in a state of continual mess and uproar the whole time the soup was in preparation. I became increasingly irritated with him. I started to argue with him over what to do with the leftover cabbage he didn’t need in the soup, a half head of  savoy cabbage we had grown last year and blanched and frozen. He was going to throw it away. When I heard myself saying  “You can’t throw out the rest of that cabbage! It worked really hard to grow for us!”  I knew I was completely around the bend. I don’t even like cabbage. Then Husband got stuck at Step 20-correct for seasoning.

He ate some of the soup for breakfast on Sunday. He was pensive and broody all morning after that.  We went to church, and as we were driving home he said we had to go to the store to get a cruet. He explained that he was disappointed in his soup because it needed more acid and herbs, and he wanted a cruet to infuse herbs and vinegar to add to the soup. No, he said, he couldn’t just use a pint jar.  After a great deal of indecision on his part, we found just the right cruet to match his expectations. We went home, and he proceeded to turn the kitchen upside down (again), chopping all these herbs and figuring  out what he wanted in his soup.

I had finally had it with all this obsession and brooding, and asked if I could taste the soup. It was wonderful. I told him that if he thought it needed more acid,  to squeeze a God damned lemon into it and just add some fresh dill, but what ever he did he needed to be done with the soup!!!  He looked stunned and seemed to come back to reality. He sheepishly agreed that I was correct, and filled up the cruet with vinegar and the herbs and put it in the fridge. I have no idea what we will do with it.

When have you got so close to something that you couldn’t see it for what it truly was anymore?  How do you choose recipes? What is your favorite beet recipe?