Sunday, January 31, 2010


"There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you ..... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself."
- Ruth Stout

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


"If it's rare, we want it. If it's tiny and impossible to grow, we've got to have it. If it's brown, looks dead, and has black flowers, we'll kill for it."
- Ken Druse

Sunday, January 24, 2010


"A gardener's best tool is the knowledge from previous seasons. And it can be recorded in a $2 notebook."
- Andy Tomolonis

Thursday, January 21, 2010


"The strongest, most productive garden implement you can ever obtain probably won't be for sale in tool catalogs or implement stores; you won't find it listed in seed catalogs or stocked in your favorite garden center. Yet this tool is far mightier than the hoe; it will dig deeper than a tiller and will lay off rows better than any wheel planter. It's the most valuable implement a gardener can ever use: a pencil."
- Jim Long

Monday, January 18, 2010


"There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.
One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues."
- Hal Borland

Saturday, January 16, 2010


"As I write, snow is falling outside my Maine window, and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogs are in bloom."
- Katharine S. White

Friday, January 15, 2010


"Turn down the noise. Reduce the speed. Be like the somnolent bears, or those other animals that slow down and almost die in the cold season. Let it be the way it is. The magic is there in its power."
- Henry Mitchell

Thursday, January 14, 2010


"A natural garden ... includes the wide, wild world as it is, warts and all."
- Jeff Cox

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.
- Helen Hayes

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"Anyone who thinks that gardening begins in the spring and ends in the fall is missing the best part of the whole year. For gardening begins in January with the dream."
- Josephine Nuese

Monday, January 11, 2010


When the snow is still blowing against the window-pane in
January and February and the wild winds are howling without,
what pleasure it is to plan for summer that is to be.
- Celia Thaxter


That we find a crystal or a poppy beautiful means that we are less alone, that we are more deeply inserted into existence than the course of a single life would lead us to believe.
- John Berger

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things,
but just look what they can do when they stick together.
- Vesta M. Kelly

Saturday, January 09, 2010


"If there were no tribulation, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer."
- St. John Chrysostom

Hens and chicks are herbs

A friend, who has been project chairperson for the Master Gardener's demonstration Hardy Cactus and Succulent Garden (first a Michigan State University demonstration garden, now transplanted to the property at the Easter Seals office in Flint) for many years, used to tell me there was very little to do with succulents in a herbal, "useful", sense.

Of course we all know about the lightning folklore concerning Sempervivums, and that Aloe Vera was a proven soothing medicinal herb. And that Yucca roots are both detergent and food, And that Opuntia pads and fruit are desert food.
But Hens and Chicks? Sempervivums?

Hens and Chicks, a.k.a. . House leeks (
Sempervivum tectorum), are hardy evergreen succulent herbs. They are exceedingly simple to grow, thriving in heat, cold, drought and poor soil; seemingly independent of human concern. That old saw, "thriving on neglect," fits them to a T.

I've read that they can be grown indoors in clay pots, like other cactus and succulents, but the only time I tried it, they stretched to the wan light of my midwinter window and lost their charm. If my son would take his tender succulent trees from out my limited grow light space (I'm succulent-sitting while he works on his basement renovation) then I might try again to raise indoor Hens and Chicks.

And only just because I have finally read a herbal use for them that I might actually try, aside from the French Emperor Charlemagne's decree, based I'm guessing, on earlier Anglo-Saxon, or earlier, lore, that his subjects should grow them on their roofs to ward away lightning strikes.

According to an old herbal calendar that I was cutting up to recycle the artwork into gift tags, Hens and Chicks leaves, crushed, serve as a facial, and are soothing to bumps and bruises. Use seems to be topical as in poultice, tincture wash, and salves. Like the Aloe Vera, the leaf can be cut vertically and the mucilage applied directly to the skin.

The calendar also provided a recipe:

House Leek Foot Bath

1 cup hot water

1/2 cup House leek leaves

1 gallon warm water

2 Tbsp. Epsom salts

Puree the leaves in a blender with the hot water. Pour into a foot bath, then add water and epsom salts. Soak the feet for 20 minutes.

Mrs. Grieve, in her A Modern Herbal, a classic English herbal encyclopedia edited by the many times neglected Mrs. C.F. Leyel, and published in 1931 (that you can now read online), describes many traditional western herbs, and I just looked up Hens and Chicks, a.k.a. House leeks. (Another Master Gardener, Judy, gave me her copy when she was cleaning out her bookshelves. I love its breadth of knowledge. And it makes a heck of a doorstop.)

Here are some factoids:

Leac is Anglo Saxon for 'plant'. The Latin Semper (forever) and vivum (I live) were easy, the interesting epithet however, tectorum refers to its location of choice - the roof.

Cool legend - it protects homes from sorcery as well as fires and lightning.

Linnaeus stated it preserves thatched roofs in Sweden.

Plenty of topical uses. Parkinson tells us the foot bath above might be just the thing for warts and corns, used nightly, with the inner leaf applied as a plaster.

The Mrses. Grieve and Leyel go on and on listing a plethora of historical useful uses for our cute little Hens and Chicks. You can look them up, but I'll stick with the foot bath use as my Hens and Chicks touchstone.

For Sedums, there is a whole another entry in The Modern Herbal. Who-da thunk it?

If you are one of those modern gardeners committing to permaculture in your yard, feel free to plant a hardy cactus and succulent garden - they're HERBS!

Friday, January 08, 2010


No one can look at a pine tree
in winter without knowing that
spring will come again in due time.
-Frank Bolles

Thursday, January 07, 2010


"Of winter's lifeless world each tree
Now seems a perfect part;
Yet each one holds summer's secret
Deep down within its heart."
- Charles G. Stater

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

an advanced, civilized society

This was in the e-newsletter from The Old Farmer's Almanac today. (You'd think I'm working for The OFA, for the way I'm talking about it, but, NO. I'm the perennial volunteer. ) Something in this ancient pagan custom spoke to me when I read it. Something along the lines of "those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes" or "why don't we open "Temples of Peace" where progressive thinking could be safely contemplated?" What does it say about "civilation", the ancient world, and our own times?

"From the Ruler of new beginnings, and gates and doors, the Roman god Janus gave January its name. He was pictured as two-faced so that one face looked forward into the future while the other took a retrospective view. Janus presided over the temple of peace, where the doors were opened only during wartime. It was a place of safety, where new beginnings and new resolutions could be forged."


"Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle ... a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream."
- Barbara Winkler

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


"In a way Winter is the real Spring - the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature."
- Edna O'Brien

Time to Reconsider those Hasty Resolutions

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
-Twelfth Night, 2. 3

(From The OFA: "Twelfth Night, the eve of January 6, is an English folk custom that marks the end of Christmas merrymaking and, in ancient Celtic tradition, the end of the 12-day winter solstice celebration.")

Yes, it is Twelfth Night, the end of Holiday Revels and time to Get Real. Are you falling off the diet-exercise wagon yet?
Cleaning up the gingerbread because you were brought up in the Clean Plate Club? Postponing that walk because of the sub zero wind chill factor? Feeling like a failure?
You may be a victim of a culture that tells you what to do and when to do it. Halloween insanity followed by Thanksgiving family time followed by Black Friday spending until Merry Christmas and more Sales! followed by... getting back in shape? Every year the same treadmill?
Who thought THAT up?

Shop now, buy this new thing. Get up, get down. Or else. You won't be the same as the Madison Avenue image of Kewl. COOL. Is that really YOU? New Years Day is not the only day you can begin a plan. Every day is a new day.

Have a piece of cheesecake, Bubbie. Make it a small piece and freeze the rest.

"Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?"
-Twelfth Night, 2. 3

This recipe was given to me by a close friend who believed in all that treadmill, until Fate handed her a platter of ____. Life does that, sometimes. It's how you roll with the punches that shows what kind of a person you are.

RECIPE: Cathy's Chocolate Espresso Cheesecake

Prepare a springform pan.
Wipe it well with butter, then press a crushed Oreo chocolate crumb crust into it, using the bottom of a smooth bottomed glass.
The original recipe called for 26 of those deep chocolate wafer cookies that I can't find anymore. I was going to buy a package of Oreos and scrape the lardy sugar filling out and proceed from there, but - lo and behold- the prepared Oreo chocolate crumb crust was half the price, and you only need to crush it up and press it into the springform pan, and chill.
(If you were raised on store bought cookies you won't understand my aversion to Oreo cookies. I really didn't want any leftover cookies around.)

Anyway, if you can find the original dark chocolate wafers, mix together 11/2 cup finely crushed chocolate wafers with:
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp. sugar
Press into buttered spring form pan and chill until needed.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Get all of your ingredients ready and lined up to use as needed.
Soften 3 8-ounce packages of Philly cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer.
In the top of a double boiler, gently melt 12 ounces of Ghirardelli 60 percent bittersweet chocolate chips just until liquefied. Set aside.
Measure 1 cup sugar and 3 Tbsp. flour into another bowl. Stir until smooth with a fork, and set aside.
In another bowl, break 3 eggs. Then add the separated yolks of three more eggs. Stir with a fork and set aside.
Open up a 8 ounce carton of (heavy) whipping cream and set aside.
In a measuring cup, dissolve 2 Tbsp. instant espresso coffee in 2 Tbsp. hot water, and set aside.

Remove chilled crust from refrigerator, and place on a cookie rack over a jelly roll pan. set aside.
Beat cream cheese at medium speed until smooth. Scrape bowl.
Gradually add sugar/flour, beating until light and fluffy, scraping bowl.
At this point, you should note that beating air into the cheesecake may cause cracking when it bakes. So don't overdo the "beating."
Gradually add eggs, beating well, scraping bowl.
Beat in melted chocolate, espresso, and whipping cream at low speed until incorporated, scraping bowl.
Pour into prepared pan, then place pan on rack over jelly roll pan.
Place pan on bottom rack of preheated oven.
Bake for one hour. The edges will look raised, the middle will look uncooked. That's okay, you don't want to overcook it.
At the end of one hour, turn off heat and allow to sit in oven with door closed for another 40 minutes to an hour.
Remove from oven, let cool completely, still on the wire rack over the jelly roll pan.
Refrigerate for several hours, wrapping the bottom of the pan in foil or putting the pan over a plate to catch any butter leakage.

To serve, loosen cake around edge with a metal spatula. Unlock spring form pan and remove the ring.
Place the cheesecake with the pan bottom on a serving plate. You can garnish the cheesecake: I've never found it needed any frills.
Serve at room temperature. Use a hot dry knife to slice. Clean knife between each slice.
Store any leftover cheesecake in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
OR cut in wedges, then wrap loosely in plastic wrap and freeze, then the next day wrap frozen slices in foil, double wrap in freezer bags, and freeze for up to 6 months.
To serve frozen cheesecake, remove from freezer, unwrap and thaw overnight in refrigerator, OR unwrap and let thaw one hour at room temperature.

The ability to live in a moment and enjoy it, celebrate it, is a great thing.

Monday, January 04, 2010


"Antisthenes says that in a certain faraway land the cold is so intense that words freeze as soon as they are uttered, and after some time then thaw and become audible, so that words spoken in winter go unheard until the next summer."
- Plutarch, Moralia

Sunday, January 03, 2010


"Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour."
- John Boswell

Saturday, January 02, 2010


"Green thoughts emerge from some deep source of stillness which the very fact of winter has released."
- Mirabel Osler

a wintery blast

The temps are in the low single digits today, and the wind chill is fierce.

Time to keep the kitties indoors, no matter how they whine to get out. (...and to chill out every time Herb replies to their whines "give me grace...")

Time to get used to my new laptop, and Google Chrome. (Patrick will be relieved to know Tony did buy the best warranted coverage, and the Pepsi Syndrome was repaired.)

Time to think about the state of affairs in the worm farm?

Last time I fed my flock (herd?, pack?), the night we had pot roast for supper with all of the accompanying veggie peels, they were still wigglin'. But when I took the trash bag out to the garbage can in the garage this morning the cold was palpable.
I dragged Herb out to find his trouble light and I stuck it in the box over the worm bedding. It was my emergency supplemental heat last winter, so it should work again this year. All the sources I read in the past said that worms wouldn't live much below 42 degrees. That's what kept me from vermicomposting for many years. We proved that isn't so.

Friday, January 01, 2010

This day, this year

"There is no season such delight can bring,
As summer, autumn, winter and the spring."
- William Browne

"I salute you.
I am your friend and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not got, but there is much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

"No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today. Take heaven!
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

"The gloom of the world is but a shadow.
Behind it, yet within our reach is joy.
There is radiance and glory in the darkness could we but see, and to see we have only to look. Take joy!

"And so I greet you, with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away."
- Fra Giovanni

"Gardening imparts an organic perspective on the passage of time."
- William Cowper