Gifts of great beauty

So now that we are talking to each other, what should we talk about?

If I were a smarter blogger, I would have quickly followed up on your willingness to talk with a titillating post on a hot topic, like “Q: What do you think of The Shack?” (A: I don’t think of it at all. What shack?)

I’m not stupid, I’m just stubborn. And occasionally tongue-tied.

So this is a popcorn post – random bits of delight from my days – and then you can share some of yours with me.


First I have a few things to say about food. I found a new favorite cake: chocolate, with maple and buttercream frostings alternating. So yummy.

I’ve been eating my Grandma Grace’s peanut butter toast for breakfast (okay, my peanut butter toast made her way; I’m not stealing poor granny’s brekky). Take a piece of wheat bread and toast it. Spread with peanut butter and long slices of banana. Top with honey and cinnamon. I’m not sure if it’s *that good* because it’s *that good* or because I grew up on it.

This is my favorite lunch: a changing kaleidoscope of color, texture, and flavor. The best edible cure I know for gray days.

I’m spending lots of time with my family. I was watching this basketball game happen and they said “Do you want to play?” and I sort of laughed and panicked because I don’t know the rules. But I said yes, and it was actually fun. No one took pictures of that part, which on the whole is probably a good thing.

Then I found this on my kitchen counter, a teeny bouquet tied up with grass.

Only a six-year-old can be that artistic and precise with weeds, turning them into gifts of great beauty. I love that about her.

She is growing her writing skills too, and has spent much time on this paper just for the fun of it, imitating her big brothers’ assignments. (click to enlarge)

Spring has sprung in Meadville. Last fall I finally remembered to plant the bulbs for which I long in March, crocuses and tulips and daffodils and hyacinths, and I can’t wait to see more of them pop.

I am thinking often of Easter, remembering the wonderful things we did last year to celebrate. This year we are adding handicrafts in the form of glittery eggs from Dollar Tree strung on bare branches. I can’t stop looking at them. I never know how to decorate for this holiday, but if eggs are a symbol of new life, I cannot think of anything more appropriate for Easter than new life hung on a Tree.

Plus it makes the children busy and happy, cutting and twisting all that wire.

We revived last year’s mercy garden, with fresh things from the yard and gardens. On Easter weekend I will put a candle in the tomb.

I think it is so amazing that I found an incredible photo backdrop I didn’t know I had, in the form of my dilapidated basement doors (above). Isn’t that smashing? You might see more of them in future. I always assumed foodie bloggers had cardboard backgrounds they stood behind their masterpieces… I didn’t know they carried the food outside and set it on top of their junk.

But talking of eggs, my son brought me a real trophy from his flock. “Imagine being a hen laying normal eggs and then having to lay this one,” he said.

She is doing well on bedrest.


What popcorn would you like to share from your days? Three pieces at random.

Happy Tuesday!
Shari

In praise of the soybean

My dad grew edamame before it was cool. We called it by another name back then.

In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. How many were there? We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other.

img_9947-edamame

When I was an adult, I went to a posh restaurant and was surprised to find edamame on the menu; the waiter grinned when I pronounced it correctly (“Very nice. Usually nobody knows what that is”), but I was raised on it in the wilds of Minnesota and when it arrived on my plate I found they hadn’t even bothered to pinch it out of the pods, but oh it was good, packed and popping with goodness, and since then I have found it at my supermarket shelled or not; an easy choice for this girl who remembers how

img_9945-in-bag

The mosquitoes chewed holes in our legs, and we stood on one foot so we could scratch with the other. We pulled the sharp, hairy pods from the plants and my mom boiled them until the beans inside were bright and ready, jewels of goodness we pinched from the pods until our thumbs were sore. How many were there? Rows and rows of tables stacked high with brittle stalks. When the plants died in the late summer, he uprooted them by the dozen and laid them in our yard. In the garden he claimed from a Minnesota meadow, he planted rows of soybeans, poor man’s food he remembered from his boyhood.

img_9951-plate

We called it by another name back then. My dad grew edamame before it was cool.

 

Herb gardens

Confession: I am obsessed with herbs.

Sage

Sage

Gripped. Infatuated. Besotted with herbs.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm

Last year we dug up a patch along the south side of my house and I started an herb garden, with flat slabs of limestone for edging and paths, and a handful of starts from my aunt and a few friends. Thyme. Sage. Rosemary. Chives.

Cilantro

Cilantro

This year I am somehow, miraculously, close to thirty varieties. Many are gifts from friends, some are pilfered from random parks and things, some are greenhouse finds… one a last-minute gift from a very sweet greenhouse owner at Pampas Creek in exchange for the promise to come back again.

What is it about herbs? They’re so full-bodied–good to smell, good to taste, good to touch. Low and fragrant, vibrant green.

I love the classics—peppermint, parsley, basil, oregano, Echinacea, bee balm.

Second year parsley

Second year parsley

Bee balm

Bee balm

And I love branching out into a few crazies—barbecue oregano, wooly thyme, purple basil, Russian sage and—my newest newbie—stevia.

Stevia

Stevia

Golden oregano

Golden oregano

Everything is small, still, and learning to find its place in the world. Some varieties don’t do well. My dill looks like it thought “yellow and straggly” was hip this year, my rosemary didn’t survive the winter, and my cilantro went to seed too quickly… Oh, and I can’t grow herbs from seeds to save my life. “Starts only!” is my banner from here on out.

Dill. No really. I'm serious. This is my dill. I left the label in the ground beside it so I wouldn't forget.

Dill. No really. I’m serious. This is my dill. I left the label in the ground beside it so I wouldn’t forget.

Basil--somebody tell me how to keep it from getting eaten!

Basil–somebody tell me how to keep it from getting eaten!

Rosemary. This year's version is in a pot so I can bring it inside before winter.

Rosemary. This year’s version is in a pot so I can bring it inside before winter.

I want to learn more about using herbs, in cooking and teas and home remedies. Right now, I fiddle around with them, snipping cilantro into refried beans and using fresh parsley and thyme in my tomato sauces. Mostly I walk through the garden and touch and smell, and taste heaven.

I just gave my oregano a haircut and dried it in my dehydrator. That was fun.

Before...

Before…

...and After

…and After

In a jar, all ready to crumble and use.

In a jar, all ready to crumble and use.

 

What do you love about herbs? How do you use them around the house?

I Am From

What Anita did looked so fun I decided to try it too. Here’s the template if you want to join the party. Based on the beautiful poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.

*****

I am from hot suppers and homegrown cabbage and children in and out of doors.

potatoes

I am from the ancient gray farmhouse, from enormous windows and unfinished rooms.

I am from the herb garden, the chestnut trees whose long gone limbs I remember as though they were my own.

I’m from hamburgers in the fireplace and not admitting I’m angry, from a 91-year-old grandpa in heaven and a brand new nephew on earth.

I’m from singing in parts and staying up late and making much of babies.

I’m from You’ll be just fine and Anything worth doing is worth doing right and Jesus loves me this I know.

I’m from rich holiday dinners, from seeds in deep rows of earth, from houses built with our hands.

I’m from Minnesota and France and Germany and homemade cookies and southern tea; from dad getting spanked in school and pretending to cry, from the Roth family Bible, from birthday boxes from one grandma and faint memories from the other and china heirlooms from both.

I am from Coblentz and Yoder and Yutzy and Zook.

I guess I am from Shari.

*****

Where are you “from” right this minute? Jammies and hot chocolate? Laundry in stacks and too long a to-do list? Tell me.

Green beans and good deeds

Did you know that I can hear what plants are saying?

This is one reason why I hate weeding (besides the fact that it is hard work): it feels cruel and unfair. I hate the sight of all those babies gasping and shriveling in the sun. When I prune I have to steel myself against the protest. Once when Ryan chopped off a big wild grapevine, the sight of that gaping, dripping stump was dreadful to me, like someone bleeding.

The other day I was out in my garden picking green beans. As I pulled the long straight pods, I was sure (quite sure) I heard the plants sighing with relief.

green beans 2013

Left alone, the beans would turn fat and woody, aging idly, sapping strength, corking the usefulness and life span of the plant. Removed, they cleared the way for fresh energy to surge into the blossoms and new beans coming on. The plant found it was still young. Productivity endured.

They were delighted to give; I was delighted to receive.

I thought to myself—this is how I should think of good deeds.

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love… not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. (Romans 12:10-13)

Sometimes I get exhausted with my works, as though I have to produce enough of them to stretch around to the needs of all. Instead, I should be producing them because that is what I do—fueled by internal design, not external pressure. I am a bean plant. I make beans. And when someone comes along and picks them to enjoy, I can release them with a sigh of relief.

Whew. Thanks for taking that. I needed to cook a good meal for someone.

Ahh. Lovely. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to babysit. I’ve been growing that one quite a while.

Mmmmm. It feels good to stop in and visit you. I hope you are feeling better soon…

Thank you for letting me throw you a party! Now I can start cooking up the next one.

If you’re feeling useless and stuffed up, clear out some of the overripe projects, the things you’ve been meaning to do for others for a long time—or you’ll soon find you have stopped concocting the fresh.

And a little nontraditional advice, if I may–

Don’t get too bogged down examining your motives: you usually have several. If you can get them about 80% pure, just go with it, trusting to Jesus to iron out the rest. “Am I just doing it to make myself look good?” is not the end of the road you may think. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. (I Timothy 2:10 NLT. Context here.)

For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do. For women who claim to be devoted to God should make themselves attractive by the good things they do.

*****

What do you think?