Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mike MacDonald and other Authors I like - Book Review

Coming up at the Morton Arboretum (October 22) is a talk by an author whose photographs and books I just love-- Mike MacDonald!

His recent publication I reviewed below, check him out along with several other authors I love.

Recently I have been meeting authors.  Not sure why they happened in a cluster, but they have.  First I met Denise Swanson, New York Times best-selling author of cozy mysteries in several series.  I personally like the Devereaux’s Dime Store Mysteries. She is originally from Coal City, IL and met her at the pharmacy in Coal City (yes, I said the pharmacy) where she was signing her books.  Hey that is the store that sells books in that town

If you like a cozy who-dun-it, you will like these.  Here is a link for more information:

Then the next month I went to Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL  for a book publishing event for the most recent title by Laurie King.  Laurie King writes gritty mysteries including a series featuring Mary Russell, apprentice of Sherlock Holmes.  The book was entitled the Murder of Mary Russell.  No spoilers here, I have not brought myself to read it yet. 

I think Laurie King counts as my favorite author for a number of reasons (not the least of which is I have been reading Sherlock Holmes novels since I was 13), but since I have more books signed by her than any other author I read, I think that says I am a bit of a groupie.  I arrived a bit late for the book signing and as fate would have it, met the author and friends just coming over from dinner at a local restaurant.   I got to walk her into the bookstore much to my delight.

This past March I participated in the Darien Garden Club Garden Inspiration and reacquainted myself with local author Mike McDonald.  He was the key note speaker at last year’s event and this year had newly minted copies of his self-published book (partly funded by GoFundMe)   which had not yet been released last year.  He is a self-professed plant nerd, but since I am an herb nerd it works.  He autographed a copy of his book for me and I just had to share it everyone.

My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: 
          A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders 

Two hundred forty glorious pages of exploding color and whimsical words capture the natural beauty of preserves and natural areas that surround and weave through Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Written and photographed by Mike McDonald, the book is a beautiful overview of seasons and locations all around us.

The information he imparts about the details of the plants, especially those you might not notice on a quick nature walk, causes you to slow down, pause and enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you.
Worth every penny, this book is a must have for any Chicagoland resident or transplant who wants to remember what prairie living is really like.  I am not often much for a coffee table book, but I plan to take this with me everywhere to brag about what I live among.

Beyond the photographs, the book is exceptionally readable.  With comments like “This young blue heron is molting, shedding old feathers as new ones are born.  As the pink bald patch near the shoulder shows, molting is rarely pretty – but it’s only temporary.  I wish regrowing hair was that easy.”  You feel the humor of his personality and the love of nature he displays that makes the book easy to look at even if you only have time for a page or two.

His translation of the images into words is musical making one want to read the pages out loud. Here is a perfect example: “wild flowers float above the summer prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture,…” (pg. 104)

Also, although a bit heavy and large to carry around on a prairie, the rich details provided and the opulent photos make this a perfect book for identifying prairie plants in leaf, flower and bud.
I am planting a prairie garden and a wild flower garden at the house this year and to know what the flowers will soon look like makes me so excited.  Visually exquisite photos that show an eye for the detail of nature and its variety is a rare gift.  The images chosen for this book pull on you to go see the plants in person the way few books succeed.

Toward the end of the book Mike communicates that he wishes his photography to immerse you in the moment, to convey the magic and emotion as if you were there.  I can honestly say he has accomplished just that.  The unique qualities, intense colors and enchanting beauty that can be found in local “wilderness” jumps from the book with every turn of a page.

Here is a link to get yourself a copy of the book.  It makes a wonderful gift as the photos are exquisite making it perfect for Mom, Dad or the plant nerd in your life. And if you want to share in his enthusiasm, I recommend seeing is talk on October 22, 2016 at the Morton Arboretum.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Triple Layer Bulb Planting

I wanted to plant up everything at the new house right after I moved in, but it was the end of the growing season and I just couldn’t.  I thought I would put in bulbs this fall for wonderful Spring plants, but then I saw the rampant amount of wildlife, like the squirrels that dig in the containers  and the skunk that digs grubs in the yard and the opossum that does I do not know what and I thought bulbs would be gone before the ground freezes.  So I decided to try a technique I learned from the Dutch. It is a three layer bulb planting technique you can do in a container.
Sample image of three layer planting

Where I live the container cannot be left outside all winter, but on the floor of my unheated garage or the garden shed and it will be fine.

This technique can also be done if you live in an apartment or townhouse.  Place the container up against the building out of the wind or in a patio shed and you will have wonders in the spring.
Growing bulbs in containers is a great way to bring a little color to your doorstep or windowsill this spring and one of the most popular techniques for successfully growing a lot of bulbs in a single container is called “triple decker” planting.

Triple layer planting was invented by the Dutch as a way to create continuous spring flower displays. Individual planters were strategically placed in city centers and town squares throughout Holland to bring spring cheer to residents and welcome visitors to the village. This form of planting can allow gardeners to experiment with different color combinations and the look of each container can change from year to year. You can grow just about any type of bulb in a container using this technique and by picking the right combination of bulbs you can have them flower all at once or extend the blooming season out for months.

Impatient gardener made this perfect drawing
Choose bulbs that grow to different heights to create a more interesting spring display. For example, a classic combination is tulips, daffodils and grape hyacinth. Avoid planting bulbs too close to the sides of the pot. Bulbs perform better in groupings - read the planting depth instructions on the bulb packaging when designing your layered container garden to ensure that your plan will work with the container you’ve chosen.

The first step in the process is to choose the right container. If the container is going to be left outdoors during the winter you'll want it to be at least 24 inches in diameter to make sure the bulbs don't actually freeze. If you live in garden zones 6 or lower you might have to keep your containers in an unheated garage or provide them some additional insulation and protection. Not only is the size of the container important but choosing one that is interesting in terms of color, texture, etc. will draw attention to the container even while it isn't in bloom.

Once you've chosen your container you want to think about drainage. Bulbs don't like overly wet soil and if the drainage isn’t adequate it will cause the bulbs to rot. A layer of stone or some crushed up soda cans should do the trick. You'll want the drainage layer to be at least an inch or two thick. You can start to put some soil in the container; any soil that is made for containers will be acceptable. The soil can be added until it is about 8 inches from the top of the pot.

To layer, first place a layer of gravel across the bottom of the container, then apply a thick layer of potting soil mixed with bulb food. Place the first layer of bulbs in the pot and cover with a layer of soil. The bottom layer is where you will plant your larger bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. You can add some more soil to the pot where the level will be 6 inches from the top. The middle layer is where you can plant bulbs like hyacinth or smaller daffodil and tulip bulbs. The top layer of bulbs can be planted roughly 3 to 4 inches from the top. Crocus and grape hyacinths are perfect choices for this layer. Cover the top layer of bulbs with a final layer of soil, as if you were planting outdoors. Water thoroughly, then let the fall rains take over. In any zone lower than 6, place the pot in the garage or shed once the ground freezes. And anticipate a beautiful spring!

Here are bulb suggestions --

Top layer:
Muscari, Crocus, Scilla, Chionodoxa, Puschkinia, Tritelia, Ixia, Freesia

Middle layer:
Tulips, Hyacinth, Galanthus

Bottom layer:
Daffodils, Allium, Fritillaria, Camassia, Lilies, Ipheon

Here are some other tips to keep in mind --
• Don’t be stingy with your bulbs. You can plant them close together but just be sure they don’t actually touch one another. A 24” pot can hold about 50 tulip bulbs, 30 daffodils and up to 100 smaller bulbs for the top layer.
• When you plant in the fall keep spring in mind. Make sure your container is placed where its beauty and fragrance can be enjoyed.
• Keep an eye out for mice or squirrels who love to dig in containers and chew up your bulbs. You can secure a layer of chicken wire over the top of the container if this is a problem in your area.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Ginger Mint Bath - Bath Blend of the Month

As the weather gets chilly and sometimes wet a warming bath is usually in order. Bathing in a bath of ginger will ease sore muscles, eliminate toxins from the body.  The natural anti bacterial properties in ginger will help sweat out colds, flues, and congestion.  Adding ginger to your bath on a cool day will raise the temperature of your skin and make you feel warm & toasty.

Ginger Mint  Bath Recipe
Chop one tablespoon of fresh, ginger root
Crumble 1 handful (1/2 cup dried / 1 cup fresh) mint leaves
Add both to your running bath. Soak & relax.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Weekend Recipe - Chive & Rosemary Popovers

I was going to post Zucchini Bread since I just made some, but I posted that recipe the last time I had too many zucchini back in 2014.  So I had to do something else.

I do not know if your library does this, but mine does -- they called it the Library of Extraordinary Things -- you can borrow, for 7 days, pots, pans, canning supplies, video recorders, pasta makers, pretty much anything you want to cook or play around with, but really don't want to own because you will use it once a year.  It is awesome.  I borrowed two pans.  A bundt cake pan shaped like a rose and a popover pan.

So in addition to making zucchini bread I made these wonderful rosemary chive popovers.  And I will be making a rose pound cake in the bundt pan.  That recipe is for next week!

Rosemary Shallot Popovers
Makes 6
To make popovers that really pop over, use a popover frame. A muffin tin is a substitute, but won't produce the best results.

2 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely snipped fresh chives
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons minced onion
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs

Heat oven to 450°. Place rack on bottom level. Rub tins with a little oil and set aside. Heat 1 teaspoon butter in a small sauté pan over low heat. Add onion and cook until soft and transparent, about 5 minutes. Add rosemary and chives and stir to heat through, then set aside.  Melt l ½ tablespoons butter. Combine with milk, flour, and salt in a bowl. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add onion, chives and rosemary.  Heat empty tins for 5 minutes; remove from oven. Divide remaining tablespoon butter among tins and heat until butter sizzles. Divide batter evenly among cups.  Bake for 20 minutes; turn down heat to 350° without opening oven. Bake 20 minutes more. When done, sides should feel crisp and firm. Poke with a sharp knife to release steam; serve immediately.  Serve with butter or honey butter.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Special additions to your Garden Journal in Autumn

As Fall arrives I get melancholy about the sleep of my garden and the fact I cannot visit it daily and enjoy what it has to offer.  Since weeding and other tasks slow in the fall I have time to do a special recording project with my plants. 

You will need an old dictionary, a telephone book, or other large tome, or a plant press if you have one.

As the growing season draws to a close, go out to your garden and snip a sample of your herb plants.  About 1 inch of stem will be enough or a branch with two to three leaves. Or you can snip off a flower.  Press each sprig between the pages of the book or in the plant press and leave in a cool dry place for 2 to 3 weeks.

Once you remove the plants from the press, mount each one on either an index card or into the pages of your garden journal.  A bit of white Elmer’s glue should do the trick.  Beside each sprig write the name of the herb, its progress in the garden for that growing season and note what you did with the herbal harvest.

If you use index cards you can slide them into photo sleeves for added protection and preservation.  You can add photos, recipes and other details as you see fit and time permits.

I have a Garden Journal that I make for the Backyard Patch that has Plant pages that allow me to record all these different details.

Here is an example:

Sage – grew three varieties, purple, tri color and garden.  Used the fresh leaves to create vinegar for eating and cleaning.  Dried them in bundles for use in arrangements and winter cooking.  One set of leaves won a 1st place ribbon at the Garden Club meeting plant competition.

I also like to add a photo of the plant to the listing as well if I have room.

Made the following recipe:

1 cup dried sage
1 cup dried thyme
1 cup dried lemon balm

Mix herbs together and use ½ to 1 cup in a small muslin bag per bath. Let steep in the bathtub. For additional benefit, use the herb filled bag to rub over your skin.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pumpkin Spice Latte Season weekend recipe

Rather than spend all that extra money at the Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks or even McDonalds, try making a latte at home with this simple recipe.
Pumpkin Spice Latte
  • 2 tablespoons canned pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend, plus more to garnish
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup hot espresso OR strong brewed coffee
    sweetened whipped cream for serving
Combine the milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and vanilla in a medium microwave safe bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and vent with a small hole. Microwave until the milk is hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk vigorously until the milk mixture is foamy, about 30 seconds.

Pour the espresso or coffee into a large mug and add the foamed milk. Top with whipped cream and a sprinkle of spice mix.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Backyard Garden Update September

All we have been doing this month is harvesting more vegetables.  My tomatoes, herbs and cucumbers all won blue ribbons at the end of August, so I was pleased.  I expect to have more tomatoes to enter and some flowers this month.  Trying to decide which herbs to submit this time.  I have Rue, golden oregano and rosemary that all look spectacular right now.

the cats gave me the cat art for my birthday

The side yard is actually beginning to look like a garden area.  We acquired some perennial plants for shade in August and they are doing well.  I expect they will look wonderful next year.  I got a wooden chair from someone's curbside that adds just the right touch against the fence and this week I am making cement path steps.  I will post a HOW to on that.

The acorn squash is producing well, but how can it not with no competition in the bed now that the corn is gone.

Tomatoes are still prolific, much salsa and sauce has been made.  Salsa was canned, sauce was frozen.

herb garden rosemary at center left; golden oregano on right

Making my "next year" list -- So far it includes:

Melon/musk melon or cantaloupe
One plant of baking pumpkins
Spaghetti Squash (Hubby loves it with homemade sauce)
No early girl tomatoes next year, try a dwarf tomato instead I think

Another herb bed, this one is full!

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