Saturday, November 27, 2010


I picked this red rose because its stem was broken. This particular plant has three admirable traits: pollen for insects, a pleasant scent, and prolific blooms. Many cultivated roses lack the former two, in favor of a cultivar dripping with flowers and multiple petals.

The cultivated rose lacks rosehips, which our native swamp rose (above) has. Having cut hundreds of multiflora rose bushes down and suffered many, many ugly cuts and thorn-splinters, I'm ok with that.

Swamp rose in bloom at a local nature preserve. Five petals, a wonderful treat of pollen, nectar and scent, rich rosehips in autumn - a perfect thicket only nature can create.

Two cultivated roses, one red and one yellow, were the only plants (except grass) that grew by our house when we arrived exactly five years ago. Since then, we've planted Carolina allspice, swamp rose, cardinal flower, closed gentian, burdock (oops, but it's ok, we used it once for a good tasting meal a few years ago and I now have a burdock tincture brewing), blue flag iris, wild ginger, and hearts a burstin'. We replaced the volunteer Joe Pye that a vole chewed up. Other volunteers are spotted jewelweed, bristly aster, mayapple, goldenrod, Virginia jumpseed, ironweed, shrubby dogwood, Asiatic dayflower. Less desirable are the Japanese stiltgrass and gill over the ground.

The yellow rose puts on about zero to three blooms per year. The red rose is more prolific with dozens of blooms. The red rose has much more personality as well. When it reaches window height waves in the wind. On moonlight nights, it regularly scares me - waking from deep sleep, the blooms appear to be peeking in the window. I picked Japanese beetles off the buds the first year, happy to have a beautiful plant near the house.

As our knowledge of native plants grew, we enjoyed the sympathetic recruitment of meadow plants around the house, bringing swallowtail butterflies and a succession of flowers. Gardening by neglect allowed the meadow plants to challenge the roses for sun and air circulation.

We had heard a nice story about it from our landlord - his father had insisted on nursing the roses back from death years ago. It didn't seem right to be ambivalent about this cultivated, non-native in this case. Nevertheless, with a rambling yard and ever-increasing vegetable garden the roses were ignored through several summers.

A year or so ago, Jared tried pruning the roses based upon a book's instructions, but the stems died back by 6" or more at each cut. Typically, he's an ace pruner, despite my initial shock at most of his pruning efforts - "Where's the plant?!" "Don't worry."

The natural world has its way, its strange way. We recently purchased an essential oil - we were seeking a relaxing scent and chose rose otto for its ability to "balance." I began reading Rosita Arvigo's Rainforest Home Remedies and read again and again about the physical and especially spiritual healing properties of roses.

Jared was right. This year, the red rose came back despite the pruning and the drought. And now, nearly December, the red rose blooms just when we are seeking its power.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kitchen Chemistry

No one likes to be the one who accidently buys diet version of a food product. This afternoon, we narrowly avoided purchasing "Kosher Chicken Broth. no fat." Luckily we caught the small print. No fat? How do you make no fat chicken broth? Horrible.

The above diet cream soda was a stow away. I am certain that the individual who has my regular cream soda enjoyed the taste of real sugar. It's uncanny how stevia tastes exactly like aspartame or whatever fakery is in diet Pepsi and Coke sodas. Again, horrible.

Sometimes things go well in the kitchen and other times... I confuse baking powder and baking soda while making breakfast. Into the compost bin goes the last of the maple syrup, drizzled onto somewhat burnt pancakes that taste like an automobile battery. All that's left on our plates is a slice and a half of bacon each.

Tonight's dinner featured a couple of those elements. I abandoned Jared who was working on a Vietnamese recipe, kind of. Does anyone of eastern European descent have over 50% of ingredients required to make any Asian recipe, unless it is in Betty Crocker's cookbook? Regardless, the chopped cilantro from our garden smelled great, and we had dried Asian mushrooms. It was a start.

We've already established that I have a tough time reading labels and distinguishing one white powder from another, so I'm not a great cook. Jared is. I often help by chopping vegetables and filling pots with water, or doing the dishes. Tonight, I did the last two and meandered off to write about Indiana Dunes and Cheesequake State Park.

"Could you put on a cup of water for the mushrooms?" Jared asked. "We'll make a tea and then use the mushrooms for dinner also. Is that ok?" Jared's been reading Mycelium Running, a book about using fungi for ecological restoration and cultivating them for food and medicine.

I'm not a big mushroom person, but I'm trying. Last night when Jared asked, "What would you give someone who spent a couple hours leading a nature hike in the cold and had to shout to be heard by 18 hikers?" "Chamomile and honey," I replied and put water in the kettle. I added some reishi (medicinal mushroom - very popular in Chinese medicine, I believe) that my mother in law had given us awhile ago. I thought it might add a soothing and mucilaginous angle to the tea. It worked - no sore throat.

When I returned to the kitchen after my writing was done, and said "Mmm, smells really good." Jared stated, "I've made a meal that you probably will not like, and I may not like either." I had detected a mild burning aroma while typing, but was too selfish to see if he needed help.

"The noodles are not rice noodles, but tapioca, so they're somewhat stiff. The label just said 'vermicelli.' "

"Did we get them at the Asian market?" I asked unnecessarily as Jared pressed the noodles down into the skillet with the spatula.

"Yes, so I put them in the skillet to try to make one of those fried dishes." I saw an image of a golden deep fried noodle dish--Bird's Nest--that my family once ordered at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Phillipsburg. I glanced at Jared's spatula mashing the greyish noodles. He continued,"The dried mushrooms are rubbery, too."

"Well, the pieces are small," I said cheerfully. "I tried to chop them up."

"Well, it smells really good. How about a cream soda?" I replied with even more cheer.

"OK! How about you add some milk?"

"Of course!" The soda idea worked, I thought, for both of us.

I picked out a couple special glasses and poured half the soda in each and added a bit of milk. I put them on the table while Jared dished out the food.

I took a sip. "Mmm. Oh yuck, this is diet!"

"What! How could they sell that? It doesn't say that on the box!"

Some dirty dog had slipped one Virgil's diet cream soda into the four pack. Like Russian roulette, I chose the one clunker soda in the box.

Who did this to us?! Who ruined this meal?! Who hates us?! we shouted.

The meal actually tasted good, and I dumped the stevia soda and refreshed our glasses with real sugar soda. [Our neighbor made cookies with granulated stevia and reported that they were unacceptable for even the compost].

Happily, we chewed on the noodles and meatballs and Brussel's sprouts (my addition to the meal).

I asked, "What happened to the mushroom tea?"

"It's smell didn't recommend it."

"What did it smell like, Jar?"

"Wet pets."

Cheesequake State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Looking across from one dune across the channelized wetland to the next. We had a long view of an egret and closer views of yellow rumped warblers. Deer browse was not so bad on these sandy peninsulas.

The inner and outer coastal plains are good places for good hikes on easy terrain. On Halloween we went to Cheesequake State Park. Just as Round valley reminded me of Maine with an invasive plant problem and without the pitcher plants, Cheesequake reminded me of the Indiana Dunes with a deer problem and without regular controlled burns. Both have rolling dunes covered in acidic oak forest.

Phlox, hoary puccoon, and spiderwort were blooming in mid-June at Indiana Dunes, and the understory of sassafras and ericaceous shrubs were kept in check by prescribed fire. The dunes rolled up and down and eventually to Lake Michigan, which looked like a lazy, shore lapping ocean.

At Cheesequake in October, maple leaf viburnum was burgundy, sweet pepperbush yellow, and tupelo pink. The dunes poked their fingers into the marshes. Peeking into the windows of the just closed nature center, I saw a framed photo of a solitary pink ladies' slipper orchid. I imagined this place as beautiful and as rich as Indiana Dunes... if only there were far fewer deer.

This park was loaded with Eagle Scout projects: osprey platforms, elevated trail decking, post and lintel trail entrance markers, osprey platforms, etc.

Indiana Dunes, a living sculpture of different shaped leaves.

Indiana gas station parking lot provides an easy walk.

Observing the wildflowers on the way to Lake Michigan.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Say When

Making remedies in the kitchen on a rainy day.