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Too Much Rhubarb = Too Much Good Jam


luscious berry rhubarb homemade jam

Our unseasonably cool summer (okay, late spring) has left my tomato starts and basil shivering in their beds, drooping from a low-temperature hangover. This, while my garden’s leaf master, rhubarb, stands tall, beaming under the cloudy, inclement skies of a Puget Sound marine layer, bulking out as a bumper crop of grand proportion. Looking to the cupboard for some spreadable fruit delight to dress up my dry toast, I found that the larder was low. Down to a couple jams jars labeled with smeared dates and questionable freshness, I called upon said bumper crop of rhubarb to rescue me from a potential unsavory encounter with a past due date or stale snacking experience.

 Strawberry Rhubarb Jam with Macrina raisin bread

A match made in taste-bud heaven: a little strawberry-rhubarb jam on a slice of Macrina Bakery raisin bread. 

I borrowed a strawberry-rhubarb jam recipe from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber. What I like about her technique is something I’ve always done because I never used bottle pectin and it help solidify the fruit mixture; you let the fruit and sugar rest for a day or so and in doing so, the sugar draws out the juices and preserves the fruit’s shape and structure, much like salting something. (Lutefisk can be handed down for generations.) It usually takes me about three days to make jam, a very no-big-deal three days.

Day one: It sits, absorbs sugar. Day two: I let it simmer gently, shutting off the heat to let it evaporate some. Day three: I heat it again to simmer and know it’s ready when the jam congeals as two separate drops off of my stirring spoon. Then, I bottled it up, using small jars. It takes a few steps; but I find it’s a very small price to pay for sunshine in a jar, especially when its namesake is so reluctant to appear.

Here’s the full text recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb: The Fred and Ginger of Jam.

Summertime, and the Hammock Is Ready


feet up relaxing in the hammock

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes,

and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit.

 A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.”

–Ada Louise Huxtable

Summer is an elusive season for the Pacific Northwest. There are certainly harbingers suggesting that we’re heading in the right direction, but it’s the pace of things that leaves me anxious and wondering, “Will summer ever arrive?”  I’m encouraged by the  dinnertime din that someone somewhere is mowing something, or the welcomed return of darting swallows overheard, or the lush, rapid and rampant growth of weeds in every corner of friable space.

Purists (and the science-minded) chide me that my laments are unfounded and that summer is still a month away, but I know better. When the hammock goes up the calendar is marked. (As the photo implies, Boz and Gracie tend to agree.)

bulldogs in the hammockSorry B&G, hope the click of the camera didn’t disturb you.

Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot: A Rose by Any Other Name Wouldn’t Smell as Sweet


Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot, Tea Rose

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet;”

Shakespeare’s Juliet had a point, but then again she never drew her nose to this heady petaled confection. Tea rose Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot could smell like fresh laundry and sport six petals, and I fear I would still swoon over the prospect of what a such a name could deliver.

Dreamy, fragrant, and wonderfully composed before the warm winds ruffle her petals.
Dreamy, fragrant, and wonderfully composed before the wind ruffles her petals.

The naming conventions of 1898 are a far cry from their present-day counterparts. Modern roses seem to bear names that possess all the poetry of brand names and talk-show hosts. Inspiration and bucolic conjurings are ill-suited to such names and Electron, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tequila Sunrise . So I leave you with a old garden rose that is delicious on all levels, fragrant, floriferous and unwilling to commit to any one single hue of pink, buff, shell or coral in its multi-layered palette. Madame Leonie Viennot’s husband (a rose breeder)  honored his wife and our senses with a perfumed and luscious souvenir.

Souvenir de Madame Leonie Viennot Rose

Renae, I Have Your Rhubarb


holding big bunch of fresh rhubarbGarden prize: first-of-the-season rhubarb

There I was minding my own business waxing on about my exceptional rhubarb crop, when one of my favorite bon vivants, super moms and gifted bloggers (Renaedujour.com) perked up and said in hushed tones as if speaking of contraband, “Did you say rhubarb.” “Why yes, Renae I did.” (I knew I like that girl.)

There are many markers of a person’s worth, and loving rhubarb is one of them. Pure glee and unbridled enthusiasm for anything should be rewarded, and Renae’s trophy shall be a clutch of my finest rhubarb stalks.  I shall deliver them tomorrow, and while I give these beefy ruby-red batons with no return in mind or expected, I venture to guess a fine confection or baked good will find its way from Renae’s home to mine.  Bon vivants are like that, and I embrace them all.
fresh cut rhubarb in a chair
I see rhubarb custard pie in my future. (Note to self:  buy vanilla ice cream.)

Ringing in the Return of the Bluebells

Bluebells in my backyard dreamscape

carpet of bluebells under maple treeOutside my backdoor in the shade of a gnarled friend, the bigleaf maple

The first time I recall seeing a forest floor carpeted in bluebells was in the movie Howard’s End. In a dreamlike state, Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox was drifting through a sea of blue flowers, consumed by the beauty of the moment. The train of her Edwardian dress heavy with moisture from dew, left a wake of parted petals and stems with each step. It’s an image worth remembering and one I can revisit with Netflix or in my own backyard each May.

Apparently there are different bluebell species as the Natural History Museum in London explains quite nicely:

They are the most prolific spreader in a shady garden and under trees, peering up with the full force of their beauty en masse, the extravangant display lasting several weeks. They disappear as quickly as they arrived, leaves wither to a yellowy straw color before dissolving into the earth in preparation for their nine-month nap and showstopping return.

Related: BBC video, Spanish Bluebell Invasion


There’s no better place to chew a bone than on carpet of bluebells.

Wheelbarrow Assembly or What 2.5 Hours Looks Like?



Beware of the unassembled wheelbarrow.

In Cold War movies, countless spies and diabolical governments worked tirelessly toward the downfall of the good ole U.S. of A.  Little did they know there’s a much easier way to undermined the American mind and spirit. Yes nowadays, imported terror comes in the form of foreign-based instruction manuals for U.S. bound household goods. James Bond, Our Man Flint, and Maxwell Smart would have crumbled under the mental duress and pressure of swingset assembly.

Just last Saturday, I made my most foolish decision of 2008 by telling my pal Eric at the hardware store that I’d forgo the wheelbarrow assembly charge of $10 and assemble my newly-minted imported wheelbarrow all by myself.  I even taunted fate (and the skill set needed) by saying, “How hard could it be; it’s just a bucket with handles and a wheel.” He grinned with the self-satisfaction of a man who could visualize how my Saturday would be spent–choice words and tool tossing notwithstanding.

Upon its completion and in the photo above, you may see a shiny new garden tool,  sporting fancy steel handles and a dashing red tire rim. As for me I don’t so much see a wheelbarrow, I see two and half hours of my life that I’ll never get back and an uncomfortable apology due one sage at the local True Value. Wheelbarrow assembly at the store: it’s a good thing.

A Bird in the Hand


holding a bird in my hand A little feather friend, catching his breath and soon to fly off

Sometimes the universe speaks to you in subtle almost inconceivable ways and other times it has no time to flirt with your awareness level and just drives the point home, ASAP.  My recent telegram from the cosmos was delivered with a striking thud against my back porch window in the form of a fragile little bird, its weight so indiscernable that if my eyes were closed, I’d believe my hand to be empty.   Stunned, the little bird needed immediate rescuing from my two curious bulldogs and a flock of culpable crows.

Nestled in a dish towel tucked in an old Tupperware bowl, Icarus was safe. His eyes gained brightness  slowly as he perched quietly and calmly. As adages go,  “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.” speaks to a consciousness that sometimes escapes me. The richness of what I have should never be discounted for that which I contend to be better even if out of reach. It took a little bird’s poor navigation skills to enlighten me that day, but once he was sure I got the message, he flew off into a bush, where no doubt an awaiting mate completed the pair, and the proverb.

Moments for Pause


two large black locust glowing at sunset Vashon Island

There are certain times in each year when a moment is marked, when a welcomed reminder of another time or season revisits you with an embrace of rediscovery, and you eagerly welcome its return. This evening as I made quick work of tucking in the chickens for the evening, I quickly realized I was not dressed for the chill at sunset. Nearing the house, the two ancient black locust trees that anchor my drive were glowing on the west side of their trunks, an occasion neither seen nor celebrated since the waning days of summer.

Their deeply-ridged bark glowed and the shadows of the last seven months were erased. I stood in stillness and felt the simple joy of this quiet moment.  The breeze was biting, but the moment warmed me.

Each day the hours wend their way through us, around us and at times, without us. What we choose to take notice of or that which ignites our spirit can easily be missed. Listen to your heart,  slow your step, and honor that which is before your eyes. You too will find your moment for pause.

Put Down the Bottled Water, and No One Gets Hurt


a huge bin of thrown away water bottles in Honolulu

Art piece?  Nah, this is just a water bottle waste receptacle in Honolulu.

There was a time when the only bottled water you’d ever see, required a flight to Europe and a dining experience. Tap water was just fine for American palates. Well, a few multi-million dollar ad campaigns later, we can’t survive a workout or walk to the car without imbibing on a sealed bottle of glacier fed mountain spring water. (Of course, I only drink water from the 10,000-foot level on the leeward side where no mountain goats have grazed.)  After hopping into a friend’s car recently, I feared for my life, horrified that I would be engulfed by the sea of empty water bottles in his back seat. Luckily they stopped just below my breathing passages.

So on this Earth Day 2008, I ask just ask this of you (and me): put down the bottled water, pick up an empty reusable  glass and reach for the tap. I’m sure if you take a blind taste test, your city’s H2O will share the same bouquet as the bottled water that circumnavigated half the globe just to touch your lips and quench your thirst.

Flower Garden or Salad Bar for Deer?


tulips buds before the deer find them

Their midnight snack…


My morning indigestion…

We can all remember the first time the magic of Disney brought us Bambi and his ilk (or should I spell that ‘elk?’). We never saw the dark side of our little antlered friends did we; the one where they sneak about the night bounding over any fence shorter than a Sequoia, smug in the fact that they can devour a drift of daisies, a row of roses, and a lane of lilies before their two-legged foes so much as pour their first cup of coffee.  And while I’m planning my imaginery all-venison buffet, they are reclining in some shaded glen planning their own menu of late night snacks to be had in my unfenced and well-stocked outdoor larder.