Overlooking Plein Air

Easton, MD has a Plein Air painting event that is considered one of the best in the country. People paint around the area for a week and significant prizes are awarded. On the Saturday of Plein Air week, activities center on Harrison Street. This painter was smart to put down a piece of cardboard to keep his feet off the hot asphalt.

About six years ago Laura had the idea to get a small group of women together to have lunch at one of the restaurants on Harrison Street and people watch. The first years we had lunch on the porch of Masons. Two years ago the restaurant closed so the following year we had lunch on the porch of The Bartlett Pear. People on the street wondered who we were to have such a great viewing location. Some asked if we were judges. We just nodded.

Bartlett Pear is now on the market and its restaurant is closed. Laura, being the master negotiator, rented the porch for us and we collaborated what each of us would bring for lunch. We started with cheese, crackers and fruit. Betty Ann brought two large pitchers of white Sangria. That was followed by a chilled carrot soup. Then a tomato filled with chicken salad. A mini-croissant completed the main course. Dessert was cookies I’d bought at the St. Michaels Farmers Market that morning and cut into quarters.

We had extra sangria so we shared it with the band. The left over cookies were given to the Bartlett Pear owner’s daughter to share with her friends. While we were still on the porch, artists would occasionally make their way up the stairs to get out of the sun and have a glass of sangria.

One of the signatures of Plein Air is that it seems to occur during the hottest week of July. This year was no exception. Temps in the high 90’s with Eastern Shore humidity. We had an occasional breeze on the Pear porch, but most of us were wearing as little clothing as possible that women of a certain age can get away with. After lunch we walked the streets for a little while and then took shelter in the air-conditioned Armory and the Art Museum where juried participant’s work was displayed and for sale.

I often think the palettes should be framed and sold.

By mid-afternoon we had sweltered long enough and went home. I took the remaining sangria fruit thinking I would cook it up, strain it and use the juice to make jelly.  I never want to waste anything. The juice is in the fridge and I will make Plein Air jelly tomorrow. There were so many kinds of fruit in the sangria that there won’t be one dominant flavor. I’ll see what kind of liquor I have in the cupboard that I could add to make a palate focal point. Peach schapps? Cassis? Port wine? Cointreau? I’ll let you know how it turns out. If it doesn’t jell, we can eat it over vanilla ice cream.

 

A Busy, Busy Week

There’s always one week in June that’s packed. It was last week. It started on Monday with a trip to my husband’s hearing aid guy. It’s just a trip to Easton, but the appointment is thorough and long and I like to go along so I can tell Mike Canary MY experience of my husband’s state of the art (and very expensive) hearing aids. It seemed to me I was again having to repeat things two or three times so some adjustments were needed. We are finding out that hearing loss is very complicated and the aids, even with all the bells and whistles, don’t make it easier for my husband to hear in situations with more than a couple of people. Restaurants are a nightmare.

On Tuesday I helped a friend make 17 small arrangements for the annual Woman’s Club of St. Michaels luncheon that was on Wednesday. These were gifts for the incoming officers and board of directors. I always learn something about flower arranging when I work with Barb Colledge. This time it was how you determine the height of an arrangement that will go on a dining table. No higher than your fist when you place your elbow on the table.

Wednesday was the luncheon at which the club of presents its annual scholarship. This year the $6000 award was split between two deserving students from St. Michaels High School.

I did a press release and sent this photo and one of the incoming board to our local paper, The Star Democrat.

On Thursday I drove to Annapolis for a chiropractic visit and then to Costco in Glen Burnie to pick up my new glasses. Traffic over the Bay Bridge was fine both ways. This time of year that’s always a concern. It’s an hour drive (on good days) to Annapolis, so I try to fit in a visit to Trader Joe’s if I can.

On Friday was a Hats in the Garden Party at the Woman’s Club. This year I have been the co-chair of Green Thumb (the gardening group at the club ) with Carol Meholic and we made a fantastic team. We divided tasks and every monthly event went smoothly. At this party, guests were asked to wear hats they already owned or created and people voted for their favorites. These were the two winners, Joanne Buritsch and Barbara Rose.

We had lovely weather for the party in the garden behind the Woman’s Club – a garden where I spend a lot of time weeding. Almost fifty club members attended.

Saturday my husband and I helped at the Farmer’s Market in the morning and that evening there was a pot luck supper for our neighborhood association. I made a rice salad, and forgot to take pictures.

And on Sunday Laura and I and two other friends went to Center Stage to see Jazz and then out to dinner. The show was an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s book and it was too confusing to be enjoyable. But dinner after was, as always, wonderful.

This week has been much less busy. There has been time to write every day and get some yard work done early in the morning. We had a couple of very hot days and we could really use some rain, so I’m hauling the hose around. While I do that I think about the next scene I’m writing.  I’m past the middle of the book and am making steady progress.

 

New Year’s Day Bean Soup

My friend, Diane, from my morning yoga class gives us yogis bags of beans at Christmas so we can make New Year’s Day Bean Soup. She told me she started doing this as gifts her children could give their teachers – apparently much to the kid’s chagrin that first year. But then the teachers and friends and neighbors started asking for the bags of beans. I suspect there is some ratio of the different kinds of beans, but the combination has evolved over the years, Diane told me

Their must be fifteen kinds of beans (including black eyed peas for wealth and happiness) in the Ziploc bag which included a recipe sheet. I didn’t realize how beautiful beans could be until I took this photo.

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To make soup, soak the beans overnight, then drain the following morning. Add two quarts of water and a ham hock. The recipe says you don’t have to use a ham hock and you would have a tasty vegetarian version. Diane told me they often use kielbasa.

Bring the beans to a boil and simmer slowly for two hours. Then add 1 large chopped onion, a 28 oz can of tomatoes, and celery and carrots if you’ve got them on hand. Season with1 tsp chili powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper and (the directions say) any other spices that spark your fancy (basil, oregano, etc.).  Remove ham hock, cut up ham and return to the soup.  Simmer slowly for one hour or more. This soup is even better the second day.

Even if you didn’t get a bag of beautiful beans this Christmas, check out your grocery store to see what kinds of beans are on the shelf and make a kettle of nourishing winter goodness. This is a soup that begs for improvisation. I found some forgotten pulled pork in my freezer last week and that’s what I’m going to use instead of a ham hock. I’ll used my canned tomato sauce instead of store bought tomatoes. And I have have a bag of carrots from my garden that grew in wonky shapes. Chopped, they’ll be perfect for this recipe. I might even throw in some finely chopped Red Russian kale from my community garden bed. Oh, and  couple of those Hakurei turnips I harvested before the first hard frost. It’s going to be delicious.

 

 

On the Way to Christmas

We were supposed to go to Washington, DC last Saturday to see my brother and his wife perform with their Scandia Dance troupe. The ice storm got in the way and by eleven in the morning when we needed to leave, the temps on the Eastern Shore were still at freezing and it was colder north of us. We decided not to go.

Laura had also invited us to an early Christmas dinner that day and we had turned her down because of our plans to go to DC. But once the no-travel decision was made, I called her and re-invited us. She said it was the third time she’d added place settings to the table, as the number of dinner guests around the table grew.

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Usually when we are home for Christmas and invited to Laura’s for dinner, I make the desserts. This time someone else had that task. We just showed up for wonderful food, warm friendships, and shared stories. Thank you Laura, it was a gift, as was the sunset out the back of your house as we enjoyed a glass of wine before going to your beautiful table.

img_2159Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas, dear friends. Take time to watch a sunrise or sunset and rejoice in the wonders of our world.

 

One Thing Leads to Another

You know how this goes. You want to get a project finished, but before you can really start there are other things that have to be done.

The project: fill the window boxes in the front of the house.

Last Thursday the Green Thumb Garden group of the St. Michaels Woman’s Club took a bus trip to London Town in Edgewater, MD. We had the first day with no rain in 20 days. After touring Londontown and its beautiful, soggy gardens we boarded the bus to Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville, MD. We were there to shop! The bus had loads of room underneath and Homestead Gardens has a fabulous selection of plants for my window boxes. Oh, and llamas and alpacas.

mala and alpaca

I wanted to find a replacement Golden Showers rose. It’s a pillar rose and the one I have is ten years old and showing its age. Three years ago I ordered another one from Wayside Gardens to put in as a replacement. It has not done well. And the three Fairy roses I ordered from Wayside the same year have never bloomed! I am not ordering plants from Wayside again anytime soon.

Homestead was very low on climbing roses and did not stock Golden Showers. I bought a pink climber to try. I also was in the market for annuals to fill the window boxes on the front of the house. Homestead had Sunpatiens – a new cultivar of New Guinea impatiens that does well in the sun. So I bought 15 which is what I need for the five window boxes. I fill in with some other things – so I bought more plants.

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Before I began on the window boxes I needed to plant that rose. I started to dig a hole but the ground was so wet that I abandoned that and will try again when things have dried out. See all those maple tree helicopters. That’s another project with the blower, but requires the fliers to be dry.

Now I had the plants, but before I could plant the window boxes I had to make sure the drip irrigation system was working. That required a trip to the store for new 9V batteries. I have two drip irrigation systems. One for the window boxes and one for the raised veggie beds. The systems have timers which need to be set for day, time of irrigation and number of minutes. But before you can do that you have to set the time and day you are setting up the system. All this is done using five little buttons. Something has to be blinking before you can program it. Since I do this once a year I never can remember the sequence. Even with the instructions it’s daunting. However this year I resolved to program the darn things before I put them on the hose. Every year in the past I’ve installed them and then ended up lying on my back trying to figure it out. Result: lots of cursing and plants getting watered at strange times.

irrigation sideways tweaked

So now the gizmo is programed and ready to be attached to the hose. It’s really windy today, so I’ll wait until tomorrow. Then I need to turn it on and see if there are any leaks in the system. Then I can  plant my window boxes. The weather forecast is for cold night temps tonight. I don’t want to put the boxes out and have them blasted. Tomorrow might be a good day. Those window boxes will be in by the end of May.

I still have to program the system for the raised veggie beds and test it. I know there is a major leak in one of the big hoses. Damn squirrels chewed it last fall. But, of course, I didn’t put a piece of tape around it so have to turn on the system and be prepared to get wet while I hunt for the leak. Like I said, one thing leads to another. But I am going to get the system set up before I attach it to the hose outlet. I do occasionally learn to work smarter.

Note: The bunnies have found my raised veggie beds. The BB gun is coming out of the closet.

 

Work Hard, Play Harder

Laura and I have started a new project. We are taking the script of #Santa and turning it into a novel — probably Chick Lit if you need a genre classification. And we decided the story arc won’t be focused on Christmas. It’s the wacky characters that will keep the story going.

Anyway, we spent three days last week figuring out what we wanted to do. We took the script, which is essentially dialogue, thought about where scenes needed to be added, and how we wanted to expand characters. A novel gives us so much room to explore inside characters’ brains.

The challenge is to put in the details that novelization requires. In a movie script you give some broad strokes and the director and his staff make the decisions about what a room looks like or the kinds of clothes a character wears. Now we have to make those decisions and write the descriptions. I actually like this process since when I’m writing I’m watching a movie playing in my head. I just have to write down what I see. And both Laura and I have learned that what’s really important is to get something written. You can tweak, rearrange, or delete later, but getting the ideas down on “paper”, even if you think what you’re writing sucks, is what you have to do.

We made enough progress that we will be able to meet for lunch this week and assign scenes we will each write. Our process is that we then pass them back to one another and overwrite. Because our writing styles are quiet similar, this makes for a fairly seamless product. I don’t think readers can tell who wrote what. When the first draft is completed we’ll start moving things around. Sometimes you just have to read the whole thing to see where the problems are.

At noon on the third day we finished what we had set out to do and decided to play. We went to lunch and then explored consignment shops and antique stores. Laura was ready to buy a pair of love seats for her house and asked the price. “They’re sold,” she was told. She thought they were kidding until two big guys walked in and walked the love seats out of the shop. If we’d been there an hour earlier, they might have been hers.

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We had fun trying on shoes, hats and clothes. It’s the kind of thing our husbands don’t like to do, but was a perfect guilty pleasure for a couple of gals on a ramble after doing some creative work. Don’t you just love this hat.  I’d love to know its backstory. Who the heck wore this and where? Hmmm…that could be the beginning of another novel.

 

 

‘Tis the Season

I grew up with a Norwegian mother (second generation in the US) and a German father (the Schippers had been here longer). Because immigrants back then were intent on assimilating, neither my mother nor my father grew up speaking Norwegian or German. A lost opportunity. I don’t recall any specific ethnic traditions in our household. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t create my own.

One Christmas season my brother, Ross, made a kransekake – a Norwegian wreath cake which consists of eighteen sequentially smaller rings stacked one upon the other. I was impressed so I got the recipe and tried it. Trying to figure out the sizes of those rings was interesting and I don’t have a photo of that first attempt. It was a very wonky tower, but the rings were quite tasty.

A few Christmases later my brother and his wife, Linda, gave me a set of kransekake pans. Now the rings would be exactly the right size. However the ground almond, confectioners sugar and egg white mixture that is the recipe needed tweaking. I was grinding my almonds in my food processor and the dough puffed up too much. However, by that time I had involved my Montana granddaughters in baking a kransekake when we did a Montana Christmas. Those girls are all grown up now, but have requested baking a kransekake when we visit at Christmas this year. It’s become a tradition.

Ross told me he ground his blanched almonds in a coffee grinder. I went on line to YouTube for more instructions, then ordered a coffee grinder on Amazon. I had it (free shipping) in two days. I love Amazon Prime.

Yesterday I was ready. One of my yogi friends, Diane French, came to help. We discovered we needed to start the grinding process in the food processor to make the almonds into smaller pieces. Almonds are bigger than coffee beans! Duh. Then we decided to put the ground almonds through a sieve to make sure all the leftover almond bits were taken out and put through the grinder again. We made the dough and let it rest according to the recipe.

We rolled the dough into ropes the size of a pinkie finger and began filling the rings in the pans.

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The rings are baked at 396 degrees for 12 minutes. We learned that they needed to be cooled completely before we took them out of the non-stick pans.

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Next came the job of stacking the rings. They are quite close in size so there is probably a method, but we eyeballed it. White frosting is put on each ring and the next smaller size is laid on top. The frosting acts as a glue.

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We used white frosting in one of those spray cans. Here is the completed cake. It is a little wonky from one angle, but this is it’s best side. A turntable would have helped. I’ll get cans of red and  green frosting and decorate the cake with holly. It will be even more festive when that is done. Traditionally it might have had Norwegian flags on it or Christmas crackers. This cake is also served at Norwegian weddings.

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I have to say that grinding the almonds in the coffee grinder made a difference. This is the best and prettiest kranskake I’ve made. However, those first couple done with the grand-girls are the ones I’ll really remember and the fact that there is now a Norwegian tradition in our family. For those who are wondering, the kake is served from the bottom ring up. Several bottom rings are removed and each ring is cut into pieces. In this way, the rest of the kake remains in the shape of a Christmas tree.

This holiday treat is going to the Woman’s Club on St. Michaels on Wednesday. Laura Ambler and I are the program for the December meeting. We’ll be talking about how we turned our Christmas memory book, The Santa Diaries, into a produced Christmas play of the same name. ‘Tis the season of memories and making traditions.