Write on Wednesday – Christmas Dinner Disasters – January 7, 2020

My writing partner, Laura Ambler, and I met for lunch at Olive Garden yesterday. Their soup and salad combo is really good and a booth gave us privacy to discuss a new writing project.

With two produced Christmas themed plays we have a tiny wedge into a niche. So we were brainstorming about other possible Christmas play ideas. One of them involved all the kinds of family drama that can happen at the turkey laden table. 

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Laura told me about a couple she knows. On Christmas day the wife had a terrible migraine so took some medicine that will put her to sleep for a couple of hours. But before she leaves the kitchen she instructs her husband about how to cook the turkey. When he smells something burning he realizes he has set the stove to clean and now the oven door is locked.  That topped the Christmas dinner my elderly mother put the turkey in and set the oven to broil.

But things can be worse than incinerated turkey or a less than perfect meal. The uncle who always gets drunk and starts a political fight. The football game that eclipses the dinner you’ve been working on for days? The relatives you see once a year and that’s too often. Sometimes there is tragedy. Death does not take off on Christmas day.

What Christmas disaster stories does your family tell? Give me your story. It might make it into a new play.

Write on Wednesday – Welcome 2020 with Gløgg – January 1, 2020

My very best wishes to one and all for a happy, prosperous and healthy New Year.

For years my parents had an annual New Year’s Day party where they served Gløgg, a Norwegian mulled wine. I didn’t continue this tradition, but my brother and sister-in-law did for many years.  Recently I found a notebook with my mother’s recipes and notations for many years of that party. This was from 1963.

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For each party Mom annotated the amount of shrimp, how many Swedish meatballs she made and what she put on the veggie tray.  I don’t know if you could buy a pre-made tray then. She always made her own and one of the items was sliced spiced apples…they were bright red and came in a jar. The 1963 New Year’s Day party had the notation: “Invited 120 people. Half showed up. Lousy weather. Ice. Parking difficult. First guests arrived at 4 promptly. All gone by 7:45.” That year she tripled the recipe below. I suppose they bottled the leftovers which would have lasted a long time. My folks weren’t big drinkers.

That party was in Bethesda a few weeks after I was married for the first time — a week after President John Kennedy was assassinated. I had moved with my new husband to Pennsylvania, so I wasn’t at that party. However, I do remember these get togethers as far back as South Bend, Indiana when my dad taught at Notre Dame.

Here is the recipe for Gløgg.

  • 1 gallon port wine
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 24 whole cloves
  • 2 dozen blanched almonds
  • 1 stick whole cinnamon
  • 2 dozen cardamom
  • 2 cups sugar caramelized (Be careful doing this. Very hot.)
  • 2 cups boiling water added to sugar when browned
  • 1 quart rye whiskey

Brown sugar, add water. Cook wine and spices together for a few minutes. Put sugar mixture in wine. Add whisky. Serve hot. One recipe serves approximately 30 people. Serve sour, tart and meats with gløgg. No sweets or cakes.

If Gløgg doesn’t tempt you, here is my recipe for my Crack Pecans, otherwise called cinnamon sugared pecans. Eat them on a salad or by the handful.

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Be advised that checking for crunch in the final stages is where an addiction begins. Consider yourself warned.

Mala’s Crack Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com where I made tweaks)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes: If you double this recipe you could keep the cinnamon sugar amounts the same. It’s plenty of sweet. If you do this, make it in two batches using two sheet pans. Four cups is just the right amount for one sheet pan. The nuts won’t get crunchy if there are too many on the sheet at one time.

I use sheet pans with a silpat liner.  You can also use parchment paper.The sheet pan has sides so the nuts don’t fall out.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is crucial to make them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky. They may need a little additional time in the oven. Just keep checking for crunch. I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add more salt as well.

 

Six on Saturday – Baby, It’s Cold Outside – December 21, 2019

On this shortest day of the year we have winter temperatures. Ours are moderate compared to many places in the United States, but 26 degrees Fahrenheit means the ground was crunchy underfoot when I went outside this morning to see what I could find in the garden.

  1. Before I headed outside I pulled my chicken stock bag out of the freezer and put a pot to boil on the stove. By the time I came in the house was fragrant. My mother taught me to put a little apple cider vinegar in the pot when making stock. She said it pulled the calcium out of the bones. I have no idea if that is true and suspect cider vinegar was a replacement for white wine in the stock pot of a cook who grew up on an Iowa farm. IMG_9899

2. Last weekend I was in Tennessee with Laura Ambler attending opening night of our play, The Santa Diaries, at Encore Theatre Company in Mt. Juliet. This photo is us (in the middle) with the cast. This small community theater did us proud. A memorable production.

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3. The window boxes are full of greens from my property. Not as full as in years past when I had bags of greens left over from a wreath workshop at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club, but it will do. The box of red ribbons is still on the shelf in the garage. I have a few days to get them in place.

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4. My husband has refilled the woodpile on the deck and the level behind the shed is falling. We will have enough to get us to spring and then he will restock for 2020.

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5.  A camellia is full of buds as is a rhododendron. I doubt that purple rhodo bud will make it through to spring.

 

6. I rooted around in the hellebore bed but found no buds. However, at the roots of one of my old maples I found a moss garden. I think the fairies are tucked under those cozy green blankets and will emerge in the spring.

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That’s my Six-on-Saturday on the Winter Solstice in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

As we head toward Christmas, may your days be merry and bright. Happy Holidays to one and all!

#lovemygarden   #mid-atlantic garden   #Six-on-Saturday  #malaburt

 

 

 

Six on Saturday – A Week of Gratitude – November 23, 2019

As we approach the American Thanksgiving holiday, I ma grateful that I have a garden.

I wandered my garden this morning wondering what I would find.

  1. A birdhouse (made by my husband) hides in maple foliage that daily becomes more colorful, waiting for a Carolina wren come Spring. I am grateful that I can hear the birds in my garden and see the changing foliage.

2. I am grateful for the warm fires my husband builds for me every night.

3. I am grateful that I moved to a location where I could take the Master Gardener training and be involved in gardening conservation. My garden is certified Bay Wise.

4. I am grateful for my internet garden friends. Tony Tomeo identified this as a Hollywood juniper.  I had no idea what it was.Two of them came with my house and while they are not my favorites, they are happy where they are planted and will stay in my landscape.

5. I am grateful for my far flung family. These stones came from my many visits to Montana where my oldest son lives with his wife.  Brought back one or two at a time tucked into a suitcase, they remind me of how lucky I am to have four terrific adult children, none of whom live at home.

6. I am grateful that my mother was a gardener and passed on her knowledge and love of puttering. This Martha Hitchcock azalea came from my mother’s garden and is my favorite in the spring and doesn’t let me forget her in the fall.

That’s my Six-on-Saturday for mid-November in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. A week of gratitude. The meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

#lovemygarden   #mid-atlantic garden   #fall colors  #Six-on-Saturday  #malaburt

Six on Saturday – First Frost – November 9, 2019

We had a light frost last night. The coleus in the front window boxes need to be pulled out. I’ll stick evergreen trimmings in the soil for the winter. As I walked around the garden this morning I was surprised to see some confused plants.

  1. But first I want to showcase a gift my friend, Carol M, brought me yesterday.  A spray of sorghum heads with a turkey. I put it on the lattice in the back so I could see it from the house, although I may move it to one of the older, weathered lattices where there will be more contrast. I’ll still be able to see it in that location. I had no idea sorghum heads had so many colors.

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2. On to a couple of confused plants. An azalea (not one of the fall re-bloomers) has put out a couple of flowers. The leaves show an infestation of azalea lace bug. I’ll have to go on line to see if I can treat the plant now or need to wait till spring. This particular pest is epidemic in my azaleas.

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3. A bud on a clematis will not survive a hard freeze. And I’m hoping to bring that pretty white geranium in for the winter. I think there are a couple of plants in that big pot so I’ll need to repot one into a container I can lift.

4.  Frozen water in the Jan Kirsch avocado is stunning with fallen leaves. Wrapping the concrete sculpture for the winter has moved to the top of the to-do list.

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5. The petals have fallen from the Sheffield mums, but the remaining centers are bright yellow, providing a needed pop of color in the fall garden. The Autumn Joy sedum heads continue to darken into tones of burgundy.

 

6. I need to brag a little about the large area where the raised beds were removed. I seeded, and watered and watered and watered and hoped. Fingers crossed for it being really settled in next spring.

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An update on my writing life. The third book in my Caribbean romance trilogy is back from the proofer. Now I am working on finalizing titles and choosing a cover concept. Publication sometime next spring.

That’s my Six on Saturday, this week photos of my garden. The meme was started by The Propogator, a UK gardener.  This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.

#lovemygarden

Six on Saturday – Still No Rain – October 12, 2019

Still no rain.  We are now over two months without precipitation. Our quarterly town water bill arrived. Almost $300, but I am hoping most shrubs, etc. will survive as well as the emerging areas that I seeded when we removed the raised beds. Despite what the weather people call a “moderate” drought, there are still things to see in the garden among the desiccated foliage . Several people have wondered how I can still have flowers in the garden. I tell them daily watering and close-up photography.

Here are my six on this fall Saturday.

  1. The flower heads on the Autumn Joy sedums are fading but the Sheffield mums behind them are just beginning to open.

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2. We finished a big job on the side of the house prior to my first cataract surgery last Wednesday. The procedure went extremely well. Second eye in two weeks. This side of the house had four straggly spireas and overgrown iris beds. My first plan was to only remove the iris, but as I worked I decided to take out the spireas as well. They never did well in that spot and had been inherited from the previous home owner.

I dug everything out and transplanted clumps of epimedium which I am watering daily.  The soil is so dry that it really isn’t conducive to transplanting, but I needed to get things done before my eyes were being worked on.

Today we laid down landscape cloth and covered it with pine nuggets. When we have a heavy rain, this bed splashes soil onto the siding. I am hoping to eliminate that problem.

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3. The short iris are now in full bloom, just as the goldenrod is fading.

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4.  My one cucumber plant at the St. Michaels Community Garden is continuing to produce. There is a row of garlic chives by this plant which has been covered with bees since it bloomed. I’m wondering if that’s why I’ve had so may cukes. The spaghetti squash plants are flowering but only with male flowers. I don’t think there will be any squash this year. Last year I had enough from a fall planting to see me through the winter.

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5. These are the garlic chive blooms. They need to be divided next spring, but should be cut back this fall before they seed. If If don’t get that done, the babies will be a nuisance in the area between the raised beds.

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6. Also in the community garden are some beautiful peppers in a neighbor’s bed. They remind me of bells.

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That’s my Six on this dry Saturday. The meme was started by The Propagator, a UK gardener. I learn something every week from the participating gardeners. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.  

#lovemygarden

 

Six on Saturday – Rain, Please – September 21, 2019

Still dry here on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I have been continuing to move plants although digging is more like jack hammering concrete. Even with constant watering there will be plant loss.

In my community garden bed one cucumber plant has been outdoing itself. I pick this many or more at least once a week. My yoga class takes them home, I take them to the salon where I get my hair cut and make lots of cuke and onion salad for myself. My husband doesn’t like cucumbers and I can only eat so many. The tag that came with this plant is still there so I will know what kind to get next year.

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2. The tall New England asters are beginning to bloom. They will be gorgeous with the goldenrod planted next to them.

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3. Seed pods on the native milkweed are bursting with seeds.

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4.  In the same area of my garden Verbena bonariensis loves the miserable soil. Someone posted last week that this verbena didn’t do well for them. Their soil might be too good. And these have done well despite no rain for two months. Only an occasional sprinkler on them.

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5. I have some carrots in my community garden bed. One of them is going to seed, but it is really pretty.

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6. It’s been in the high fifties at night. Our first fire of the season is only weeks away.

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That’s my Six on Saturday as we head toward fall. The meme was started by The Propagator, a UK gardener. I learn something every week from the participating gardeners. This is the link to the rules if you’d like to join in.  

#lovemygarden