Not in the garden for a change

french breakfast radishes + rainbow chard
french breakfast radishes + rainbow chard (Photo credit: mamichan)

Glinda brought home a bunch of rhubarb and an enormous bunch of French Breakfast Radishes from the farmer’s market downtown, so dinner was radish sandwiches (Good, crusty bread, good butter, sliced radishes, preferably FB, and a bit of salt.)  Heaven!  And today I’m making a strawberry-rhubarb pie with ginger and an almond crumble top.

Yeah, I’ve been in a bakin’ mood.  On Monday I made a batch of my breakfast cookies. Glinda took some to work and said that everyone went nuts over them.  She ventured the opinion that they were “Nikolaj Coster-Waldau naked good.”  I think those deserve to be immortalized with a name and a fixed recipe, don’t you?   Before I print it, I should say that these began life as Doubletree chocolate chip cookies.  You know, those big ones they give you when you check in?  They’re really extraordinary as they stand, but I’ve been playing with the recipe the way I always do, and some of the variations have been quite good. (A couple sucked, but that happens.)  This version?  Best. Ever.

The Nikolaj  

1 cup butter
1/2 cup almond butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs
2 T vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon or more
1 tsp ground cardamom or more
8 oz bag semisweet chocolate chips
4 oz chopped pecans
4 oz chopped almonds
8 oz shredded coconut
4 oz dried cherries
4 oz chopped, dried apricots
2 T cocoa nibs
2 T flax seeds

Cream butter, almond butter and sugars together until fluffy.  Add eggs and beat until they’re blended.  Add vanilla and lemon juice, then the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Mix well.  Then add the cinnamon and cardamom.  You really need to flavor these to your taste.  I used a lot of both, probably more than a teaspoon of each.  Use your own good judgment here.

Then the fun really starts.  Toss in the nuts, coconut, oats, dried fruit and chocolate chips.  Then add the cocoa nibs and flax seeds.  By now your batter is getting stiff, so you may have to blend with a spoon at the end.

Bake on parchment @ 350 for the best results.  You want a mound about the size of half an apricot, maybe a little larger.  This batter doesn’t lend itself to small cookies.  Just go with it.  They’re usually done in about 13-15 minutes, and will be a bit golden around the edges.  They’ll make about 4-5 dozen lovely, chewy cookies.


Crazy weather

See the little flower thief?

It was pretty muggy indoors this afternoon, and the writing wasn’t going well, so I stepped outside to have a bite of lunch and look around.  This is what I saw when I stepped out of the back door.  Can’t see it?  Look carefully between the fence and the base of the rose bush.  Yup, that’s Fleur.  When I came out, she was ripping leaves off of Buffy.  I said, “Hey! What’re you doing?” and she dropped the leaf and said “Nuthin’.”  Then she ran into the neighbor’s yard.  I fear she’s been gnawing on Zoe; there are several blossoms on the ground right now.


I took a good look around and discovered that Tara is growing like the proverbial weed, and Willow is about to pop with at least half a dozen buds close to opening. Buffy has, probably, hundreds of buds in spite of having been trimmed back so Tara got some sunlight.  Cordy is hanging in there.  Zoe is limp except for the new growth, Fred has put out a new and somewhat erratically-placed cane, and Faith is budding out nicely.  River is filled with buds and blooms but the flowers last about a day before they drop off.  I pulled some grape vines and leaves down to give the girls more sun, and when I went to throw them away I discovered that someone had tossed a dead rat into our dumpster.  The little pink feet made me feel very sad; I don’t care what you are, being thrown into the garbage is an ignominious end, and it’s a shame.  Godspeed, M’sieu Raton.

Dorothy, the clematis is getting very tangly above the fence.  We’re going to have to pull the vines apart and
train them down onto the fence if she’s not going to kill passers-by.

It was about then that Glinda texted me to ask if I’d gotten the severe weather alert on my phone.  Just as I was saying I hadn’t, it popped up.  She told me it had rained like crazy in the Loop.  There’d been nothing around here even though the sky to the east of us looked pretty threatening.  Out west, which is where our weather comes from (There’s a big factory in Rosemont.) it looked nice and sunny, big fluffy clouds and all.  I sent her photos of the rhododendron, which has ten buds opening and only five that haven’t shown any color at all, and of

Josephine who, though she lagged behind some of the others in actually putting out a first bloom, had


suddenly gone crazy during the night and opened half a dozen blossoms.

Hermia and Mary, lush as they are, remain resolutely budded.  Glinda observed later this evening that Hermia looks as if she aspires to be the Sleeping Beauty rose, forming a thick hedge wherever she grows.  There’s a reason why Fleur hides under her.  Mary is over four feet tall now.  She’s one of those grandifloras, a long-stemmed lovely.

Morgan? Droopy.  She’s going to need a new trellis and some trimming.  Mistress Masham?  Looking good, though still small. Rita?  Gone.  There’s no way she’s going to come back now.  Kate and Karen, and Zephie in front all need some good, solid feeding.  Kate and Zephie are looking quite pale.  On the other hand, the fairy rose in front, Diana, is in competition with Hermia for most impenetrable wall of roses in the universe.

Josephine again.  You really should smell
this rose to know what a beauty she is.

By the time I’d finished taking pictures and sending them to Glinda, the sky had turned that eerie greenish gray that you see before storms, when the trees seem to glow against it.  I thought it might be time to go inside but then I caught sight of Fleur again, eating grass in the next yard.

She nibbled for a bit, then saw a sparrow near the lilac, jumped up and rushed at it.  Of course it flew away, so she ran in a circle, then ducked under the fence and into the yard beyond.

I look at her now and think how odd it is that she was the littlest, shyest baby of the three born in our raised bed.  She still doesn’t want to leave, but I think now it’s more a case of knowing where the good munchies are.


It’s been raining a lot the last few days so the garden is extra super muddy. Squelchy, even. 

Mud. I kind of like ending the day with it on my shoes. And sometimes on my jeans, and under my nails. I’m sure there have been days when it’s even been in my hair. But I don’t especially like tracking it all over my flat so I often wish we had an official mud room. You know Martha Stewart has a mud room.

Actually, I bet she has two: one for garden mud, and one for all-purpose mud. Because she’s Martha.

Pictures, pictures, pictures

Not a lot to say.  It’s warm out there, and damp.  We’ve had so much rain we had to turn off the watering system.  Here’s what’s happening out back.

River bloomed rather suddenly.  She’s covered in buds.

The geums are coming back.  Can’t say the same for the anemones.

Dorothy, the clematis with blossoms the size of small plates.
She’s just lovely this year.
And yes, the relocation seems to have worked!  Our rhododendron is starting to bloom.
I counted 7 buds that are starting to open.

Josephine, my pride and joy.  Still the most sweetly-scented rose in our garden.


A black Krim tomato.  We call it a Victor Krum since we can rarely recall the real name.

Hermia, the rose we bought at the supermarket.  Who knew she’s just take over like this?
We call her Hermia because of that character Shakespeare wrote: Though she be but little, she is fierce.
That’s what I should have named Peeb.


20130527_112302I just posted a bunch of garden pics over on Those 2 Nice Girls Next Door, and while I’m busy cleaning up my transfer file, I thought I’d post some here as well.

First: “Hi, is that you?”  “Yes.  Go away.”

He likes to keep checking.


Next, Peeb settles back into her basket, but keeps one eye open in case he comes back.

And finally, is he not the handsomest boy ever?













It’s raining

20130523_094319I’ve been sitting here feeling uneasy for an hour or more, and I don’t know why.  Maybe it was the weather, the constant threat of rain all day and nothing until the sky opened up a few minutes ago, drowning the music that had  been drifting out of one of the backyards.  No great loss, that music, but the stillness now is as heavy as the rain.

I shouldn’t feel this way.  I had a nice week.  Glinda had the week off and we got a lot done in the garden.  We went out, we enjoyed ourselves, we came back and made things a little prettier, a little pleasanter.  It’s spring and we’ve been reconnecting with our neighbors, people we saw only sporadically throughout the winter.  This afternoon we had lunch with our 101 year old neighbor, his daughter and nephew (whose mother just died), and his 80+ y.o. sister-in-law.  You wouldn’t think it was the sort of gathering where there would be much jollity, but we laughed a lot.  Then we came home and made cookies; my breakfast cookies, aka, Never Twice the Same Cookie.  I think I’ve published the recipe here in the past.  We took a stack over to our other neighbors and got back a big plate of arroz con gandules in return.  Could that be more perfect?  Why am I eating myself alive?

I have a lot to be grateful for.  To quote Cokie, in “The Horse’s Mouth”:  “… I got both legs the same length, and I don’t squint.  It’s a sort of miracle.”  But that’s damning with faint praise and it’s not fair.  I’ve had a good life, an easy one, I suppose, up until I hit my mid-40s and it fell apart with a ferocity that was hard to comprehend.  I think, because I exist in a very comfortable state of numbness much of the time, that when I do feel something it makes me uneasy.  I think I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It always seems to.

My to-do list for yesterday started with: 1) Try not to kill anything.

Please don’t even think about telling me how you feel right now.  This is not an engraved invitation to a pity party. This is just me working out why I feel like crap right now in spite of all the good things that have been happening.  It’s me wondering if I need to go get some new meds.  Probably when I wake up I’ll feel fine and it’ll all be forgotten until the mean reds come down hard again.

It’s raining. I miss the music.


Into the Wilds of Central Illinois to Snag a Rose

See this rose?  Her name is Zoe.  She’s a William Shakespeare 2000 rose from David Austin.  And she’s ours!  aHAHAHAHAHAHA!
No, seriously, on Thursday we did go all the way down past Peotone IL (Go look it up, it’s like 65 miles from us) to get this rose.  And to look at SEVEN ACRES of plants at the Woldhuis Farms Sunrise Greenhouse  which was recommended to us by our friend, Mija. Who’d have thought they’d build Paradise in Illinois? 
Yes, the whole place really does look like this.  These are just some of the geraniums.  This room went on forever.  And the normal size geraniums, the kind you’d put in your kitchen window over the winter?  $2.50 a pot.  No, we are not kidding.  (BTW, Glinda is here with me, and we’re writing this together.  No, really, she is.  Hold on a sec…  

So anyway… we actually exercised some will power, in part because, y’know, seven acres.  But we bought the rose, two small geraniums (Deep red), a fern, a hosta, and a heuchera, all for our shady corner, and all ones we didn’t yet have.  The selection is amazing there!  We also bought five different coleus plants @ $2.29 each, and… wait for it…

We got an escargot begonia for under $10.  Given the cost of some of the more rare begonias like the escargot, this was an incredible deal.  We also picked up a couple of plants for some friends, a nice geranium and a clematis.  Oh yeah, and we bought some rocks, too.  Twenty-nine cents a pound.  Three nice ones for about $4.  Woldhuis is a very nice place.  They excel at reasonably priced annuals.  Their perennials are pretty much in line with everyone else, but they do have a spectacularly good selection.  When you have space like that, you can afford to carry 30 different heucheras, 300 different roses, and dozens of hostas.  
On Friday we worked in the garden because, plants.  Zoe went in the ground next to River, the shade plants went into the shade garden, and a bunch of things got repotted and placed.  Alas Zoe is looking rather droopy.  I believe it has to do with being parted from Wash, but I think she’ll snap back.  Morgan is going through the same thing, as was Philippa, the new clematis (a Sweet Autumn) and the tomato I’m growing from a seed I harvested from my lunch.

No matter how it seems, the fact is that we don’t have a lot of money to play with this year, so we’re having to rely on luck and some creative thinking to improve the garden.  We have some garden art to put out, and we’re creating more.  Here’s a peek at the Gandhi quote that Glinda is painting on what used to be a window.  She’s got the design roughed out, and has started to paint.  And to the right of that is our drainpipe which I’ve yarn-bombed. It’s ugly and it gets very hot in the sunlight.  We’re afraid that some of the plants that are near it are going to get fried, so wherever there are plants, we’re going to yarn-bomb the pipe.  We may paint some other areas simply because this is a lot of work.  But it’ll be nice to have some art on the thing. It’s ugly and it’s driven me nuts since we moved in here.

And here’s a shot of our jasmine.  I wish you could smell it.

I should say that since this post has been written over the period of about four days, Glinda is no longer here helping me write this, though I expect her back relatively soon.  She’s taking a walk.  The weather has been threatening all day, but she’s out to make her 10K steps per day.  I wish I had that kind of will.  Though I spent half an hour picking worms out of sod so they didn’t go into the compost bag while Glinda wouldn’t touch them, so I have my moments.

A farting demon is our co-pilot

Glinda’s got some time off, so we planned to take the day and run errands.  First we dropped some sedum and another succulent off at a friend’s house.  Then we went on to Gethsemane  which we’d visited a week or two ago.  We wanted to see if they’d gotten any more roses in, and to check out their vegetables and sun annuals.  And I had three boxes that they’d packed our plants in on our last visit.  If you return them you get back $0.05 each!  I got back a whole $0.15.  Honestly, I didn’t know what I’d do with all that money.  We got there around 9 a.m. and the place was already packed.  On a Monday.  What the hell were all those people doing there at that hour?


Their roses were nice, but apart from David Austin’s Othello, there were none that we’d earmarked for possible addition to our garden.  We passed on Othello since it’s a ways down on our list after Austin Roses The Lady of Shalott, Young Lycidas, and William Shakespeare 2000, and old roses Eugene de Beauharnais and Gruss an Aachen.

Black Krim

We did manage to find a San Marzano tomato plant.  They’re said to be the best for cooking.  And we also got a Black Krim, an heirloom tomato from the Caspian area.  So now we have three tomatos, two for eating out of hand, a cherry and a slicing tomato, and one for cooking.  We bought a couple of beautiful
little begonias and a torenia because we loved the one we had last year so very much, and because they were pretty inexpensive.

Torenia; ours are prettier

We decided to skip Urhausen for the time being and go straight to Meinke’s because the last time we were there they had both Shalott and Lycidas.  This time, not so much.  There were maybe a dozen plants left and only four varieties, none of which were ones we really cared about.  The prices were quite good, coming in at just under $22 per plant, cheaper even than buying them direct.  For comparison, The Chalet in Wilmette sells Austins for around $40. (I’m not slagging The Chalet here; they’re amazing.  It’s just that their roses are pricier than we like.)  Again, the place was packed.  Don’t people work on Mondays anymore? In any event we picked up our herbs: sage, thyme, parsley, dill, rosemary, and basil, and as we were on our way to check out, we noticed that they had some mushroom compost.

Now last time we were at Home Despot, we picked up a bag of the stuff and loved it.  It’s an immensely friable, rich mixture that’s lightening our clay soil and giving a nutritional boost to our plants.  So we thought, hey, why don’t we pick up a bag here?  It’ll save us from having to go to HD.  We paid for our stuff, packed up the car and went on our way.  Now understand that it was 90 degrees here today so we have the windows rolled up and the a/c on full blast trying to cool down the car.

And the smell was like the devil’s farts — sulphur and sin.  Imagine getting stuck in a small, very hot space with a pile of manure into which someone had thrown rotting onions.  Onions so far gone they’re nearly liquid.  Having used mushroom compost before and never having noticed any sort of smell, we did wonder if the onion sets I’d gotten were giving off some kind of sulfurously evil haze.  We rolled down all the windows and tried to blow the smell out the back.  Didn’t work.  It just kept on getting worse as if distance from its kin provoked some sort of serious intestinal upset.  I swear to you that there was a green cloud enveloping the car as we drove.

Our next stop was Pesche’s, a garden center we’d never been to before.  Halfway there I said, “The damn bag cost us $5, let’s just dump it.  I don’t want anything this foul in our little garden.”  Glinda agreed and we spent the rest of the ride trying to find a good place to put it so that maybe someone else would pick it up and be able to use it.

We pulled into Pesche’s (Also jammed!) and all thought of the compost was forgotten as we realized that we’d stumbled into an amusement park for gardeners.  The place is huge, the stock is gorgeous, and the prices are about Gethsemane level.  We wandered around saying “Oh I want this!  I want that!  Let’s get 50 of those!”  But we were there to look for Austin roses and we disciplined ourselves.  Apparently that’s the key because we found the only Lady of Shalott that they had, and not only is it a lovely specimen, it’s already about three feet tall and ready to burst into bloom!

David Austin’s Lady of Shalott

I’m not going to bore you with a list of everything we looked at, but trust me when I tell you, we put some serious mileage on that shopping cart.  We picked up a third  tomato cage, so each plant has its own, and the loveliest little trellis which we’re using for Shalott (She doesn’t have a proper name yet.)  One of us will post a photo of it soon.  We looked all over the gift shop and bought a little terracotta hedgehog who is now sitting under the magnolia, and a little resin fairy girl who is perched on the fairy garden.  We wanted a St. Francis but the prices were pretty steep.

So after paying for all that, we wheeled the cart back to the car, opened the trunk and WHAM, demon farts.    The smell nearly made our sinuses bleed.  So Glinda picked up the bag and said, “Let’s rearrange all this,” propped it up against the curb, packed our purchases in the demon-scented space in the trunk, and drove off.

I hope someone can use the stuff.  I really hope we didn’t kill any innocent customers.

We drove on up to Schwake Stone, which wasn’t far from Pesche’s since we need some nice, small stones for the quote project, and I want to get some larger landscape stones to add some texture and interest to the landscape.  I’d checked their website over the weekend, and gotten the address, so when we arrived there and found that they’d moved lock, stock and granite out to their showroom in Mundelien it was a pretty huge shock.  Nowhere on that site, which btw, has now been shut down, was there any indication that they were moving.  So now we’re going to have to figure out where to find what we want.  I saw some really pretty stone at Gethsemane for less than $1 a pound, so we might head back there later in the week.  And I’ve gotten a few other addresses with a quick google.  Charles, if you’re reading this and have any ideas, please let me know.  I also want to look at some clay chimney tops and flues with an eye to turning them into planters.

The rest of the day was very nice.  We had lunch at Portillo’s, hit Home Despot for more of the non-demonic mushroom compost we like, and a bag of potting soil, and came back home to plant the rose and tomatoes.  Grace gave us a bucket filled with ferns. Linda came over and had a can of fizzy water with us, and we talked about Pesche’s and how her St. Francis statue got decapitated.  I’m always telling you how much we love our neighbors; this is why.  They’re funny, generous, smart, kind and a little goofy.

We spent the whole day expecting rain.  60% chance, they said, hail, high winds, T-storms, the whole nine yards.  Except for the wind, they got it dead wrong, which is kind of a shame because we could have used the rain, and maybe some cloud cover while we were mooching around the garden centers.  I just heard thunder, though, which will probably mean that it’ll be raining all day tomorrow when we’re trying to work outside.

Meh, I have no reason to complain.  We had a damn good day, we got a lot of things we needed and a couple we wanted, and had some fun.  (Glinda is still one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.)  It was worth the bug bites, sunburn, 90 degree temperatures, crazy drivers, missing business, sore feet and even the devil’s farts.  Really.  Would this face lie?

Tracy doing her famous Calvin-face.

Never to forget ourselves

We have a window.  Well it’s not a window anymore, but it was as long ago as 2010 when this picture was taken at the time we had the patio installed.  See it there on the back wall of the house?  Down low?  It opened up to nothing.  I have no idea why it was there at all.  So we had it closed off.
So now we have this big, white, square thing low down on the wall, and while it doesn’t look hideous, it sure doesn’t look great.  Glinda and I started talking about what we should do with it, and came to the conclusion that a piece of art would be smashing in that space.  Something inspirational, something about gardens and gardeners.  Glinda found a quote from Gandhi that summed up our feelings about the spiritual side of gardening and that was it, it was decided.  We would paint the quote on the wall and frame it out with a lovely glass mosaic.
We’ve been hashing out ideas for lettering and color for well over a year now.  The final decision was a pale green background and dark brown lettering.  Very natural, very much in tune with the surroundings.  The font was one of the things we hadn’t worked out until this morning when I fired up my ancient desktop where I keep all my graphics programs and we PShopped the quote in the colors we’d chosen.  The final choice of font came down to one of three: Art Brush, Mordred, or Viner Hand.  
Art Brush


Viner Hand
We compared them side-by-side and Art Brush was eliminated immediately.  Too heavy.  Mordred was nice and I really preferred it as a font, but Viner Hand was perfect for the quote and the garden.
Next we decided we wanted a little bit of a graphic included, something gardeny.  I found a viney brush in PShop, and added it at about 75% opacity and in a slightly darker green.  Once we saw it on the screen, we knew we had it, the absolute right image to grace our garden.  
Glinda is going to do the lettering (Sign-painter’s daughter!)  I’ll be doing the mosaic work.  I think we’ll have it done by the end of summer.  Pictures will follow.  Meanwhile, thanks to the inspiration for this piece:

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and ...
Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and spiritual leader of India. Location unknown. Français : Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), Guide politique et spirituel de l’Inde. Lieu inconnu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s hot out.

For me it is, anyway.  Anything over 65 seems hot to me.  But there’s something about today that’s appealing.  Everything is so quiet.  I have the windows open but there’s very little noise.  People come and go.  The little boy who lives down the block, who was having trouble learning to ride his bike two days ago, now flies past the house as if he was born on a bicycle.  The girl… young woman, really, who lives down there as well walks by, holding hands with her boyfriend.  They’re adorable together. I love seeing them walk by.

There’s an older woman who walks her dog past the house sometimes  She has white hair, but she colors it a kind of aqua.  It sounds weird but it works.  She picked one of our flowers a few years ago, and I knocked on the window and wagged my finger at her.  She hasn’t done it since.  I’ve seen her in the back occasionally and we always exchange pleasantries.  I wonder if she remembers me chastizing her?

There’s a big white mutt who comes by once or twice a day.  In the winter, he’d stop and roll on our patch of snow, one of the last patches on our stretch of block.  Usually when I see him, he’s holding his leash in his mouth as if he’s the one walking his owner.  But yesterday he was carrying a toy with him.  That dog has personality enough for six, I swear.

Sometimes I see Linda with Bernie.  He’s an elderly dog who can’t hear, can’t see very well, and has some kind of inner ear problem that makes him tip his head to one side.  But he’s still chugging along, and is always thrilled to hump any arm or leg that he can get close to.

I can see some of our plants from my window, too.  Pete, our yew, is getting tall.  He’ll be up to my windows soon.  The Japanese maple is filling out and the smoke bush looks a bit less weedy than it did last year.  But I’m still not thrilled with it.  The walnut has leafed out again.  I’ve stopped wanting it to die, and started hoping it’ll thrive.  The neighbor who cuts our grass knocked over the peony.  We were going to dig it out anyway, and take the sod off of the mound of mulch where the gas company folks laid it last fall.

I can smell the lilac too.  I was standing in the kitchen last night and the flowery-licorice scent of it filled the room.  Many of the roses in back are budding already.  Rita seems to be responding to her pruning by putting out new growth fairly low on her main stem.  Cordy isn’t looking so hot.  We have tiny proto grapes on the vine, our radishes and chard are getting big, our carrots, peas and edamame… not so much.

The azalea which we thought was nearly dead, is actually blooming, but the rhododendron looks stubbornly unready to do anything.  The holly bush is blooming but I’m certain it won’t produce fruit since we only have a female plant.  That’s how little we knew about things when we planted them.  We didnt realize we needed two. A male holly is on my list of things we need to buy.  The magnolia has begun to leaf out.  They’re beautiful trees but messy.  In the spring the garden is filled with pinkish petals.  In the fall, it’s buried in big, crisp leaves.

The new clematis are so-so.  Sweet Autumn has wilted at the  top, though the bottom seems to be hanging in there.  The other one is really hidden by the climbing hydrangea.  I think we’ll have to prune the vine to let the clematis take hold.

Mlle. Bunné seems to have staked out our yard as her territory.  She regularly shelters under Hermia, the mini rose that’s growing up the side of the nectarine.  We put alfalfa out for her, so I suppose we’re helping her make that decision.

I’m hoping it’ll rain tonight.  Everything is dry.  I’ve tried to water things but without a sprinkler I’m not doing much good.  Keep your fingers crossed.