Not my mama’s biscuits…

Maybe not so much anymore, but when I grew up, there were distinct regional differences in what folks ate. In Ohio, where mister gardener was a member of a large German farming community, sauerkraut was considered a staple. I had not tasted sauerkraut until I moved to Ohio in my mid-twenties. But I did like it on my first Reuben sandwich. mister gardener has become our main cook these days and there is always a head of cabbage in the refrigerator that he’ll use in a variety of recipes.

From my home state, biscuits were a staple, a food that mister gardener absolutely does not like. Rolls were his mainstay. Every now and then, I hunger for a good biscuit like my mother made but, alas, I don’t have her perfect recipe. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to duplicate it through the years. This morning I tried one that flashed up on my Facebook yesterday. The ingredients were simple: self-rising flour, frozen butter, buttermilk. Stir 15 times, roll out and fold 4 times, cut out and bake.

In Virginia, we always had a little country ham (Edward’s Ham) to accompany biscuits but bacon was my substitute this morning. First glimpse right out of the oven was promising, but the first bite was a DUD! Although flaky as promised, the biscuits were TASTELESS next to the memory of my mother’s. Another recipe in the trash, but I’ll keep trying. Sigh….

Not My Mama's Biscuits....

I remember my mother throwing ingredients together without measuring, rolling out, then cutting biscuit dough in squares to feed a family of 9. The result was always perfection. Who has a good old Virginia recipe to share?

Which one did I buy?

Toward the end of the growing season, I picked up a witch hazel plant on a mark down sale at a local nursery. The plant was labeled Hamamelis virginiana, the common witch hazel that blooms in late fall in eastern North America. This understory native tree flowers about mid-fall and may continue through December when no other flowers are in the landscape.

Several of these small trees grow along the wood line across the street and I love seeing the splash of color beneath the conifers as both the leaves and the flower turn a golden yellow. It’s a pretty smart plant to bloom when there isn’t any competition for pollination by insects. Bees are buzzing late in the season around these trees… and the fragrance? It can be intoxicating on a fall day.

Witch Hazel, Hamamelis virginiana

My tiny witch hazel, planted late in the season, has just become visible after a big snow melt and it is beginning to bloom during the final days of February. I think the label was correct. It probably is a Hamamelis virginiana that is blooming late the first year. But could it be mislabeled?  There are some witch hazels that bloom in February, the Vernal witch hazel and hybrids…. one of which I grew in Virginia, Hamamelis vernalis, Diane’ with a bright red and beautiful bloom.

Secretly, I’m hoping the witch hazel is mislabeled and I have an early spring blooming Vernal witch hazel. Fingers crossed….but just maybe, someone who knows lots more than I do, can verify this plant’s identity.

witch hazel

Bluebirds in Winter

We have a family of Eastern bluebirds (Sialia sialis) that is staying with us through the winter. The blues have been expanding their range for the last 10 years or so, and it’s not really unusual to see them in New England during the winter.

Two springs ago, mister gardener made a bluebird house and installed it along the edge of our garden. It wasn’t long before a pair claimed the house, fighting off chickadees, house sparrows and swallows for this real estate. During the summer, the pair fed on a variety of foods that they found in the landscape and we supplemented with a little snack of meal worms.

They only had one nesting that summer and the family wintered over. In the spring, the young were off to find their own territories and our parents managed three nestings last summer. So we have our original pair and 4 of the offspring wintering over this year.

Bluebirds in Winter

We have planted shrubs and trees that also provide food… such as serviceberry, viburnum, crabapple… for the fall when insects become more scarce. To help them out during the winter, we feed them meal worms but make sure we offer a mixed and balanced diet by adding bits of suet, hulled sunflower, and some berries and raisins. Bluebirds love to bathe!  A heated birdbath in the winter is a plus for bathing and drinking.

Bluebird with ice on beak

The blues generally roost at night in nearby pine forests, but will huddle in their bluebird house for shelter from time to time.

Bluebird in House

When I look out on snowy mornings and there is hardly a place for them to land, I wonder what these birds might be thinking. Could they be questioning their decision not to migrate to warm climes?  Just maybe…..

Bluebirds 2017

Exeter River

Exeter River February 2017

Exeter has been upgraded from last summer’s Extreme Drought to a Severe Drought. And thanks to winter rain and snow, the Exeter River is flowing at near normal levels. It is a beautiful sight and still draws folks to marvel at the free flowing river after the removal of the dam.

Exeter River

Temperatures are beginning to rise and we hope it’s a slow warming trend. Exeter now needs the ground to thaw enough to absorb some of the snow melt as it takes longer for groundwater levels to recover. Water restrictions are still in place and residents are urged to monitor their water use.

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Great Backyard Bird Count 2017

Dove

We are blessed with a multitude and variety of birds that frequent the winter feeder but, alas… these unruly mourning doves, beautiful as they are, have overwhelmed the feeder during Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. There are only 6 on the feeder pictured here but sometimes there are six more standing on the backs of those feeding…. all jostling and shouldering their way to a little sunflower seed. The rest of the mob is on the ground pushing and shoving for spillage. They are fast eaters and can clean the feeder in record time, fill their crops, and fly off to digest their meal.

Not all doves migrate and the ones I see could be sticking it out for the winter or they may be the males arriving way too early for the best breeding territory. Although New Hampshire is one state that does not allow hunting of doves, it’s still a tough life for the birds that stick around all winter. I have seen frostbitten and missing toes… and feathers on the snow tell me they are a link in the food chain for birds of prey.

The diversity of birds in our weekend count will not be as great this year, but we will continue to welcome these gentle birds to our feeders.

Snownormous!

That was then….

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This is now…

Feb 13 1017

I know bad things can happen during a major snowstorm but it does give you a boost to look out the window and see a blanket of pure white. We had a break in the snowstorm and decided to go for a short walk on our well-maintained street. The snow-laden branches of trees, dark against white beneath a heavy gray sky, were impressive. Soon the wind will pick up and that snow will be blown from the trees…. or limbs will fall beneath the weight. If that happens, we will keep our fingers crossed for no property damage, personal injury, or downed power lines!

Exeter Feb. 13 2017

February 13 2017

February 13 2017

February 13 2017

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Let it SNOW!

All I’ve been posting about lately is snow but what else is there in New England in the winter? Old Man Winter has a firm grip on us up here in Exeter while my family members in the mid-Atlantic area are experiencing spring-like mild weather. My daughter texted to say she was outdoors in a short sleeve shirt today and a sister reported daffodils in bloom. Their unseasonably warm temperatures combined with brisk winds from a weather low across the area will advance northward tomorrow, hit an Alberta Clipper and impact us with a potentially big snowfall Sunday evening…. and maybe a little thundersnow! What’s true in New England? They love a snowfall. They ski, snowshoe, snowboard, bike and have epic snowball parties.

Annual Portsmouth Snowball FightThat’s mostly for the young. We aren’t as adventuresome, but will be warm, safe, and well-fed as we watch from our windows. We have plenty of wood for the fireplace and we stocked up this morning with the freshest of foods at our local Winter Farmers’ Market.

We arrived early and you can see that many in Exeter had the same idea as we did. Unless you ski, snowshoe, or sled, where else can a person go and have winter fun?  Happy, socializing crowds were filling bags full of vegetables, breads, meats, baked goods, eggs, and whole meals…. plus much more. It was an event and great to see folks support their local farmers.

(click photo to enlarge)

Exeter Winter Farmers' MarketBusiness was brisk and mister gardener’s bag was weighted down with an assortment of everything he could carry.

We have all we need to weather the storm. Bring it on!

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For the People, By the People…

Exeter is currently soliciting community feedback for the town that will lead to an update of the Master Plan, an important process that reflects our vision for the future of the town. The Master Plan Steering Committee offered the first public workshop last week and several from our neighborhood carpooled to the event. I was encouraged to see the turnout of about 200 for this first public event, step one of a process to involve as many citizens as possible.

Exeter Master Plan Workshop 1/25/2017

The number of younger families attending was reassuring as they are the real future of this town. We broke up into small discussion groups, voicing concerns, dreams, naming what we liked about our community, where we thought improvement was needed, critical areas to be addressed, and our wish list. Each group had a large town map on the table and could circle areas using different colored markers for different functions. When we were finished, a moderator wrote each of our answers on an easel board and one by one we approached the list and marked 1, 2, 3 depending on our wish for priority.

How stimulating and educational it was to be at a table with some of Exeter’s Gen X citizens. We shared common views and some different opinions… a healthy sharing with different generations to make sure all voices are heard. Feedback will be used to guide revisions to the current Master Plan and eventually land on the desks of the Board of Selectmen in the fall.

Having previously lived in other parts of the country, this was the first time I have experienced a community coming together to discuss a master plan in this way. Not a lecture, not a survey, not a forum, but an informal and neighborly sharing of ideas…. a very good thing.