Giving Thanks

After baking for several days, washing sheets, cleaning, vacuuming, greeting or transporting Thanksgiving guests, we spent a wonderful several days gathered with family and friends…three generations strong and plenty of food, laughter, and fun.

It was later on Thanksgiving night that I heard an odd noise when I walked across the kitchen floor. What…? My imagination. I continued to clean dishes from the Thanksgiving meal. Again I heard that sound. That’s when I opened the cupboard beneath the sink and saw water… water that had pooled inside the cupboard beneath plastic bins full of cleaning products!

Needless to say, we leaped into action, turned off water supply, sopped up everything beneath the sink but we knew the rest was beyond us. Water had been seeping beneath the floorboards perhaps for days. A call to insurance and our plumber, visits by restoration service with flashlights and moisture meters, and finally a total removal of the kitchen floor. We are thankful water did not damage the cupboards, penetrate the basement or other rooms Kitchen water 2018but it had leaked long enough to saturate all areas of the kitchen floor.

So that is where we are now. The floor is drying with 4 very loud blowers and enormous dehumidifier equipment. The stove is pulled out into the room, but we can squeeze in and cook and, thank goodness, we can make coffee.

All in all, we feel fortunate. This is just a bump in the road of misfortunes. With indescribable disasters, adversities, and catastrophes striking so many around the world, we are giving thanks and remembering our blessings this holiday season.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

pumpkin in snow!It’s so accepted these days to have all your Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving but it’s hard for me to join the holiday rush.

I want to savor Thanksgiving with all the orange pumpkins and colorful gourds and our family. Our Thanksgiving table centerpiece is built from shades of fall with some dried seed heads from the garden I gathered in warmer weather.

This year I’m sticking to the Thanksgiving theme indoors but the overripe pumpkins had to go. We have cold weather and snow and more of it as the days pass. It’s nonstop snow today. The landscape and roads are snow covered and it looks more like Christmas than Thanksgiving outdoors.

So I broke with tradition this year, pulled out my pumpkins, gourds, and fall decor that filled the urn at our entry and replaced all that with a small pine tree. I’ll notIMG_7782 add any holiday adornment to the tree until after Thanksgiving. The big metal turkey still stands guard out in the snow.

Today we have family arriving by cars and plane. Until we shuttle everyone to their destinations later today, the kitchen is being used to make pies and a number of other snacks, deserts, and sides that can be made early and refrigerated or frozen.

Cranberry sauce, chess pies, stuffing, salad dressing recipes all come from family sources… siblings, parents, grandparents… a few recipes that have been used for generations. Several years ago, with much help and input from six siblings, I collected our family favorites and printed them in a little book for any family member who wanted one. Of course they all did and so did a few neighbors and friends. Recipes have become much more healthy online today but somehow we love to go back and use the recipes from the old South with too much butter, bacon, mayonnaise, sugar, and salt. Memories…

OIMG_7788n the cover of the cookbook, I chose a photo of my parents as I remember them back when I was a youngster. Sorry that my dad was not living when I completed the project but my mother loved the book with lots of memories and photos of her, our dad, and their brood.

At the back, I added pages of childhood photos of all seven siblings growing up in a much simpler time. It’s my children and grandchildren who love the recipes and the snippets of fun and humorous memories from each each of their aunts and uncles that accompany every recipe they remembered best. It is fun how the youngest sister remembered chewing on the flavorful strings after our mother cut them from around the Sunday roast, or a brother remembered selling soft shelled crabs he caught at our summer cabin just off the Chesapeake Bay to the highest adult bidder… after letting our mother have first choice, of course.

I’d like to think those years were golden years when children were given much more freedom to venture forth and discover the world on foot, on bikes, or even in the rowboat at our summer cottage. As long as we were home when the dinner bell rang, it was all good.  If you watch the PBS Masterpiece program, The Durrells in Corfu, you’ll get a sense of our lives and the freedom we had growing up. Controlled chaos with lots of animals! It was a very good thing!

My First Topiary

Winter weather has arrived and everything in the landscape is covered with a 2″ layer of white stuff. Some of the shrubs have been sculpted into snow topiaries. They’ll bounce back when this current snowfall melts, but those few snow topiaries remind me of the real one I had this past summer.

“Eugenia 2-Ball Topiary” is all the tag read. It was sold at every box store and grocery store around here last spring. I don’t know too much about the eugenia species. I know it’s related to the myrtle and that it can reseed readily but certainly not in New Hampshire. I thought the topiary would look great in my large urn out front giving me a touch of formality at the entrance.  The price was right so I bought one… my first topiary.

Eugenia Topiary

I came home and immediately googled eugenia and found its hardiness zone is 10-11, a semi-tropical shrub that could reach 15 to 20 feet in height and can serve as a bushy hedge in the right zone. It’s readily available in box stores and nurseries, potted and sheared as a topiary form into interesting shapes like balls, spirals, or cones. The leaves are small and delicate and respond very well to trimming. The small flowers produce red berries that attract birds but there’s a warning that berries do stain walkways. The good news is that these are much more affordable than the perennial boxwood topiaries.

It simply thrived in our entry urn with sedums filling in to cover the soil. The emerging new leaves were an attractive shiny bronze shade. After several weeks into the heat of summer, the plant actually bloomed! It never developed red berries as it does in warm climes but it seemed to be quite happy at our 70-80 degrees in partial sun.  I snipped off uneven growth all summer to maintain the ball shape.

Eugenia uniflora

As soon as fall weather arrived and temperatures dropped, it was time to say goodbye to the eugenia. If I had a nice greenhouse, I would definitely choose to overwinter it. All I have for overwintering tender plants is a garage that stays fairly mild during winter. And that’s where I’m trying to save our eugenia. It’s repotted and placed in the sunniest garage window.  Alas, it may not be enough. The plant is alive but the leaves are beginning to wither and drop. It’s not in the best of health, but I’m not giving up on it yet.

Most websites advise bringing the plant indoors in cold weather but our forced air vents beneath almost every window would have the plant dropping leaves all winter. I loved the plant enough that just may end up buying a fresh one every spring.

*Eugenia blooms photo: Forest & Kim Starr


 

An Ode to Soup

The weather has turned cooler and many of our dinners are turning to soups. We been enjoying a variety of soups both at home, dining out, and at friends’ homes. There is just something about fall and winter soups that warm not only the body but seems to warm the soul.

mister gardener has prepared some mighty tasty soups… always from scratch.  Last night it was butternut squash soup topped with homemade croutons and toasted pecans for a little contrast.

butternut soup 2018

mister gardener does the cooking and everyone in the fam agrees soups are what he does best. It’s comforting to hear him in the kitchen chopping those root vegetables into small pieces. His mother was his inspiration. I must admit that she taught him better than my mother taught me….although I loved 💕 my mother’s cooking.

Vegetable soup is probably my favorite of his soups cooked with garden fresh vegetables. In the summer, he can add tomatoes straight from the garden. In the winter it must be canned tomatoes.

vegetable soup 2018

Another of his most tasty soups is chicken noodle. Yes, he stews the entire chicken and, yes, he makes the noodles using the method his mother taught him when he was knee-high and standing on a chair at the kitchen counter. No pasta machine. He uses the old-fashioned cut-with-a-knife method and it’s the kind of egg noodle that melts in your mouth.

Homemade noodles 2018

Beef stew, corn chowder, ham and potato..all good. We eat a lot of potatoes in soups and otherwise, because he’s the cook and it’s how he ate growing up. I existed on more rice, hominy, breads for starches down south. I’m sure he ate healthier. Our southern eats seemed to be too much salt, sugar, and butter, something we siblings laugh about to this day!

Lately our book club is also feeling the call for soup like this delicious one chocked full of zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, tomatoes and tortellini topped with parmesan cheese…. a very Tuscan theme for the Italian book we just finished. Good job, Connie!

connie's soup 2018

Book club is here this month and I’m trying to think of a soup to compliment the classic book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that we all wanted to reread as adults.  The setting is the slums of Brooklyn, early twentieth century when food was way too scarce. Hmmmm…. If you’ve read the book and have menu ideas, please share!

Leaves work for me

 

We’ve already had a few hard frosts and freezes, lots of leaves 2018rain, a snow flurry, too, so the leaves are withering here in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. The wind has been howling and leaves that were the color of caramel and bright yellow just a few days ago are now all brown. They are being blown from trees in great clouds, twirling through the air and become snagged in shrubbery and across lawns. I don’t see many oak trees around the neighborhood but when I look out the window, it looks all oak on the lawn. We have a small-ish yard now so the leaf work is small-ish. I do feel bad for those who must remove truckloads of leaves from their property.

This year, our association has decided to forego leaf blowing. That’s good and bad. The company hired to do leaves 2018the annual job comes with powerful blowers and blow away every last leaf along with an inch of the topsoil and mulch from the gardens. After witnessing this the first year I lived here, I’ve instructed them to skip my borders! Just the front lawn, please!

As the second most forested state in the country, New Hampshire has a whole lot of leaves. Already we have great piles in our neighborhood with more to come. Piles of leaves left on lawns over the winter isn’t a good idea for grass. Some leaves are fine but the piles that I see from my window can create grass killing conditions. We’ll see what the association plans to do. It may be lawn mower mulching or it may be nothing, then tackle the problems it causes in the spring.

My mother didn’t remove all leaves but had the niftiest leaf Electric Leaf Shredder 2018shredder for fall lawn cleanup. The tiny mulched leaves were then returned to the earth. I wish I had one for excess leaves on the back lawn but I don’t. I rake them from the lawn. But I leave all that fills my borders unless I see signs of leaf disease. Where I have mulch is where the leaves remain… under shrubs and around perennials. Leaves serve as an insulator and return organic nutrients to the soil.

Maybe our gardens don’t look as pristine and clean as neatly blown borders but our leaves also provide a valuable habitat for insect species. There are butterfly caterpillars and eggs in there, and queen bumblebees, spiders, beetles and more.  In late spring, I remove some leaves after the bumblebees are active but sometimes I mulch right over the leaves.

It’s a very good thing!