Fleur-de-HighTide

A few weeks ago I got an email from Richard in Belgium with a link to an article in The Reading Eagle. Lisa Schnell, our Hottenstein Road neighbor, has published a children’s book, High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs.Horseshoe Crabs

Lisa, her husband Steve, and daughters were frequent visitors and strong supporters of Fleur-de-Lys Farm. Lisa and Steve gave Marina her first off-the-farm job, babysitting their daughters Marina and Fiora. When the Schnells went on vacation, Marina and Richard took turns caring for their cat. Before I left Kutztown, the family adopted a few of our farm hens.

I couldn’t make it to the book signing at Kutztown’s Firefly Bookstore…but my friend Laurel did. Today, a signed copy arrived in the mail, with a note from the author addressed to my granddaughter Lais and bound for my suitcase—after I had a delightful preview.

Although we are landlocked in Central Pennsylvania, my family went to Avalon, N.J., every summer. My parents continued the tradition, renting an Avalon home, sometimes two, for all of us: five daughters, our spouses, and a dozen grandchildren. We had the great fortune of growing up loving beach walks, Kohler’s cream-filled doughnuts, and, yes, horseshoe crabs. In another week or so, thanks to Lisa, I can introduce a fourth generation to horseshoe crabs, 3,757 miles away from Avalon. Laurie Lynch

Play Day: For Mother’s Day, I took my mother for a walk around The Arboretum at Penn State. Even if you don’t like exfoliating bark, blooming Fothergilla gardenia, or Creeping Jenny, it’s hard not to love the arboretum. It is such a playful place. There is actually a sign in the midst of the mass tulip planting encouraging visitors to Tiptoe Through the Tulips on specially designed paths. Childhood’s Gate (the name will ring a bell with all of you Penn Staters) Children’s Garden reflects the regional landscape with a limestone cave with walls you can write on (in chalk) and a creek where you can float a wine-cork sailboat. My personal favorite, if you must know, is playing the chimes in the center of the Discovery Tree in Mushroom Hollow…Set Sail

Written On Slate: “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” –Marcel Proust

Welsh Saying: “Eat leeks in March and garlic in May then the rest of the year your doctor can play.”

T-Shirt Spotted: Give me coffee to change the things I can and wine to accept the things I cannot.

Fleur-de-Semps

The roofer life has got me in its grasp.

A few weeks ago my mom and I got a postcard solicitation from a company in nearby Clearfield. The front of the card is black with white lettering: got leaks? I posted it at my office workspace. Mondays through Thursdays, I’m Roof Leak Central.

Innocent sounding novels have me stumbling over characters or settings with roofing connections. How was I to know that Anna Quindlen in Still Life with Bread Crumbs would have 60-year-old divorced Rebecca Winter falling for a roofer?

Never would I have guessed that my escape from the long, brutal winter (with a record of 36 leak-frozen-gutter-ice-dam-scupper calls in one day) would haunt my nighttime reading. I travel to Italy via author Donna Leon. With one descriptive sentence, Leon leads me down the narrow passages of Venice only to burrow into my humble office. In By its Cover, Leon describes a home in need of new roof, gutters, and plaster: “Water streaks had dined for years on three places in the plaster and were now starting on the bricks for dessert.”

And how is it that in Leon’s Jewels of Paradise a minor character named Sergio owns a sheet metal factory in Marcon, on the mainland near Venice? I work for R.H. Marcon Inc., a roofing and sheet metal company, on the mainland near State College.

Now roofing is creeping into my gardening life.

My mom and I were plant shopping for planters on her deck. We came across a huge display of dozens of cultivars of Sempervivum. I’ve never seen such variety. Cultural requirements: full sun, little moisture. Sempervivum is one of those plant-it-and-forget-it kinds of plants.

Cobweb Buttons

Cobweb Buttons

These plants are perfect for a corner of our planter along the deck. It gets lots of sun, the beating, late-day sun, and rarely catches the rain because it is tucked under the roof overhang. My mom especially liked Sempervivum arachnoideum “Cobweb Buttons”.  We selected CB and four others to weave a tapestry in our tiny xeriscape.

In Kutztown I grew one species of Sempervivum, aka hens-and-chicks, on a stonewall surrounding my kitchen garden. My first plant came from Emelie, I think, and its offsets burrowed into nooks and crannies on the wall, spilling into the gravel path. Hens-and-chicks are chlorophyll-packed rock climbers who have a heck of a good time scaling limestone and granite. But to tell you the truth, the plant never excited me. I just let do its thing, and I did mine, cutting asparagus and picking alpine strawberries enclosed within the stone and Semp walls. We lived in harmony but without passion.

Now I’ve met the more exotic relatives. There is Commander Hay, Dream Catcher, Amelunga, Cobweb Buttons, and a distant cousin, Jovibarba arenaria, in our collection. So, I started reading more about The Sempervirums.

If you split the word into two Latin roots, you get semper (forever) and vivus (living). In Europe, Sempervivums are called houseleeks and are grow on tile roofs, where folk superstition purports they repel lightening and prevent fires. (They are not related to the edible leek, which is a member of the onion family.)

In this country, when we install green roofs, we often use mats of tiny sedums. In Europe, robust, fleshy Sempervivums are sold in rolls for roofing material. Sempervivums are succulent perennials native to the Alp, Carpathian, Balkan, Armenian, Caucasus, and Himalayan mountain ranges. Their “mother” rosettes spread by offsets or “babies.” When the “mother” flowers (it takes several years), she dies, creating an open space for all of those grandkids. With that thought in mind, from my rooftop to yours, Happy Mother’s Day!  Laurie LynchSunset

Written On Slate: “Life’s single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane.” –Thomas Pynchon

Fleur-de-GardenTranslations

I remember Richard telling me the French word for sunflower—tournesol—literally means, “turn to the sun.”

“Isn’t that beautiful,” he said.

The poetry of nature in a word: Sunflowers really do turn their faces toward the sun.

My kids’ adventures with languages are something we share, although their fluencies are beyond my grasp. Words—I can deal with words—but complete sentences and actual conversations are another story.

On my last visit to Belgium, I got the bonjour and merci down pretty well for the French-speaking folks.  And in preparation for the Flemish next month, I’ve mastered hallo and dank u.

But the words I am finding most fascinating are the garden translations.

An East Indian cherry by any other name...

An East Indian cherry by any other name…

Marina and Koen have a garden plot not far from their home in Ghent. It was overrun by Jerusalem artichokes, or as Koen would say, aardperen—earth pears. They harvested kilos of aardperen last fall, preparing them in a variety of ways in the kitchen, just as they fix aardappelen—earth apples—or what we call potatoes.

Now I don’t know why we call garbanzo beans chickpeas, I mean, what are chick peas? But in Dutch, chickpeas are kikkererwten, literally frog peas. I can see more of a resemblance between frog eggs and chickpeas than chickpeas and chicken eggs.

To me, chickpeas look a lot like nasturtium seeds—and that’s where this word story gets really crazy.  Koen was insisting on growing East Indian cherries. Marina didn’t know how they’d grow a cherry tree in their small garden plot or their even tinier backyard. Lo and behold, Google Translate came to the rescue. Oostindische kers—East Indian cherries—translates into nasturtiums in English. Now I’ve read that unripe nasturtium seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers—maybe that is where the “cherries” come in. There is also a Dutch painter born in Indonesia, Floris Arntzenius (1864-1925), whose artwork includes the recurring theme of ginger jars overflowing with “East Indian cherries”.  They sure look like nasturtiums to me.

Now all of this garden word play is pretty cool—or should I say kool?   There is witte kool (white cabbage) and rode kool (red cabbage) and savooikool (savoy cabbage) and bloemkool (cauliflower) and boerenkool (kale), so much kool that one day Marina said, “I’m going to make coleslaw with all of these kools.”  Then, she said, it finally clicked. The Dutch word for salad is sla. Kool+sla = our English coleslaw…cabbage salad.  Laurie Lynch

P.S. A few comments from Koen, my Dutch-speaking editor and champion English Scrabble player:

Although Marina made coleslaw with several cabbages and English speakers make plurals by adding an s or an es…not so with Dutch speakers. Normally, when a singular word contains a double vowel, such as kool, the second vowel is dropped and an en is added. The plural of kool is not kools but kolen.  The word for the Dutch singular of banana is banaan; a bunch of bananas is bananen. 

It is one thing to learn how to spell a few Dutch words…but it is time, Koen says, for Marina’s mom to move onto pronunciation…

http://www.digitaldialects.com/Dutch/Fruit_audio.htm

 

Fleur-de-Faith

April Patch It happens as the tail end of winter slowly creeps into spring.

I wake in the middle of the night, as the snow starts to recede and before birdsong lights the morning, with a haunting question: Did the garlic make it through the winter?

Oh ye of little faith.

The final pile of sanded, salted, and cindered snow melted last week in Centre County. It was time to trudge down to my garlic patch to check on my babies. Whew, every row was highlighted in evenly spaced green sprouts of garlic leaves pushing up through the mulch of straw and oak leaves. One young garlic plant actually skewered a brown leaf, piercing through its center.

As the soil heats up, I will gently pull the mulch back from the plants, allowing spring rains to enter freely, piling the mulch between each row, suffocating any weed seeds itching to germinate.

I Skype with Marina and breathe with relief. “My garlic’s up. It made it through the winter.”

“My garlic’s been up for months,” she reports from the land of Ghent, where nary a snowflake settled on the ground.

“We had such a brutal winter…I was afraid it might not make it,” I whisper, with the regularity of Punxsutawney Phil.

Oh ye of little faith.

What it might come down to is garden guilt.  You see, I was reading the Penn State Vegetable Guide and it recommended side-dressing garlic in March with a quarter pound of ammonium sulfate for every100 feet of row. The plants, PSU seems to say, need a St. Patrick’s Day nitrogen fix.

I don’t know about you, but in March I was planted on the couch under an alpaca blanket, hibernating with yet another Catherine Coulter FBI-shoot-‘em-up-non-suspense (the good guys/gals never die) library book. Venturing out to the frozen, snow-covered garlic patch with a bag of fertilizer is not my cup of Earl Grey.

Then I was sorting through my piles of papers, ruminating on the winter of tragic accidents, close calls, near misses, and yes, even loss. I found a clipping from The New York Times. A garlic grower was boasting about growing garlic bulbs the size of baseballs. Mine are closer to golf balls. Comparison breeds gnawing doubt.

I’ve been nurturing my garlic, up to a dozen or so varieties, for more than a quarter of a century. I grew garlic in the limey soil of the cement belt in Coplay, in the shale soil of Maxatawny Township, now in the clumpy clay of Happy Valley. Forget bulb envy, golf-ball size is good enough.Sprouted Garlic

My winter garlic supply in the unheated garage is dwindling. It’s time for dinner. I reach for a bulb I moved to the kitchen and forgot about. There it is, in all of its glory, cloves full of spirit and sprout. It wasn’t planted and mulched with care, fertilized or coddled. No garden PhD coached those cloves, yet here they are, sprouting new green leaves, stretching out to capture the sun, and air, and life itself.

Oh me of garlic faith. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

– John Muir

Fleur-de-WhiteonWhite

White RosesI really don’t mind the snow. It’s the chopping, scraping, salting, sliding, slipping, crusting, spinning and skidding of ice that puts me in a frosty mood.

The antidote arrived purely by accident.

We often buy a $3.99 mixed bouquet at Trader Joe’s featuring colors of red, barest pink, lavender, coral, or crimson. But one day, I chose white.

Winter white, I thought, so boring and plain. I was so wrong. While the snows piled up against the sliding door, freezing it in its track, I watched those white roses slowly unfurl.

Elegance. Structure. Simplicity. Delicate folds of white on white, white in white, gently opening to greet my winter-weary stare. The edges curl, the petal tips brown, enhancing the beauty of each bloom. A week passes, then two. Soon, it’s time for another white rose bouquet, calm, graceful, slowly opening a path to spring. Laurie Lynch

Fleur-de-Fantabulous

Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon

The New Year is off to a fine start in my neck of the woods. JoePa (and Penn State football players) have their wins back and our dear friend Joyce Turley published “Brownie Points: Bite-Size Life Lessons,” available on Amazon.com

Now, I must confess, the book is dedicated to “the women who have always supported my wild dreams” and my mother, Marie Fedon, is one of seven women named. I’m hardly an unbiased reader…but, OK, I’ll say it, you’ve got to read this book.

“Trig,” as my mom knows her from their days at Penn State, has filled her 86 years with adventure, networking, and going for the gusto. And oh, what a storyteller she is.

Just settle into the sofa and read her vignettes that circle the globe, from a tiny town in Pennsylvania to the oil fields of Texas to professional tennis matches in Oklahoma and escapades in San Francisco. Off she goes to England, Hong Kong, Nepal, Cuba, and both Poles. Her lessons and crumbs of wisdom follow her everywhere, and they’ll make your journey through life all the better. When you are done reading, bake a batch of her brownies and share the wealth.

Belgian Babe: The highlight of our holidays was spending them with my granddaughter Lais, and her parents Sabine and Richard. There is no better gift than a smile from a 6-month-old cutie pie. Unless it is watching her blow raspberries, roll over for the first time, or scrunch up her face like a demented pug. Or perhaps holding her on my lap so she can shake her arms and legs, imitating her singing and dancing great-grandmother.

I gave the family a gift of lessons in infant massage. Since Richard and Sabine couldn’t attend the series of five group classes, a young woman certified by Infant Massage USA came to the house and gave them private instruction. Sabine learned with Lais, while Richard and Nancy, the instructor, had demonstration dolls to practice a variety of massages—Swedish milking and Indian milking techniques for the arms and legs, and Richard’s favorite, the I Love You massage for the torso. An added bonus, Nancy went to McGill University and spoke to Sabine in French when she didn’t understand an English phrase.

Frittata Rave: In the year since I saw Richard, he’s become quite the accomplished cook. He and Sabine made Mahi-Mahi, pork roast, and steak dinners, treating Nonna and me like queens at a royal banquet. Breakfasts were even more amazing.

Richard can make a mean frittata. One morning his eggs were spiked with saffron and chopped mushrooms. Another morning, it was sautéed onions, red and orange peppers, and goat cheese. Heck, the way he was going through eggs, I needed a hen house. I guess that’s what happens when kids grown up with Easter peeps.

The piece d’resistance was created on their last morning in State College before driving to Philadelphia International for a flight to Brussels. Richard started sautéing red onions, and then added takeout Asian vegetables and rice noodles, and leftover asparagus. He poured over whisked eggs, topped the goo with alternating wedges of blue and cheddar cheese, and a sprinkling of Romano. Richard cooked the whole shebang in a giant pan on the stove and then broiled it in the oven. The result was a fantabulous frittata.

The frittata was so good I said, “We have to name it.”

So, we played name-that-frittata.

“Samurai,” Richard suggested, in honor of the Asian vegetables. “Stinky Pee Samurai,” he continued.

What is it with men and asparagus? They’re the only ones I’ve ever heard mention the distinctive fragrance that urine takes on after asparagus consumption. When eaten, asparagusic acid (only found in asparagus) is converted to sulfur-containing chemicals. Those chemicals, to put it bluntly, stink—or are aromatic—depending on your perspective. Marcel Proust is said to have written that asparagus “transforms my chamber pot into a flask of perfume.” Enough.

Well, Mom-the-Editor got the last word. I decided the frittata would officially be called “Stinky Samurai (minus the P-word).”

Nonna took a long, sweet swallow of Richard’s frittata accompaniment—a smoothie (Greek yogurt, orange juice, frozen tropical fruits, and fresh and frozen bananas.)

“Maybe we should play name-that-smoothie,” I said.

“Name that movie?” my mother asked. “Are we going to a movie?” Ah, life goes on. Laurie Lynch

The Eyes Have It: I’m now reading “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter. It’s the 2015 selection for Centre County Reads, part of the One Community Reading One Book program. As I was reading one night, all I could think of was that somehow Walter had peered into my granddaughter’s eyes.

“He had never been able to read her lovely brown eyes, beneath their black brows. They were so fluid, so naturally teary that even when she was angry—which was often—her eyes always seemed ready to forgive.” –Jess Walter

Fleur-de-Pickled

I was being a good little shopper, reading labels.

A bottle declaring “Pickle Perfect” by Heinz, a Pittsburgh PA company, got my buy-local radar buzzing. I turned it around to look at the INGREDIENTS: MADE FROM SELECT SUN-RIPENED CORN…Chopped

Corn? Corn? It has to be a typo. I stood there, stunned in the supermarket aisle. I picked up another brand. Same thing. Another. “Sun-ripened grain.” Corn is grain. What’s going on? I thought vinegar was made from wine, and wine, from sun-ripened GRAPES.

Sure, I’ve bought and enjoy rice wine for certain recipes, especially one of Richard’s favorites, Chinese Chicken with Peanut Sauce. But never did I ever suspect that those gallons and gallons of distilled white vinegar that I use for everything from making herbal vinegars to unclogging sink drains to spraying on weeds were made from corn.

I got home and grabbed my laptop. Whew, I’m not crazy. The French words “vin aigre” literally mean “sour wine,” and, squished together, two words became one, “vinegar,” in the English language. Grapes=Wine=Vinegar, my narrow mind told me.

The Vinegar Institute website explains that vinegar is made from the fermentation of natural sugars into alcohol. That alcohol then goes through a secondary fermentation to become vinegar. The Bunsen burner in my brain started flaming. Dandelion wine. Elderberry wine. Plum wine. Vinegar, it turns out, can be made from fermenting molasses, dates, coconut, pineapple, potatoes, beets, even kiwi. And yes, corn, apples, grapes…

Well, I bought a bottle the Heinz Pickle Perfect and two spice bottles; one of whole coriander seeds and one of celery seed, and got to work. A couple weekends ago my mother and I took a Spring Creek Homesteading course on Root Vegetables. I wanted to get a few ideas beyond roasting. I got hooked on pickled vegetables, as in kohlrabi, carrots, celery root, jicama, beets.

Our instructor, Laura, has restaurant kitchen experience, and while working at a local CSA, spent much of her time explaining to customers how to use their weekly vegetable shares. She loves to make pickled root vegetables which she serves with hummus and pita bread. You can make a mini hummus and vegetable sandwich or just pick and dip. I love taking a small container of the pickled vegetable sticks for a mid-morning snack at work.

Laura’s Basic Pickle Vegetable RecipeBefore Beets

1 cup water

1 cup vinegar (distilled white vinegar)

1 Tablespoon salt (sea or kosher)

2 Tablespoons sugar

½ Tablespoon coriander seeds

½ Tablespoon celery seeds

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Bring all of the above to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar dissolve, then turn the heat down so the mixture simmers. In the meantime, cut a selection of raw roots into sticks, all approximately the same size. Place carrot sticks in a large bowl. Pour hot brine on carrots, let sit for a few minutes. Then add other vegetables, making sure all stay below the brine. Let cool, then refrigerate in brine. You can serve in an hour or so, or keep for several weeks.

Laura says the carrots need the hottest brine to infuse the flavor, which is why she puts them in first. If you don’t want everything to turn pink and purple, pickle beets separately. You can also experiment with a variety of herbs and spices and combinations—dill seed, fennel seed, mustard seed, peppercorns—or try toasting them for different flavors. Laurie Lynch

Thank Heavens for this mild Sun-day: In sweatshirt weather I mulched the strawberries, picked the kale, gathered the last of the leaves, hauled the hoses into the barn, and stashed the deck furniture cushions in the basement.

Parsley, Sage and Pickled Vegetables

Leaf and Learn: With the fierce winds and frigid temperatures we had earlier this month, I checked out my leaf-mulched garlic beds. Several rows were bare and a few patches on several other rows were mulch-less—blown away. That has never happened with straw mulch. Needless to say, I sprinkled straw on the denuded rows, tucking in my garlic babies one more time.

As Thanksgiving Approaches: Thank you all for reading, following, commenting, and emailing over the year. I love being able to share my experiences in the garden, kitchen and life with all of you.

Written on Slate: “On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.”—Thomas Jefferson