Winter Refreshment

A spunky raw salad makes a great pick-me-up

A Fresh Salad & A Fresh Start

Last Friday morning I gratefully got my second vaccination shot and the reaction was enlightening. While I know several dozen people who have or have had covid19, until now, I thought of it vaguely as a nasty kind of flu. Clearly, it affected some folks more than others, but then so does flu, right? I had no reaction at all to the first shot but I knew the second one could be rougher so I prudently made some soup and snacks and piled up some comfort books to read. By mid afternoon, the vaccine was kicking my immune system into high gear and I was mentally apologizing to everyone with the real thing: Sorry, I did not imagine what you were experiencing! Recurring bouts of nausea and fevers and chills and muscle and joint pains and pounding headaches that were truly immobilizing continued for about 36 hours. I’d read that it’s best not to use anything to reduce the fever for the first day or so in order to make sure the immune system was able to respond. Emboldened by the powerful reaction, I finally took a Tylenol Saturday night and slept 14 hours, but still felt exhausted yesterday. Today, however, I feel basically normal. Done! Whew!

I say all this because I want to encourage people to please get the vaccine! Several friends have said they worry about its safety or worry about the reaction, but it’s so varied, nobody can really predict how anyone will respond. Several friends in their 80s had almost no reaction at all, while younger friends in their 30s and 40s were hammered, though just for a day. All weekend, I kept thinking that this was just the pale shadow of what millions of people have been experiencing, and for a lot longer than a few hours or days. Now I no longer have to be so fearful as I shop and walk the neighborhood. Of course I’m still going to wear a mask and keep my distance but the fear factor has diminished greatly.

Gratitude Overflowing

I am extremely grateful for the vaccine, and for the thousands of generous, public spirited people who have mobilized around the country to get people vaccinated. Since the former regime had no plan at all for vaccine distribution, it fell to the states, unprepared and underfunded, to work out how to get the immense and complicated job done. Now the federal government is taking on more responsibility yet most of the hands-on work is being done by ad hoc teams of volunteers, many with at least some medical training and some who are also working full time on top of volunteering. Here in Washington, it’s extremely impressive to see each county pulling together groups to perform testing and administer vaccinations for thousands of people, just about as fast as the vaccines become available. Cooperation, collaboration and community are coming back as core values, as strongly as ever. We are finally uniting against a common danger and we are already stronger for it.

Prepare For Recuperating

If you are scheduling your second vaccination, you might want to make a few preparations as the date draws near. On the first day of my highly diluted experience, I only wanted water. It was wonderful to have refreshing, nourishing food ready when I came back into focus the second day and could muster the energy to eat something. Soup is always comforting, so have some of your own favorite types on hand. You might also want to try this raw winter salad, lively with lemon and garlic; for me, it was the best wake-me-up of all. The dressing is similar to the one I use for tabouli, and the spunky flavor invites the addition of fresh parsley and cilantro as well as some chopped mint if that appeals. It’s also great drizzled over steamed vegetables or grilled fish or any combination of greens. Adjust the lemon to taste, starting with one tablespoon; I like it to have some zing, but it still sings with a mellower amount.

Zesty Winter Broccoli Salad

2 cups chopped broccoli florets
2 cups finely chopped cauliflower florets
1 cup finely shredded green cabbage
1 cup finely shredded kale
1 cup chopped sweet peppers
2-3 finely chopped green onions
Lemon Garlic Dressing to taste (see below)
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes (garnish)

Combine first 6 vegetables, drizzle with dressing and toss gently to coat. Let stand at least 20 minutes or up to overnight (refrigerated), then serve at room temperature, garnished with sliced tomatoes. Makes about 4 cups. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days.

Lively Lemon Garlic Dressing

Juice of 1 lemon (4-5 tablespoons)
1 clove garlic, pressed or minced
1/2 cup avocado or olive oil
pinch sea salt
few grinds black pepper
1/4 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)

Combine in a jar, adding lemon juice to taste, and shake vigorously to emulsify. Makes about 2/3 cup. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.



Posted in Health & Wellbeing, Nutrition, Recipes, Sustainable Living, Vegan Recipes | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Garden Valentines

Little birds embroidering the snow

Gardens As Living Love

Today, snow lies deep around our snug little home and the neighborhood gardens are transformed into soft humps and curves. There’s enough snow to keep most people indoors, and without traffic noise, the only sounds are bird chirps, including the insistent buzz of our resident hummingbirds. Though the nights have been cold, the hummingbird feeders only froze solid once; that sugar water resists freezing until it stays in or below the mid-20s for quite a while. I thawed the feeders and put out the first one, only to be dive bombed by a very determined male Anna’s. When I hung the second feeder up, I realized that he thought that one was HIS and ought to have been replaced first. Live and learn!

All weekend the hummers stayed close to the feeders; I read in an Audubon newsletter that they need to feed every 10-15 minutes when awake. No wonder they were eagerly for me to replace their slushy nectar with freely flowing liquid. I mixed up the warm sugar water (always at the same ratio of 4 cups water to 1 cup sugar) and filled the feeder fuller than usual, figuring that the larger volume of liquid would freeze more slowly. Taking feeders in at dusk is easy, but putting them back out at dawn is less fun, so I was glad that the overhang of the porch roof provided enough protection to keep them liquid.

Natural Bird Food

Maritime winters are usually mild enough that a fair number of flowers remain for hummingbirds, from random penstemons and rosemary blossoms to sweet alyssum and calendulas, which are apt to bloom a bit any month of the year. Hardy fuchsias often produce late blossoms too, and our resident hummingbirds visit them daily. They also enjoy the fragrant golden bells on various mahonias, from towering Charity to dainty little repens. Winter blooming sasanqua camellias are also popular, especially those like Yuletide with single blossoms, which are easier to access than ruffled double blossoms. Similarly, single hellebores are favored over the densely packed doubles, not too surprising, since some are sterile. Flowering currants and salmonberry were just beginning to open before the snow and I noticed the hummingbirds nuzzling them ardently. Perhaps they know it’s Valentine season, when love is in the air.

When I practice gratitude (something I’ve been working hard on for the past few years), birds and gardening are high on my list of things I’m grateful for. I love birds for their bravery and beauty, cheerfulness and exuberance, and I love gardening for the deep delight of sharing life with plants. I love pottering among plants, and just looking at them makes me feel tender, whether watching tiny sprouts mature into independent beings or seeing beloved plants age out after providing many years of beauty. I’m grateful to be nearsighted so I can admire the tiny dusting of pale pink freckles on the creamy faces of dwarf Trillium pusillum and see the shimmer of pollen on snowdrop stamens. I’m grateful for every new leaf, each bud and blossom at this in-between season, with winter on the wane and spring on the wing.

Learning To Love

Perhaps most of all, I am grateful for the slowly gained knowledge that allows me to nurture plants that need a little help and leave those that don’t to fend for themselves. Tending plants feels holy, like a sacred task that offers health and healing to the caregiver as well as to the plants. For many years, I would do almost anything to try to bring struggling plants back to health, but as I age myself, I’m finding that allowing plants to take their natural path also feels like honoring them. If certain plants can’t thrive in my garden, I’ll give them away rather than try to manipulate the situation to please them. If others thrive all too well, I’ll find them new homes where there’s room for their natural ebullience. Just as shearing plants into cubes feels deeply disrespectful to me, priding myself on making plants grow where they aren’t truly suited feels now more like willfulness and less like skill. As I’ve learned to love my plants more wisely, I’m more apt to appreciate them for what they are by nature and less apt to interfere.

I was recently reminded of a long ago garden visit with an author who wrote about heroism in women’s lives. At one point, I had to attend to a child and left her wandering in the garden. When I returned, she looked dazed and horrified. When asked what was wrong, she blurted out, “This seems like so much WORK; how can you do it?” She saw me as a misguided woman making heroic efforts on what was useless labor. I was astonished, then amused, explaining that what she saw as drudgery was nourishing, sustaining, and actively fun for me. Gardening provided relief from endless hours writing at a desk and took me out of my mind and brought me into my whole being. I saw garden making as an art form, a creative, fruitful expression of my love for plants and the whole natural world. It was also the source of my work; everything I did in the garden served to nourish the articles and books I wrote to support my family. What’s not to love?

Plant Lovers Are Lucky

That clash of viewpoints convinced me that we gardeners are especially fortunate in feeling so at home out of doors, as the desk-bound often don’t. We revel in getting “dirty”, in plunging our hands into lovely soil, in spreading compost, in getting a load of well aged manure. As a young woman, the garden taught me that I was capable of having great fun, even though I dislike parties and most social gatherings. My idea of fun was just different, as my ideas about what’s normal also proved to be. Different and rich and wonderfully rewarding. Over the years, my gardens have also taught me true patience; I realized that in adult relationships, I had rarely been patient, just long-suffering.

Plant love showed me where I truly am patient, contented to wait for buds to appear, swell, open and develop into fruit. I delight in the slowly building joy that comes from growing a tree or shrub from seed. I’ve learned to delight in the passing of the seasons as my plants rose in triumph and fell in decay. I’ve learned to appreciate the role of decay, not as loss but as recycling summer’s beauties into compost. I’ve learned to work steadily but slowly, changing tasks often to avoid straining aging muscles. Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned from my garden is how to nurture myself. Whenever I feel discontented, it only takes a few minutes of active work in the garden to reconnect me with the flow of time and change that gives gardening much of its allure. In touching the earth and handling living plants, we are joined into the great changing cycles of life that connect all living things. As we engage with plants, our spirits are soothed and supported and our deep love can bloom.

Posted in Birds In The Garden, Care & Feeding, Easy Care Perennials, fall/winter crops, Garden Design, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Pollination Gardens, Pollinators, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Cookies & Tea & Snow & Me

Cookies should taste exactly the way you love them best

When Weather Isn’t Welcome

Ah, spring! Bulbs are sprouting and minor bulbs are already showing their colors, from snowdrops and snowflakes to winter aconite (Eranthis) and muscari to species iris and daffodils. Rhododendrons and camellias are bursting from bud to bloom. Hellebores are opening their dangling bells and the long arms of Mahonia Charity are tipped with spikes of fragrant golden blossoms. It’s hopeful and heady and exciting and… Uh oh. One look at my phone’s weather app sent my heart plummeting. Snow? Sleet? Freezing roads? Nooooo!!!!!

It’s a bit disconcerting to be so stricken by the threat of a cold snap (and not a truly awful one at that). Ok, fifteen inches is a lot but that’s the worst-case scenario. We might only get a sprinkle, and it probably won’t even last more than a few days, yet I’m as downcast as if a major snowpocalypse was coming our way. It isn’t that the winter was harsh (it wasn’t) or too long (well, maybe). It’s everything, really. After the past few difficult years, last year was so over-the-top awful in so many ways we ran out of descriptive words, not to mention energy. For me, the only really positive part was getting to have my young grandkids several times a week, after a way-too-long hiatus. Their cheerful matter-of-factness and endless curiosity prods me out of my petulance and digs me out of my doldrums. Ok, that and getting my first vaccinated shot (along with other volunteers and staff at our local Senior Center, now a local vaccination station). Ok, and learning that knitting with friends on Zoom is actually restorative. All that definitely feels both positive and hopeful. Maybe I feel better than I think I do.

Tea Time With Dragons

My granddaughter thinks snow would be awesome, the more the better. She just turned five and is fascinated by many things, including snow, unicorns, flower fairies, and dragons. She thinks it’s so cool that dragons can bake cookies with a single breath (who knew?) and they can also heat up a tea pot in a nanosecond. We just discovered a marvelous graphic novel called The Tea Dragon Society, written and illustrated by Katie O’Neill, author of several charming books with ecological and inclusionary themes. This book features small, cuddly tea dragons that purr and nip and require a great deal of grooming. They have little horns or antlers that produce flavorful leaves and fragrant flowers of various types. Harvested in tiny amounts, the foliage and blossoms make magical teas that offer shared memories the dragons carry for their caregivers (not owners!). This gentle, kind story captured our imaginations, and I’m very glad of that.

Cessa is the only girl in the neighborhood and I’ve watched her be drawn into war and fighting games when she only gets to play with the boys, a situation I remember all too well. Alone with me, both grandkids often play gentler games, snuggling their knitted stuffies and dolls rather than just crashing trucks and bombing space ships. I remember being appalled when my own kids abandoned their stuffed animals for trucks and toy guns once they started preschool and I’m relieved to see these kiddos balance the bold with the gentle. After we read the story this morning, Cessa drew a tea dragon she wants me to knit with roses and mint together. During a sun break, we picked garden herbs to make our morning cup of dragon tea. The pickings were on the slim side; despite my fantasizing, it’s really just the tail end of winter here (just heard we might get 15 inches of snow by this weekend, argh!). Even so, we found lemon balm and lemon thyme, rosemary and lavender, and mint. Lots and lots of mint-I think it’s ineradicable, but at least it smells good and tastes refreshing.

Cookies & Dragon Tea

We also mixed up a batch of cookies together. Cessa wanted to make “very vanilla cookies with just a little cinnamon” but said she doesn’t like Snickerdoodles because they are “too chewy and too sharp.” Alrighty then! We came up with a basic recipe that combines buttery vanilla flavor with a sparkle of sea salt but does not involve cream of tartar (which gives a tangy sharpness that we were trying to avoid). We formed balls with a melon cutter, then rolled each raw cookie in spiced sugar before baking them off. The result is just about perfect; crispy edges, a softer, almost creamy center, and a crunchy dusting of spiced sugar on the outside. What’s not to love?

Note: Whole wheat pastry flour gives baked goods a tender crumb, but you can use all-purpose flour if you prefer.

Very Vanilla Cookies With Spiced Sugar 
That Are NOT Snickerdoodles

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar, very lightly packed
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and coriander **
** or use just cinnamon or any spice blend you prefer

Preheat oven to 375 degree F. Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream butter with brown sugar. Stir in egg and vanilla thoroughly, then add dry ingredients. Mix sugar and spices in a wide, shallow bowl. Scoop dough by the tablespoon (or use large 2-tablespoon melon baller) into the spiced sugar and roll to coat. Put cookies on baking sheets at least 2 inches apart and bake for 10-12 minutes at 375. Makes about 30 small or 15 large cookies.

Tea Time With Dragons Winter Tea

1/2 cup mint springs (loosely packed)
1 tablespoon lemon balm springs
1 tablespoon lemon thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon lavender foliage
1 teaspoon rosemary foliage
Honey to taste

Put herbs in a tea pot and pour in 3 cups barely boiling water. Cover and let steep for 5-10 minutes. Strain into cups and add honey to taste. Serves 2-3



Posted in Care & Feeding, fall/winter crops, Gardening With Children, Hardy Herbs, Health & Wellbeing, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

We Are Woven Into Nature

When kids look at nature, they see magic

Brown Sugar Banana Bread & Nurturing The Natural

Reading through numerous articles about climate change and “saving nature”, it seems as if many people who are passionate about the natural world unconsciously consider it as something apart from humans. Historically, of course, “civilized” cultures have viewed the natural world as simply a source of raw materials, resources to be stripped away for “higher and better” uses. Those who lived in balance if not harmony with nature were clearly ignorant savages by the definitions of those who grew less in tune with the natural world with every passing generation. Today, while urban cultures are as dependent on nature as everyone else, children and adults alike are divorced from natural realities, buffered by insulating comforts. During the pandemic, it seemed ironic that people seeking respite in nature pack the parks and crowd the woods until they’re as busy as any city street. Joggers and hikers wearing earbuds rock down trails to the beat of music passersby can hear, louder than birdsong or squirrel chitter.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I recently met a group of women who were “forest bathing” together, all chatting loudly as they hustled down the paths toward the car park, ready for a latte. What’s especially fascinating to me is that numerous studies show that people-any people-feel better, have lower blood pressure, and are less anxious when they are around plants. Those hasty forest bathers may have been doing themselves good even as they ignored the setting; a recent German study claims similar benefits for people who walk near urban trees in the heart of a city, even if they aren’t consciously aware of the trees. No matter how tight our bubblewrap is, part of us knows we are as much a part of nature as the trees, and know it or not, we need their company.

Looking Leads To Love

Other studies show that when people who disagree profoundly about politics are able to feel empathy when they look into each other’s eyes and acknowledge common experiences. When we truly see and hear, our hearts open. As a child, I found people baffling but was fascinated by plants. Maybe it was partly because I don’t see well; nobody realized how nearsighted I was (and I didn’t know my eyes were any different). In any case, I found more to appreciate at ground level than in the noisy, active games other kids liked to play. In garden and woods, I found enchantment and fell in love with trees that each seemed to host entire communities woven of lichens and tiny ferns, mosses and fungi, birds and insects. Buds and flowers, brilliant or subtle, leaves of every shape and size, all had incredibly complex forms even the simplest revealed to close examination. (Being nearsighted definitely helps with that part!)

Since looking led to lasting love for me, I want others to have that same delight. Whenever my grandkids are able to visit with me, we always roam the neighborhood, seeing how many kinds of plants and birds and other critters we can find. We carry bags to hold treasures we might find along the way, from pine and fir cones to feathers, interesting stones and whatever else captures our fancy. On a recent nature walk, my grandkids were asking about the long, dangling catkins of our native Western hazelnut, Corylus cornuta. The showy male catkins are softly golden, looking like fluffy strings of chenille, while the tiny, vivid red female florets are tucked into tight little buds at the tips of branches. Once pollinated, the girls swell and form plump little hazelnuts, each wrapped in enveloping husks like little green shawls. Last fall, we noticed that the native red squirrels love to eat hazelnuts, as do quite a few birds, notably the raucous, bossy jays.

Natural Art

A little later, a neighbor stopped me to ask a question and we got into a conversation. The kids moved a little way away and knelt down side by side by a large flat rock. When I rejoined them, they happily showed me their artwork, made from the bits and pieces in their collection bags. When we got home, they made a bottle of potion so their kitty could come to life and play with the extremely well fed neighborhood squirrels. They planted some of the chunky camellia seeds they’d found, and thought about where they might plant the bushes if any sprouted and grew (they already know that not every seed makes it to the finish line). They made mint tea from the sprigs they picked, and transplanted a baby lemon balm to take home for their mom. They are so comfortable in the woods and in the garden, watching plants change, harvesting a little and leaving a lot for critters and to keep new generations of plants coming. My dearest wish is that these kids, and others like them, will continue to love the natural world, to admire and protect and support nature all their lives. I pray they will work to protect our planet as adults and that this deep relationship will be an abiding one that brings them refreshment and joy their whole lives long.

Brown Sugar Banana Bread

We also made the most delicious banana bread yet. Actually, they decided that it’s banana cake, because cake is fancier and bread sounds boring. Be ready to get it in the oven fast, as the mixture is very bubbly.

Best Ever Brown Sugar Banana Cake/Bread

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or any)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup coconut milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon each coriander, cardamom and ginger

3 very ripe bananas
3 large eggs
2/3 cup avocado or vegetable oil
1/3 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup pecans (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a baking dish (ours is a glass 11 x 7.5” one). Sift dry ingredients together, set aside. In a large bowl, mash bananas, stir in eggs, oil, yogurt, brown sugar and vanilla until well blended. Stir in dry ingredients, adding nuts and chocolate chips if using. Quickly spoon into the baking dish and bake at 350 until golden brown and well set and a toothpick comes out clean (about 45 minutes). Serves at least three.


Posted in Care & Feeding, Gardening With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Native Plants, Recipes, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living, Teaching Gardening | Tagged , , | 1 Comment