Sunday, December 29, 2013

Winter Blessings

 The sky often gives us a peek at the coming weather a few hours or a day before it arrives.  Clouds roll in off the ocean and the sun struggles as the day progresses, peeking out for short periods and waning like an old moon by days-end. 

This was the case yesterday as we set off for a walk in the unseasonably warm temperatures. 

The Mallard Ducks and the Canadian Geese practice posing for still-life photos, their images reflected in the slate zen-like lake.

Occasionally, the sun pokes out for a moment or two, lending a sepia tone to a photographer's palette.

The wild wetland grasses manage to capture a bit of golden light before the sun fades into the clouds for good.

 This is why I go for a walk - to see this light, if only for a moment, caught in the feathery embrace of last summer's "weeds."

Today the 'weather' arrived.  The rain has poured down for hours and hours and as the moody sky gives us a winter storm.  We don't complain though, knowing it could have been snow.

Instead, we curl up with the Sunday papers, a steaming cup of tea and spend the afternoon watching our newest grandson sleep peacefully as the rain taps out a lullaby on the roof.

We count the ducks and geese......the lovely grasses..... even the gray rain - filled sky and, especially .....our new grandson..... among our winter blessings this year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Past Mingles With Christmas Present

My mother-in-law loved Christmas.  She shopped all year for presents and if one looked, one could find wrapped gifts stashed in the corner of every closet in her house, even in July. 

 All during the month of December, she baked the best cookies I have ever tasted.  Her house was decorated with an entire winter wonderland village.  And she relished  fixing Christmas dinner for the whole family. 

 I think she enjoyed Christmas almost as much as her grandchildren did. She has been gone for fifteen years and I miss her most at Christmas.

She made this nativity for us in a ceramics class one year early in our marriage. It has been a part of our Christmas every year since. Some years we set it up on a table and some years it is nestled under the tree.

As soon as her first grandchild was born, Mom began making or buying ornaments . Our tree is covered with these handmade gems loaded with memories.

 Now that our girls are starting their own families and Christmas traditions, I plan to pass the ornaments on to them.  Perhaps a bit of 'Nana' and her child-like joy  of celebrating Christmas will get passed along to her great grandsons.

 One year, she gave us a table sized carousel as a Christmas gift.  With the flip of a switch, it turned, lights flashed and it played about 10 different Christmas songs.  My children were teenagers when she gave it to us and so neither I nor they were especially impressed with it at the time.

It wasn't until MY first grandchild stared at it with wondrous eyes, that I began to appreciate it.  And every year since then, I have whispered a thank you to my mother-in-law for this wonderful gift, the gift of seeing Christmas through the eyes of a child.

This Christmas, I have a new grandson, a wide-eyed five month old boy.  My mother-in-law would be delighted to know that he is named after her son, my husband. How she would have loved to watch him stare at the carousel and the lights and then hear him squeal with delight! 

We celebrate Christmas to recall the moment when God came to be with us, indeed, becoming one of us. Perhaps the only way we can ever approach such an extraordinary happening, is with the innocent wide-eyed stare of a child. And once the wonder of it dawns on us, we, too, can squeal with delight!!

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What a Difference A Week Makes!

I took some photos in my garden during the first week of December and discovered, if not a blooming parade of summer flowers, at least some quiet snippets of  late autumn beauty.

 The sage was still quite green and the skimmia had tiny flowers on it!
 I leave many flower heads in the garden for two reasons.  The birds visit from September to November to feast on the seeds and I enjoy the golden sculptured look of the spent flowers.

 The leaves remain on the beds all winter too.  They keep my perennials warm and  eventually break down  into compost.  If they are still around in spring, we rake them into the compost.

 The euonymus is covered with berries at this time of year - another food source for the birds.
 My rhododendron has set buds for next year already.  Now if only they can escape the notice of hungry squirrels in mid-winter.
 This week we woke to a lovely snow shower which dumped an inch or two of snow on us, turning the world outside my window into a white sculpture garden.

 The sage wears a white fur coat this week!

 The snow clings to the seed pods in new and ,sometimes, dramatic ways, creating some unusual patterns.

 St Francis stoically remains a fixture all year round. (I think the birds come to visit him, not me)

So while everyone else is searching the malls for the latest toys and the biggest bargains, I wait with quiet anticipation for the gifts of December to come to my garden - family, celebrations, a new season of cold and snow and a new season of renewal of the heart - with the retelling of the ancient story that still has the capacity to make hearts leap with joy! The Christmas Story.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Time For A Big Pot of Soup!

  The weather is turning, inevitably, to bluster. The skies and the weathermen are threatening us with the white stuff.  If you are getting ready for Christmas, then you are probably busy.

    This is the perfect time to make a big pot of soup to warm our bellies the first night and  then warm my heart in a few days when I can pull out the leftovers for a quick meal on a night when I am too busy to cook.

    I like to eat lightly in the weeks before Christmas, both because it is Advent and because I know that no matter how hard I try, a few pounds will show up on the scale come January 2nd!  A comforting vegetarian soup fills us up but doesn't feel decadent, like all the foods we will eat when the family descends.

    This may be my new favorite black bean recipe! It was quick and easy and the flavors are perfect to warm a cold wintery night.

                                  Black Bean Vegetable Stew

1 Tbs. olive or canola oil
1 large onion , chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1-2 tsp chili powder (to taste)
2 -3 tsp ground cumin
2 cans black beans (15 oz)
1 can kidney beans
1 can of Red Pack tomatoes (28 oz)
28 oz. vegetable stock or water
1 cup frozen corn
salt and pepper to taste
1 -2 cups chopped kale (optional)
fresh cilantro and sour cream for garnish

Saute the onions, carrots, red pepper and garlic in the oil for a few minutes on medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or soup pot.  Add cumin and chili powder. Cook for one minute.  Blend the can of tomatoes and the drained can of kidney beans in the blender with the stock.  Add to the vegetable mixture.  Add the drained black beans and cook for 10 minutes.  Add corn and kale and cook for  another 4-5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Serve topped with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt and fresh cilantro.  The leftovers freeze well.

I love this soup with corn bread and my favorite cornbread recipe is an oldie but a goodie from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook (the original)

Mexican Corn and Cheese Bread

1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 egg lightly beaten
2 Tbs. honey
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 c grated sharp cheddar cheese

Saute the onion in the olive oil.  Mix the flour, corn meal, baking powder, salt together in a small bowl. Beat the egg, milk and honey together. Combine the milk mixture and the flour mixture and mix until well blended. Add corn, sauteed onions and grated cheese.  Spread into a well buttered 8 inch square pan,  bake at 375 for 25 to 30 minutes or until top is firm and browned. Serve warm.  Freezes well!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Let Every Breath Be a Whisper of Thanksgiving

The days grow shorter and cooler.
  The trees are bare and dark against the brilliant blue sky.
Gloves and warm coats are brought down from the attic.
The summer birds are long gone and only the sturdy blue jay and the bright cardinal remain to keep the finches and the sparrows company and to add some color to the drabness of winter.
The market is filled with the abundance of the autumn harvest and preparations have begun to celebrate the most American of all holidays, Thanksgiving.

What am I thankful for? Who can adequately answer this question?
Naming everything that excites feelings of gratitude would take until the end of time.  I am thankful for my eyes to see the sunrise in the morning and notice the bright sparkle in my spouse's eyes when he laughs. And for  the ears to hear my grandsons squeal and giggle, seemingly consumed with the joy of living, exploring and tasting the world. I am thankful for the sweet tartness of the apples fresh from the local farmer, and for being able to feel the smooth richness of chocolate and smell the fresh mint in my tea. My legs give me the constant pleasure of taking me wherever I need to go. I am ever grateful for them. I am filled with the joy of thanksgiving when the ones I love are near and I am grateful that the ones I love who are far away are safe and happy. I am moved to tears of gratitude by the sun and the moon and the stars and the rain. The vastness of the universe, filled with mystery, fills me with wonder and gratitude.  I am thankful for friends who warm me, cheer me on and pray for me.

Oh God,  let me join the psalmists, the monks and the poets, rising
early each day to praise you and thank you for this abundant and stunning life. Let my every breath be a whisper of thanksgiving, Lord.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Exercise Update - Moving Right Along

   My activity level is nearly back to normal four months after surgery and I'm kicking my exercise program into high gear.  It was very surprising to find that it takes a lot longer to regain strength after surgery than I had supposed it would.

    It is just this past week that I have felt as though I could pick up a bit of speed in my walking.  I have been lifting (light) weights for  about three weeks now and I can feel the difference already!


    My regimen is fairly simple. I started with 2 pound hand weights and I do six exercises with the hand weights 10 reps x 2. Next I do three exercises with ankle weights (4 pounds on each ankle) Then I do 20 chair stands and 20 toe raises.  I follow this with a few simple yoga poses for balance and flexibility.

  I learned weightlifting technique from three books by the same author. I highly recommend them to anyone interested in weight training for strengthening or weight loss. The main difference between getting strong and losing weight is the number of days you devote to weightlifting.  Twice a week is fine for strengthening. For weight loss - it is three times a week.

   The books are 'Strong Women Stay Slim,' Strong Women Stay Young,' and 'Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis,' written by Miriam E Nelson Ph.D.

The woods where I do most of my walking 

  I have been walking pretty consistently since the week I got home from the hospital and it was a shock to me that it took several months for the feeling of weakness to go away. I am up to three miles now and have just begun to pick up some speed.  My walking pace has been a modest stroll until a few days ago. (I think the weight-lifting has helped me in this.)  My plan is to walk  60 minutes a day five or six days a week, walking a bit faster each week. At this point I would rather count minutes than miles!

I felt like my regimen needed a theme song so I chose "Movin' Right Along' from the original Muppet Movie. Although Kermit and Fozzie are in a car the song just makes me happy enough to lace up my sneakers and get moving! 

Things I learned after surgery: 

         Be kind and gentle to yourself.

         Be patient  - the weakness does go away.

         Start walking immediately - even if it is only a few laps around the house.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ode to Orange

Oh, there is nothing quite like orange, 
shot through with sunlight,

 bursting with the flavor of autumn
 against a dark blue sky,
opening the heart to a wild and wondrous dance.

Oh, there is nothing quite like the orange leaves,
bright flags the color of pumpkins and popsicles,

begging us to wander the woods to stare,
hoping our eyes remember
 the glory of orange
once winter gray arrives.

Oh there is nothing quite like burgundy,
or gold or rust or yellow fringed with chocolate brown,

to set off the orange 
and make the heart sing.

So grab a bit of orange,
keep it in the pocket of your heart,
ready to unwrap
on a dark day in winter,
when it is cold and gray and drear,
let it set you on fire,
so you can hear the rhythm
of orange
and dance again,
 a warm and wild autumn dance! 

©2013 BK

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Introducing African Blue Basil

  A few summers ago, I bought variety of basil called African Blue Basil.  It was billed as an annual that promised to be more ornamental than culinary.  It smelled wonderful and, although the leaves were similar to basil leaves, they were bluish and much smaller than my Genovese basil.

  This plant grew happily all summer and every so often I cut pieces of it to add to bouquets or to scent a room in the house.  It was a wonderful plant, flowering repeatedly and seemingly impervious to  drought, disease, bugs and neglect. It grew to be about 3 feet tall and perhaps 2 feet wide and it added color to my herb garden.

  This year I bought another African Blue Basil and guess what?  I discovered there is even more to love about it.  I brought in a few sprigs at the end of September, thinking the plant would die soon.  I put them in water to enjoy for a week or so.  I noticed that the bouquet was not wilting, so I kept adding water.  Lo and behold, the cuttings rooted!

 I planted them in a pot and put them in a sunny window on the porch and I'm hoping the plant will winter over.  It will be  so nice to crush a fresh leaf and enjoy the scents of summer when the snow is flying outside!

  This plant performs beautifully in the garden and I plan to use it in my sunny garden to attract bees and butterflies and for some lovely bluish purple flowers all summer long!

  I will still reach for the old fashioned Genovese basil when I'm ready to make pesto, though.  The flavor can't be beat.  And if I want a cup of basil flavored tea, my first choice is an Indian basil called  Holy Basil or tulsi.  It is wonderfully clove- scented,  and is a healing herb widely used in India. I find it a soothing addition to my herbal tea pot when I feel a cold coming.


late autumn-
I vie with the plants
for a square of sunlight



Monday, November 4, 2013

Taking a Ride 'Out East'

 Riding out to the east end of Long Island in autumn is a treasured event for us and we try to go out several times if possible.  The landscape, although changing, is an idyllic throwback to how the rest of the Island was 50 years ago.  

One of our favorite places to stop  and linger, is the Peconic River Herb Farm in Calverton, pictured in several photos here. 

 In addition to having a wonderful selection of plants   and garden accessories, the Peconic River Herb Farm has evolved into one of the prettiest places I can imagine.  

Over the years, the owners have lovingly landscaped the gardens and they now rival  many of the country gardens on 'Gold Coast' estates.

I used to dream of owning an herb garden business in my younger days.  Alas that was not to be.

 Instead, I visit this lovely place, wander around for an hour or two, buying lots of plants and goodies for my tiny garden, and pretend that I have a 12 acre farm.

  It doesn't matter what direction one looks in, the view is terrific....... is the selection of perennials, herbs, annuals, shrubs and there is even an entire barn filled with all manner of delightfully kitschy accents for the garden.

Another wonderful place to visit is the lovely Lavender Farm called Lavender By The Bay located in East Marion. It has to be the most wonderfully scented place in the world!

There are lavender plants in every variety available for sale as well as lavender scented gifts and bouquets galore.

The lavender fields , shown below, in late afternoon, provide all the lavender one could possibly want.  I grow my own lavender, but that doesn't stop me from finding something pretty to take home.

Fifty years ago, the main crop on the North Fork of Long Island was potatoes.  Since 1973, when the Hargraves began growing wine grapes and producing wine, the North Fork has become a wine-making region. Wineries dot the area and wine tasting tours are very popular. We usually stop to buy a bottle or two.

And to take a few photos, of course!

I could almost believe I was in Italy!

  If you find yourself on Long Island, be sure to plan a day on the North Fork.  It is lovely! And follow the links above to find the hours of operation and get directions.

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