beautiful year for a spring garden

Our hand-me-down tulips in full bloom.

This spring has been an amazing one for the garden! I’m trying to put aside concerns about extreme weather, greater pests and allergies, and a brutally hot summer and just enjoy having all the spring flowers in bloom at once. Even the flowers in our shady foundation bed benefited from the unseasonably warm week we had last month: the bleeding heart is putting out new shoots and the epimedium that’s getting the most sun is showing lovely variegation on its leaves. I already have irises and the tulips are blooming at the same time as the dogwood. This is all wreaking havoc on my sinuses but it’s making for an incredibly cheery display of color at the front of the house.

Celandine poppy bursting with color.

First blooms on the cranesbill geranium, with woodruff.

I’m most excited to see how the new side garden turns out this year. It looks like we lost about half of the end-of-season bargain plants from Behnke’s, which is a shame (and yes, I know that they have a warranty but that would require me to have a receipt and an actual dead plant in hand). We also lost the thyme and marjoram plants, but the lemon verbena is putting out new shoots, so that’s a pleasant surprise. All of the semi-shady plants I received from our neighbors have returned: two geraniums, epimedium, celandine poppy, and bleeding heart. Inspired by the new oakleaf hydrangea (which is also growing like mad), I also placed a second bleeding heart and a couple clumps of epimedium over in the shady foundation bed to the right of the front porch. Along with the columbine, those should nice fill in the space behind the azalea and pieris and still be amenable to a nice easy leaf mulch each winter.

First blooms on the new bleeding heart.

Variegation on the epimedium.

Getting back to the side garden, I plan to replace the shrubby herbs and add a few more filler plants like yarrow and lamb’s ear, assuming I can scavenge some from neighbors. I would still like to add a dwarf oakleaf hydrangea to that side of the house, although I’m probably going to wait another year to see what kind of space I have for it. For now, the sprout and I are enjoying making daily inspections of the garden, pulling out weeds and smelling flowers as they emerge. Any pinecones we find on our walks get deposited there and we’re working on making clear the difference between plants you can walk on (grass) and plants you cannot (everything else).

Bee enjoying the volunteer patch of blue bugle flower under the maple.

beautiful year for a spring garden

is it spring yet?

First bloom of the year, on the new hellebore.

Since I’m now a parent and find myself saying dorky things like “Lead on, MacDuff!” and “it’s a doggie-dog world” on a regular basis, I am going to just come out with it: is this thing on? I think I may have hit a record length for blogging silence, at least for a blog that I still consider active. But yes, I do still consider it active and I do plan to return, dust in the corners, and charge ahead into spring. My biggest challenge remains a lack of anything in my life suitable for blogging. Or at least, nothing suitable for a garden/home/cooking blog; since I remain resolved to only refer to the sprout obliquely and without photos or specific amusing anecdotes, there isn’t much left. Yes, I could (and probably will) wax on about the conundrums of being an old-school feminist in an anti-feminist reclaiming-high-heels-for-the-masses era, but that’s only interesting for so long and hardly at all once it’s actually outside of my head. What I would prefer is to organize my actual life to allow for cooking, gardening, art, and home projects so that I will have more material to work with. We’re not quite there yet.

We are, however, making painfully slow but steady progress toward having space, time, and energy to make these things happen. The garden has the most potential since it’s outside and therefore exempt from being entirely covered with stacks of paper to be dealt with, which is the fate of all other available workspace inside the house. Last spring’s hard work is already paying off, as there are buds and sprouts and even blooms coming up all over in the new side garden. I finally have a hellebore, and it’s a lovely deep burgundy color; having bought it half off well after its bloom season, it could have been anything. One of these days, when there is money to spare for specific garden plants, I’d like to add a green-flowering one and a medicinally valuable one. (Because I’m a geek who likes unusual things, and green flowers are certainly that.) I remind myself that there is a whole backyard just waiting to be landscaped post-new-fence and there’s no need to cram every flowering plant I covet into one small patch. At any rate, the hellebore is flowering! The dicentra is also sending up shoots, which is reassuring since I feared I’d killed that one. I may yet have killed the second of the two; I’m not entirely sure as I am trying not to inspect the ground for shoots every single day (a watched pot and all that).

The shrubs seem to have all weathered the (unseasonably mild) winter well, as they all now have buds and new shoots. I did manage to get the second winterberry into the ground during one warm stretch, so that leaves just the spicebush, inkberry, and beautyberry in pots waiting to be planted. They are destined for the liriope-riddled side yard at the back of the house, near the stairs to the basement, just as soon as we remove all the liriope and the two sassafras saplings that we’re donating to the town park. That area is bounded by our neighbor’s fence, the rear addition, the sassafrass trees in the front and the holly tree in the back. So it’s the next reasonable place to garden, as it could use some cleaning up, pruning, and rearranging. It’s already a sheltered corner that the birds and squirrels love, and I think it will be lovely once the new shrubs are in place. It’s also visible from the two windows in the rear addition, and between the flowers, foliage, and autumn/winter berries it’s looking really fantastic in my imagination.

is it spring yet?

food : dairy-free gluten-free apple pie

Apple pie, round two.

Never in a million years, after spending years tweaking the ingredients of my pie crust until I had it just the way I like it, did I expect to be attempting to make pies without flour or butter. Never! Yet, here I am, as it wouldn’t be autumn without apple pie. Partly because I myself can no longer eat butter and partly because the sprout now wants to be sure that he’s eating what we’re eating by feeding himself directly from our plates, I went in search of a dairy-free gluten-free pie crust recipe that would taste decent. For this, I invested in The Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook, which promised to deliver.

The first attempt at pie was not a success, pretty much entirely because I didn’t follow the recipe exactly. Yes, I know, you would not be the first, last, or most vociferous to point out that not following the recipe at least the first time I make something means that we never actually know what the recipe tastes like. Point taken. In this case, I didn’t follow it because the very expensive special rice flour had not yet arrived in the mail AND I wanted to see if the very expensive special rice flour was actually necessary or if the only fairly expensive special flour mix from the store would work just as well. The answers are yes and no respectively, mostly because the gluten-free flour mix from the store is mostly bean flour and as you might imagine, bean crust does not taste super fabulous in a pie. I addressed the problem by dousing each piece in maple syrup (should you ever find yourself in this situation and need a solution). In addition, I forgot the dollops of fake butter for the filling in my rush to get the crust on before it dried out and totally fell apart, so there were some challenges all around.

The second attempt produced a respectable (albeit ricey) pie, using Pascal’s crust and baking instructions and my regular apple pie filling. The quirks of the gluten-free crust are that it doesn’t move as it bakes. It basically dries out and keeps its shape, so the big domed up top you make over the raw apples is still a big domed up top once the cooked apples have compressed into a normal-sized pie. While perfectly edible and nice looking when it comes out of the oven, it’s a bit of a pain in the keister to cut a piece without breaking the crust or to fit the pie into the handy-dandy pie container when it’s time to store it. The best way to address these issues is to only share the pie with really good friends and eat it all as soon as possible so it doesn’t need to be stored.

food : dairy-free gluten-free apple pie

becoming the parent of a toddler

I can hardly believe the sprout is a year old, and yet he’s definitely turning into a toddler. He’s been practicing his tantrums, perfecting the art of going boneless and throwing himself onto the ground to sob when frustrated. Not very often, just frequently enough to let you know there’s no going back to the compliant baby stage. He’s also nearly walking running, standing well on his own and launching himself toward you as long as you’re within about 10 quick little steps. He finds something new to get into every day, although he has not yet turned out to be a climber *knock wood*.

Most notably, he’s starting to show distinctly toddleresque food preferences. Banana imported from Peru? Yes. Delicious chicken chili made from scratch with love and local organic veggies? No. Avocado imported from Mexico? Yes. Delicious homemade organic mushroom and barley stew with fresh thyme from the garden? Not so much. Applesauce? Yes. Brown rice and lentil stew? A few bites on a good day. Instant oatmeal? Definitely. Zucchini and millet with fresh basil? Haven’t tried it yet, but I’m pretty sure I know where this is heading. Hummus, peaches, enormous bites of apple just like Daddy takes that lead to mouth sweeps? Yup. Delicious and nutritious sweet potato in all its forms? Apparently a babyish delight that he gave up just in time for Rosh Hashanah.

I am trying to be a good sport and chalk this up to teething, taking time to warm up to new tastes, a renewed preference for nursing following a cold, and the desire to feed himself whenever possible. We are still working on finding appropriate finger foods while avoiding dairy and wheat, and that’s presenting a bit of a challenge; while we don’t seem to be dealing with true allergies, an intolerance that keeps us up all night with a writhing crying baby is not something we can ignore in good conscience. Still, I fear I am staring down the tunnel to fish fingers, and I’m not liking it. That won’t be happening any time soon, though, as there remains a whole mess of veggies to chop, dice, steam, roast, mash, and purée before we even consider throwing in the towel.

becoming the parent of a toddler