Thick Was the Snow

February 7, 2017

Snow-frosted branches

Snow-frosted branches

“Thick was the snow on field and hedge
And vanished was the river-sedge,
Where winter skilfully had wound
A shining scarf without a sound.”
— Charles Causley, “At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door”

falls on snow —
— Santaka

The snow was beautiful while it lasted.  A brief taste of “real” winter here in the rainy Pacific Northwest.










Words from today’s pages:

“. . . the contemplative habit of mind can encourage ordinary citizens to tolerate the free expression of different points of view even when these conflict with their own.”
— Howard Woodhouse, from the Introduction, In Praise of Idleness

Wow.  Maybe our current dysfunctional state of name-calling, bullying, and mud-slinging is a symptom of our lack of contemplative time.  Bertrand Russell’s essay on idleness was first published in 1935.  In the introduction to the Routledge Classics edition of In Praise of Idleness, Woodhouse summarizes Russell’s thesis this way:  a contemplative habit of mind fosters social harmony.  When we do not take the time to pause and reflect, we act in ways that undermine tolerance and freedom of expression and respect for diversity.  He says these unreflective actions result in a “risk of immobility, namely, a stick-in-the-mud attitude resulting from a refusal to consider alternative viewpoints or courses of action.”

Russell’s insights seem prescient. We see these locked-in, recalcitrant, defiant attitudes everyday when we read the news.  It’s scary.  Could it be because our lives are simply too busy and filled with distracting and competing and nonstop images?




Rosemary-Infused Lime Cakes

October 16, 2013

Lime Polenta Cupcake with Rosemary Syrup

Lime Polenta Cupcake with Rosemary Syrup

Lime Polenta Cakes with Rosemary Syrup

Lime Polenta Cakes with Rosemary Syrup

Hedgebrook Cookbook

Hedgebrook Cookbook

I have a special affinity for recipes that use rosemary, so I was delighted to find a recipe for Lemon Polenta Cake with Rosemary Syrup in the Hedgebrook Cookbook by Denise Barr and Julie Rosten.  Hedgebrook is a Whidbey Island writing retreat for women.  It is my dream to one day become a Writer-in-Residence there, but I will have to work very hard to deserve a place in such exalted company.  After reading Hedgebrook’s new cookbook, I want to go there just for the food!

I didn’t have any lemons on hand, but I did have a lime, so I made a substitution in my recipe.  I made just half a recipe, so I decided to bake my cake in cupcake tins, and I shortened the baking time accordingly.  Here’s the original recipe:

Lemon Polenta Cake with Rosemary Syrup
from the Hedgebrook Cookbook by Denise Barr and Julie Rosten

Makes 1 loaf

1-1/2 c polenta (corn grits)
1/2 c flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
5 Tbsp plain yogurt  (I substituted sour cream)
5 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 lemons, zested
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 c sugar, divided
2 eggs
2 egg whites
1 c water
2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk polenta, flour, baking powder and salt in a medium size bowl and set aside.  In a small bowl, combine yogurt, oil, lemon zest and juice and stir well.  In a large bowl, beat eggs and egg whites with 1 cup of the sugar until well incorporated.  Add yogurt mixture and continue to beat until smooth.  Fold in dry ingredients and mix until just blended.  Do not overmix.

Oil and line a 9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake 40 to 45 minutes.  Test for doneness with a toothpick.

Meanwhile in a small saucepan, combine remaining cup of sugar with 1 cup of water and rosemary.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Cool the syrup completely and strain.

When cake is done, cool on rack for 15 minutes then invert.  Remove cake from pan.  With a toothpick, prick the cake on all sides and drizzle with half the syrup.  Let the cake cool completely.  Cut cake into slices and serve with more syrup drizzled over each slice if desired.


Lime Polenta Cakes with Rosemary Syrup

Spider Season

September 19, 2013

So many spider webs

So many spider webs

There seems to come one day each autumn when we wake to the world covered in ethereal spider webs.  What seasonal signal prompts this over-night industry?  Or are the webs always there, waiting to be made visible by the touch of dew?  I can’t believe I would be blind to so many webs on an ordinary day.  Surely these dangling webs are the result of a rare web-making frenzy?

All of these webs were photographed on a single morning just a few feet from my front door in our yard and garden.



Spiderwebs on rosemary bush

Watercolor sketch of spider web in a rosemary bush

Watercolor sketch of spider web in a rosemary bush


Humble Keepsakes and Customs

December 17, 2012

“It comes every year and will go on forever.  And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs.  Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart.”
— Marjorie Holmes

Handmade paper ornament

Handmade paper ornament

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.”
— E. B. White

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more.”
— Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The largest part of my Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  My keepsakes are handmade, for the most part.  And yes, they are humble, like this paper cut Scandinavian horse ornament I made this year from instructions I found in Mollie Makes Christmas:  Living and Loving a Handmade Holiday.

Or my traditional holiday wreath, made from rosemary sprigs from my garden.  For me, simple is best.

Homemade rosemary wreath

Homemade rosemary wreath

Winter Rain and Potatoes

December 10, 2012

“Let the skies rain potatoes.”
— William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor

Winter rain

Winter rain

Winter in Seattle most often means rain, not snow.  The chilly, dark, dampness heightens the pleasures of comfort food.  Today’s recipe for Crispy Smashed Potatoes certainly meets the definition of comfort food.  Last week my friend Bonnie sent me a link to this blog where she found the recipe, and I’ve already made it twice!

Small red potatoes

Small red potatoes

I used some red potatoes that I had on hand — about two- or three-inches in diameter.  First you cover them with salted water, bring to a boil, and cook on the stove top until just done.  Drain.

Preparing the potatoes for the oven

Preparing the potatoes for the oven

Then pre-heat your oven to 425-degrees F.  On a flat baking sheet with sides, pour a small puddle of olive oil for each potato.  Place a potato in each puddle, then smash slightly with a potato masher.  Now drizzle, each potato with some more olive oil and then season to taste.  I used sea salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh rosemary bits, and a clove of cooked garlic.  Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

These are yummy!

“Some of my pleasantest hours were during the long rainstorms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Raindrops on spider web

Necklace of raindrops in the rosemary bush

Thoreau would have been home in the rains of the Pacific Northwest.  He would have had plenty of opportunities to shelter in his house and succumb to revery while listening to the rain dripping down trees and gutters.

Artists need dormant times like these rainy days, as the following quote from Dale Chihuly, glass artist, proclaims:

“One of the great attractions of being in the Northwest is rain.  I find the rain very creative. . . . If I don’t feel good or I don’t feel creative, if I can get near the water something will start to happen.”
— Dale Chihuly, from an exhibit sign at “Dale Chihuly’s Northwest,” Tacoma Art Museum

Rainy days can be down times, like the unexpected snow days of winter.  “It is a fine thing to have a full day of nothing stretched before you.”  — Ken McAlpine, Islands Apart:  A Year on the Edge of Civilization


Making Stuffing from Scratch

November 23, 2011

Cubed bread for Thanksgiving stuffing

I don’t always have the day off before Thanksgiving, but this year I do.  I am enjoying having an extra day of prep time for our Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.  This morning I made the cranberry sauce, boiled yams for the sweet potato pie that I will bake first thing tomorrow morning (I’ll save the liquid for gravy), and prepared the ingredients for my homemade dressing.

It occurred to me that I’ve never written instructions for making my Thanksgiving stuffing.  My daughter sometimes asks me how I make things, such as macaroni and cheese or cream-cheese frosting, for which I don’t use a formal recipe.  So this post is for her, for that future date when she makes turkey and dressing.

I often make dressing on Thanksgiving morning while the pie is in the oven, but today I completed several of the steps in advance, leaving just the final assembly and stuffing the turkey for tomorrow.  I actually prepare for making my dressing months in advance by saving crusts of bread in the freezer.  A day or two before Thanksgiving, I also make corn bread so that I can use the leftovers in my dressing.  (This year I put a few cranberries in the cornbread.)

So the first step in making dressing from scratch is to cube the bread:

I toast my frozen crusts of bread and then cut them into cubes.

I like a little cornbread in the mix.

Next, I dice a couple of sticks of celery and some onion.  These will add flavor to the giblet “slurry” which will moisten the breadcrumbs.  I toss these vegetables in a pot with the turkey’s heart, liver, and gizzard, then cover with water and boil until the meat is cooked through.

You can add celery and onion to taste.

Toss celery, onions and giblets in a pot to cook on the stove top.

When the giblets are cooked, I pour off and save most of the liquid.  I put the cooked vegetables and meat in a food processor and process everything until I have a giblet “slurry.”  Then I combine the slurry with the reserved liquid.  At this point, I put the slurry into the refrigerator until I assemble the dressing on Thanksgiving morning.

Giblet slurry

This will be tossed with the bread cubes on Thanksgiving morning.

The final steps, on Thanksgiving morning, are to toss the cubed bread, slurry and one egg together in a big bowl.  I add salt, pepper, rosemary, sage and thyme to taste.  I still stuff my turkey, and if I have too much dressing, I put the rest in a pan to heat in the oven with the turkey, an hour or so before it will be done.

Fresh rosemary from my garden

Mincing the rosemary


Slender Rosemary Heart

February 1, 2011

Slender heart wreath of fresh rosemary

It’s not too early to be thinking about Valentine’s Day, is it?

I got the idea for this simple heart-shaped wreath from the book, Swedish Christmas Traditions: A Smorgasbord of Scandinavian Recipes, Crafts and Other Holiday Delights by Ernst Kirchsteiger. I adapted the instructions he provided for a “Slender Lingon Heart” and used rosemary, the herb of remembrance, instead of lingon sprigs.  I love the simplicity of this project.  Smells heavenly, too.

Finding inspiration in this book of holiday crafts

Wreath brings a touch of Christmas to our front entryway

My handmade wreaths are very simple affairs.  This year I tied redwood(from a stump in our yard) and rosemary (from my garden) sprigs to a round wire frame (saved from other Christmases).  I embellished it with kusudama flowers of folded paper.   

I think it adds a grace note to our front entryway this holiday season!

Redwood and rosemary wreath

Detail of kusudama flower

I followed the instructions for making kusudama flowers from Playing with Books:  The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing and Reimagining the Book by Jason Thompson. (See my blog post of May 10, 2010 for instructions for folding these flowers.)