Blackberry Season

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Yeah! It is blackberry season.  Two weeks earlier than usual and at sunset a couple of nights ago, my husband and I went for a walk and picked enough for breakfast.

I probably should explain, for those of you who don’t live in Western Washington, that we have an abundance of terrible bramble patches that produce blackberries.  We have three kinds and for the most part we consider them a blight.  The state considers them invasive species.

The smallest come in June and early July.  These creep along the ground and have VERY small berries which are a delight to eat and virtually seedless.  However, it will take hours to pick enough for a pie as they are so tiny.  I snack on these while working on the garden.  Beware though, these little ankle-biters can do major damage to your ankles.  Knee high rubber boots are best for wondering where this species grows.  They tend to invade the flower beds and grab at your sleeves and wrists while weeding.  The tiny briars are just about impossible to see for removal.

Generally, in August we are blessed with a larger, seedier berry that is truly the blackberry season.  These giant briar patches can totally encompass a house or outbuilding, automobiles, small children, if they stand still for any period of time.  They can scratch the paint off your car. They are real tigers but worth the effort.  They make great seedless jam and blintzes.

Though these are seedy, they are juicy and fragrant and this is what my husband and I were picking.  Blintzes for breakfast! What a treat. We were in heaven.  I used montrechevre goat cheese (any soft cheese will work like chevre or even cream cheese) with a little sugar, vanilla and orange bitters for the innards.  Wrapped this in a crepe.  Heated until just warm.

I took about a cup and a half of fresh blackberries and added water, cornstarch and sugar.  Simmered until hot and thickened, but not until the berries fell apart. Poured it over the warmed blintzes and we had a superb breakfast.

If you are half asleep in the morning, you can make crepes and keep them at ready in the freezer separated by waxed paper.  Thaw and prepare.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work for a meal most of you don’t eat, but this took fifteen minutes including making the crepes, but not counting the berry picking time.  You may substitute blueberries, strawberries, even rhubarb compote for the blackberries at other times of the year. Enjoy.

Summer Fun

 

In his sites

(this crow is made from tarpaper embedded into the wax) (titled: “In His Sites”)

Well the calendar says it is summer.  It is raining and almost the end of July.  Last week, however, we did have some moderate days of sunshine mixed, intermittently, with clouds.  Since it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t too hot, I decided to work on an outdoor project.

As I have mentioned before, I am an artist, primarily a painter, though I dabble in printmaking and other art forms.  I also teach.

One form of painting that I practice, from time to time, is encaustic painting.  This is melted wax to a board.  For color I use various materials including oil pastels, crayolas, powdered graphite, powdered pigments and more.  I often imbed objects, bits of paper, old subway tickets, playing cards, and other refuse into the pieces.

Over the course of two weeks, I completed sixteen paintings for a show that will hang in mid September.  The theme is crows.  Some of the crows are painted with oil pastels and melted into the wax, some are cutouts in tarpaper that is imbedded.  Some of the crows are tissue paper imbedded.

I use a heat gun, and electric griddle and a blow torch to melt the wax. Depending on the effect I want, I will paint on melted wax with a brush, maybe push it around with the blow torch.  The ends of my fingers get encased with the wax and I tend to rub them together, crumbling the wax which falls to the ground, consequently, I don’t want to do this in the house. I would track wax crumbs into the floors and rugs, which is not a good thing as it is slightly sticky.

I am fond of using crayolas in this process as I can melt them on the griddle and paint them into the wax with a brush, or I can color onto the cooled wax and melt them.  They move around a lot.  Oil pastel tends to stay where I put it.

I will be having a show of these works at the Braeburn Restaurant in Langley, Washington, https://braeburnlangley.com/ September 19th through October 14th, 2016.  I hope that some of you are able to visit the show.

PS: My students are having a show at the Braeburn July 25th to September 19th and another educational exhibit at the Island County Fair in Langley, August 4 through August 7, 2016 http://fair.whidbeyislandfair.com/

Poor Reception

(titled “Poor Reception”)

 

Going the Distance

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It is just over six months since I started this project.  I am trying, on another venue, to work on my memoir AND to rewrite a seven hundred page journal into something that can be used as a book.  That journal was written when I lived in China and taught Western Culture and idiomatic English to scholars who were preparing to study overseas.  Both of these projects are a big and long row to hoe (a farm idiom).

I only started writing about two years ago.  I am an old woman and writing never came easily for me.  I can remember in high school English having to write a 200 word paragraph describing something.  I managed about two sentences and then I was lost. In college, the research paper on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a totally incomprehensible dialog.

I didn’t discover, cognitively, until I was a couple of years out of college, that I had a reading disability.  I couldn’t get it the first time I read it, or the second, and sometimes, not even on the third time through. I just couldn’t understand what the words on the page meant.

Maybe it was because my family moved many times in primary school.  I am unsure as I was really a good reader in first grade, but things went downhill from there and three moves in second and another in third didn’t help my reading skills.  It also wreaked havoc with math too.

By sixth grade, my teacher told my parents I was lazy.  I tested high but could not perform.  Didn’t anyone realize I had a problem?  Parents, be aware of your children’s progress in school.  Illness, hearing difficulties, eyesight problems, moving, and more can cause problems with learning.  If your child did well and then suddenly has problems, maybe there is an underlying cause.  Try to find out what it is.  Primary school children are building the formative basis for their studies throughout their lives.  I think if my parents had paid attention, they would have found I wasn’t lazy, but had lost the continuity of learning in so many moves from school to school and from teacher to teacher, all with different approaches to teaching.  Just the trauma of changing schools and being with new children so often, having to fit in, can interfere with learning.

When I was an adult and out on my own, I could little afford much in the way of entertainment.  Going to a library and getting books was not a high priority as I hated reading, but, having little money, I needed something to occupy my mind in the quiet times commuting on the bus, and in the evenings without television.  Books that were light and comic were my choice.  I soon discovered that my problem was being unable to read.  I worked very hard at remedying that problem.  After five years of reading as much as I could, I finally learned to read efficiently.  I went from droll humor like The Egg and I to reading texts such as Introduction to Geology and understanding it the FIRST time through.

Reading is a big part of my life now.  We do not have television and night comes at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter’s day in my part of the country.  Reading happens every day.  Sometimes just for a short while when I sit in the sun (if it decides to be present), or for several hours by the fireside on a cold, blustery winter’s night.

Now, here I am, a person who was almost illiterate, writing, writing about my life.  What a change from the sixth grader whom the teacher said was lazy, the college student who needed to read the collateral reading three times to get it.  Now I can enjoy the written word.  Too bad someone didn’t notice earlier.  School would have been a lot easier and more pleasurable.

 

Postscript:  As an undergraduate in college, my grades outside my major were mediocre.  When I went back to grad school, after I had learned to read, I was a straight A student. Too bad it came so late.

It is just over six months since I started this project.  I am trying, on another venue, to work on my memoir AND to rewrite a seven hundred page journal into something that can be used as a book.  The journal was written when I lived in China and taught Western Culture and idiomatic English to scholars who were preparing to study overseas.  Both of these projects are a big and long row to hoe (a farm idiom).

I only started writing about two years ago.  I am an old woman and writing never came easily for me.  I can remember in high school English having to write a 200 word paragraph describing something.  I managed about two sentences and then I was lost. In college, the research paper on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a totally incomprehensible dialog.

I didn’t discover, cognitively, until I was a couple of years out of college, that I had a reading disability.  I couldn’t get it the first time I read it, or the second, and sometimes, not even on the third time through. I just couldn’t understand what the words on the page meant.

Maybe it was because my family moved many times in primary school.  I am unsure as I was really a good reader in first grade, but things went downhill from there and three moves in second and another in third didn’t help my reading skills.  It also wreaked havoc with math too.

By sixth grade, my teacher told my parents I was lazy.  I tested high but could not perform.  Didn’t anyone realize I had a problem?  Parents, be aware of your children’s progress in school.  Illness, hearing difficulties, eyesight problems, moving, and more can cause problems with learning.  If your child did well and then suddenly has problems, maybe there is an underlying cause.  Try to find out what it is.  Primary school children are building the formative basis for their studies throughout their lives.  I think if my parents had paid attention, they would have found I wasn’t lazy, but had lost the continuity of learning in so many moves from school to school and from teacher to teacher, all with different approaches to teaching.  Just the trauma of changing schools and being with new children so often, having to fit in, can interfere with learning.

When I was an adult and out on my own, I could little afford much in the way of entertainment.  Going to a library and getting books was not a high priority as I hated reading, but, having little money, I needed something to occupy my mind in the quiet times commuting on the bus, and in the evenings without television.  Books that were light and comic were my choice.  I soon discovered that my problem was being unable to read.  I worked very hard at remedying that problem.  After five years of reading as much as I could, I finally learned to read efficiently.  I went from droll humor like The Egg and I to reading texts such as Introduction to Geology and understanding it the FIRST time through.

Reading is a big part of my life now.  We do not have television and night comes at about 4:30 in the afternoon on a winter’s day in my part of the country.  Reading happens every day.  Sometimes just for a short while when I sit in the sun (if it decides to be present), or for several hours by the fireside on a cold, blustery winter’s night.

Now, here I am, a person who was almost illiterate, writing, writing about my life.  What a change from the sixth grader whom the teacher said was lazy, the college student who needed to read the collateral reading three times to get it.  Now I can enjoy the written word.  Too bad someone didn’t notice earlier.  School would have been a lot easier and more pleasurable.

 

Postscript:  As an undergraduate in college, my grades outside my major were mediocre.  When I went back to grad school, after I had learned to read, I was a straight A student. Too bad it came so late.

Typical Washington Weather

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Last summer was unusual for our area of Western Washington.  In June we had warm sunny days which brought the garden on early and with vigor.  This year is a more typical year.  As I have mentioned in past wordpress blogs, we can have grey weather three out of four 4th of Julys.  This year seems to be holding up this percentage.

We had glorious sunny weather in May and hopes that the garden would be the verdant, abundant scene it was last year.  We have collected 4000 gallons of water from the shed roof this past winter to water it as this is our only water source at the farm. I started all my little plants early, expecting that it would be a hot summer due to the warm spring. I held them over longer in the greenhouse so as to not shock them with the cold outside.

When I was a kid and a Brownie and Girl Scout, I went to camp the first week after school was out.  IT ALWAYS RAINED. For me camping is about cool, damp weather.  It always seemed that we would have glorious, sunny, warm days for the last few weeks of school making us all itchy to get out to vacation.  The last day of school, an early release day, it would rain and continue to rain until after the Fourth of July.

This year is no exception, being right on that schedule and reminding me of my youthful days at “summer” camp.  They felt more like winter, but I was away from home on an adventure and it didn’t matter that it drizzled the whole time.

Now it matters that it drizzles the whole time.  We fight slugs, leaf rot, slow and retarded growth due to the weather in the high 40’s and low 50’s.  Tomatoes are not fond of this scenario.  I planted thirty plants with great expectations.  My husband, being the more practical, planted his dozen in the greenhouse and they have lots of tomatoes set, some the size of large lemons.  Beautiful.  We will have tomatoes this year, but probably from the greenhouse, not the garden.

The cabbages, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts are doing fine.  They will grow in the winter here in our temperate climate, Western Washington being the largest cabbage seed producer in the U. S. Even my squash plants are trying to bloom, but often when the weather is cool, the flowers fail to be fertile. The leeks are getting tall and thick-waisted which is good.

I have planted the corn three times and still have terrible germination.  Next year my husband says we should switch to another variety as this one is so poor, but I just love the sweetness, flavor and keeping ability of this variety.  We finally started some in the greenhouse and it was only 50% viable.  Not going to be much corn this year. I usually put up 200 ears, cut off the cobs and packaged three ears of cut corn per package for dinners, which is just right for the two of us.

Beets I have planted twice, but now they seem to be coming up.  I learned a secret for our area some years ago.  Before tilling, we always put seaweed, which we collected at the local boat ramp, on the soil in the beet row. Now you have to have a permit to collect it.  It is an endorsement on the state fishing licenses.  I have another remedy.  What the beets need is boron which is in the kelp and seaweed.  I use Borax powder from the laundry section of the grocery.  Just a little tiny bit, not too much or they won’t be happy.  It makes for an abundance of beets.  We like to eat them just boiled with a little lemon juice and butter, pickled with some cinnamon, allspice, mustard seed, or my new favorite, with credits to Rustica Café and Wine Bar in Oak Harbor, roasted beet hummus. If you have just finished a jar of pickled beets, don’t throw out the juice.  Hard boil eggs, peel, and put them in the pickled beet juice for about three days.  Then proceed as you usually do to make deviled eggs.  As an artist, these bright magenta eggs are a visual delight.

Well, I guess I have strayed far enough afield from the weather, but I hope that you have a glorious 4th of July, rain or shine.  Lots of deviled eggs, potato salad, fried or BBQ’s chicken and watermelon and apple pie.  Of course the apples were preserved last year and the eggs are from my chickens, the potatoes are from a neighbor’s garden.  The rest I had to fill in from the grocery. Too bad.

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Dutch bucket tomatoes grown hydroponically in our greenhouse.

Raspberry Season

rasp 1This week has been the peak of the raspberry crop at our farm.  Raspberries coming out our ears, raspberry stains on our clothes, stains on the counters in the kitchen and around our mouths.  The house smells strongly of raspberry jam and syrup, hot and thick and pungent in the air.  Yum! It makes my mouth water just to think about it.

Yesterday we had fresh raspberry syrup on our waffles for breakfast.  Wow, what a flavor burst.  It is truly summer,  if only in taste and aroma.  It is very grey outside, but amazingly the berries are still ripening.  I even saw a black, but not ripe, blackberry when I was walking the dog. Two months early.

Needless to say the birds are getting their share of berries as well.  One landed just on the other side of the row from me when I was picking, and just blinked at me about eight times before flying away.  He seemed to think it was his patch, not mine.  There are still enough berries for us and for some of our friends.

Last week, when they were first coming on, I made fresh raspberry/yogurt popsicles and we ate those for desserts for several meals.  The berries in the popsicles are fresh, not cooked and have a very lively flavor.  The yogurt is from the recipe in a previous issue of my wordpress.  You can read how to make it and combine it with any fruit for popsicles.

We planted these berries about ten years ago.  For a long time there was no fence around them and the deer would eat the leaves.  This made the berries easier to see and pick, but didn’t increase the vigor of the plants.  The coyotes love berries, cherries, plums and more.  Because of these two varmints eating our produce, we have since fenced them.

Raspberries aren’t difficult to grow, but you do have to prune every year.  The plants produce canes which do not produce berries the first year.  This means that you are picking off second year canes while fighting around the new ones.  In the winter, all the fruit bearing canes from the previous summer must be cut out and the newer canes tied up to trellising.  This is a bit of work.  If you don’t stay on top of removing old canes, the patch will diminish over time.

There is a kind of raspberry that is call everbearing, and I have a ten foot row of these.  If you cut these back to the ground in the winter, the new shoots will produce berries in September.  This is an iffy thing in our climate because we do not always have Indian Summers here.  But….if we do, we get a second crop of berries in the fall.  These are larger and firmer than the other varieties.  If the weather turns cold, however, the berries will not be as sweet.  Still we try for it every year.  If you do not cut them back completely in winter then they will produce a large June crop on the old canes and a much smaller crop on the new canes in September.

Raspberries are one of the products of summer and one that makes me feel that summer is really here.  It may not be sunny and this 4th of July, we expect rain, but it is summer when the berries start.  We have had red huckleberries and salmon berries already, but now the raspberry season is in full swing and we are loving it.

 

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