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North & South on CraftLit

If you've read this blog for any time, you know that podcasts are a key part of my walking experience.  One of my favorites is CraftLit.  It has all the benefits of those literature classes I loved in high school and college, without any of the homework!  I'm really excited that Craftlit is about to start a new book, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  This is not the US North & South (as I found out when I ordered the miniseries through Netflix a couple years back).  This is England and the conflict between the new age of manufacturing and the agrarian society of the past.  Oh, and there's a love story too. 

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How does this tie into walking?  If you're trying to encourage yourself to walk longer or farther, listening to something engaging and longer (roughly an hour) is a great way to keep walking without realizing how long you've been at it.  You can learn the science behind why it works in an episode RadioLab did on Limits.  That's another great show to take along for longer walks.


Exploring New York continued

If you combine the three times I've visited NYC, my time spent there comes to less than a week.  What I know of NYC comes from books, movies and TV. 

In Central Park I tried to find the entrance shown in Mo Willem's book Knuffle Bunny Too, but I think I was on the totally wrong side.  If you aren't familar with the series, each page shows photos of real New York city places, with the characters hand drawn images added on top.  I heard somewhere that a laundromat which plays a central role in the first book is now a common tourist destination. 

I did run into the Central Park carousel that appears in When Blue Met Egg by Lindsay Ward.  The illustrations in this book are made all the more interesting by the fact that Ward appears to have used scrap paper to make her buildings.   You have to see it. 

IMG_5400The carousel was closed for the season when I visited.  

 
IMG_5402As I walked, I listened to The Age of Innocence (Craftlit), set in 19th centure NY.  I smiled thinking of how the characters complain of the park being so remote, and Archer fears one day the island will be connected to the mainland by a tunnel.

From the park I headed south, taking any road that looked interesting or had a familiar name: 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue...  I soon found myself in front of Lincoln Center, watching street venders set up their wares.  Of course Lincoln Center is famous in and of itself, but as a fan of Project Runway, it was exciting to see where their final runway occurs. 

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I passed a diner with a sign in the window that said The Apprentice, no a Food Channel show had been there.  It didn't mean anything to me, so I kept walking.  But I was drawn to all the tiny diners where New Yorkers crowded, bunched shoulder to shoulder to eat their breakfast.   I imagined locals having their spot, whether it's near their home or on the way to work.   How else could so many of these places stay in business?

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I wanted to try every bagel I saw, it was after all NY, but ended up with just one perfect bagel, with a smear of Nutella, purchased from a fellow who teased that Nutella was gross and I really ought to be getting lox. I would have, if I wouldn't have been out $12 if I didn't like it.  That's a lot for a sandwich that might end up in the trash.  My server then had a friendly laugh over my confusion about what 3rd was, a street an avenue?  I still don't know.  I just knew I needed to head in that direction.  I was trying to find Mood, the fabric store featured on Project Runway. 

I never did find it.  I got turned around and didn't realize until I was on the opposite side of the island, but I did stumble upon some other well known spots.

IMG_5506Dylan's Candy where Runway contestants had to find supplies to make wearable outfits.

IMG_5424I used to watch the Late Show religiously.

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Remember when Annie goes to see the Rocketts with Daddy Warbucks?

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I think this might have been a casting call. 

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Do you see the knitter? Red bag, in the center.  She'd wearing gloves!  I was tempted to go over, ask what she was working on and compliment her on being so hard core.  Instead I kept walking.

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Times Square looks much more interesting on TV. 

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I turned a corner and wondered why there were so many policemen and street crews until I noticed the Macy's sign.  They were in full parade prep mode.  The sidewalk was full of tourists taking photos and videos in front of the famous Macy's holiday windows.   Much of the window displays' magic was created with large TV screens.  Compared to the windows I'd seen in movies, a few computer animations were a disapointment.  It was just too easy to create.  The clock across the square, now that was impressive. 

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I headed south and saw something vaguely familiar.  I couldn't place it, so I kept walking toward it.

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I had no idea the new World Trade Center had been built.  I'd seen plans for it on the news some time back, but last I'd heard there was fighting about the design.  My first visit to NY was after 9/11 so I dont have any personal memories of that old skyline, but this was a surprise all the same. 

By now the temperature had managed to drop, rather than rise with the sun.  It was a cool 20 degrees with a biting wind, and the word "frostbite" kept popping to mind.  I considered taking the train back to the hotel, but there was one more spot I wanted to see with my own eyes.  I was so close, it would be a waste to turn back now. 

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I'd always seen her with a soaring skyline as the backdrop.  A working dock full of cranes and equipment was not especially poetic.  It was a bit like seeing the Mona Lisa in person.  The professional photographs I'd seen all my life showed her at her best.  There was no way for reality to compete.

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The must-see spots often as not can't live up to their hype.  It's the unexpected encounters and sights that make travel an exploration and not a to do list.

 

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I can't help suggesting a couple great New York based books for adults

And some YA (Young Adult) classics


Exploring New York

I've finally figured out how to travel.  I don't mean travel for work; I have no idea how those folks manage not to lose their minds with all that planning and packing (the two worst parts of travel).  No, I've finally figured out what to do once I've arrived at the place I've been daydreaming about. 

I can't be the only one who gets to point X and says "Now what?"  Some of you may, quite reasonably be saying, well if you planned ahead, you'd know what what to do; I disagree.  Planning is for figuring out the best times to go to must-see spots so you stand in the smallest line possible.  Planning is for figuring out what tickets and transportation it will take to get you to said must-see spots.  Planning does not help you feel like you know a place, that you've really seen it and experienced it.

In my twenties when my friends and I travelled, we planned out our must-sees and then figured we'd wing the rest.  That winging usually became shopping.  Not because we loved to shop, but because we wanted to get out, to explore and we needed a destination.  This was not particularly satisfying.  In my early thirties we tried the go-somewhere-and-relax vacation.  We'd see some sights and then have time for leisurely naps, reading on park benches or beach chairs.  This too was not particularly satisfying.  Not that I'm against naps and reading, but I can't see any reason to travel to do either.  It seems a waste to go so far and do what I could most comfortably do in my own home. 

Recently I tried something different.  My partner Z and I took a little weekend trip to NYC the weekend before Thanksgiving.  No reason.  Just to see some sights, visit friends and break with routine.  Z adores sleeping in.  A vacation is not a vacation for him if it involved alarm clocks.  I on the other hand feel a little gross, like I've eaten a whole chocolate cake on my own, if I sleep past 8.  So I decided while he slept, I would walk.  No, "walk" is too prosaic a word.  I would explore.  

Saturday morning: Chai in hand, I headed for Central Park.  We were staying in the upper east side, a place I only knew from TV shows, so I figured the park would make an easy landmark to start from.  I considered trying to look like I  belonged, not gawking at buildings and not taking a million photos, but soon decided with my mismatched knit wear and down coat, no one was going to mistake me for a local.  This was driven home to me when I saw a local.  He wore an  impeccably tailored suit, gleaming black shoes, perfectly gelled curls, and a bright red leather man-bag.  Oh and he was flossing his teeth while waving down a cab!  My first thought was, yeah, I don't look like I'm from around here.  My second thought was, wouldn't he rather spend a couple less minutes on his hair than be caught flossing in public?  Guess not.

I wish I'd got a picture of him, or the woman I saw wearing fun from head to toe while walking a dog the same color as her fur (yikes), but I'm just not that brazen with my camera.  I couldn't do it without being obvious, and that felt rude.  Here's what I did get pictures of.

IMG_5376Love those doors

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 This old firehouse was now someone's home.  Are those water towers still functional?

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I'm a sucker for lion statues

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The city was getting ready for the holiday

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It was freezing, 25 degrees, yet he was washing away the previous day's grime

As I approached the park the stands were still shuttered and locked up.  The homeless could be seen packing up their meager belongings.  There were no horse drawn carriages waiting for tourists, but there was a group of friends walking their dogs.  As soon as they stepped inside the gate they let them free.  Is that legal?  Weren't they afraid the dogs would run into traffic?  Nope.  The dogs jumped and sniffed and raced ahead to a clearing where more unleashed dogs were having a great time.

  IMG_5386For a moment I thought this was the entrance featured in

Mo Willem's Knuffle Bunny Too, but sadly I wasn't.  I never did find that one.  

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The friendliness of city birds and squirrels was not a surprise,


IMG_5388but seeing a heron was.

IMG_5483This walk was not a workout.  I stopped to read the bench inscriptions.


IMG_5406I may or may not have squealed when I saw Sting's name,

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but this one is the best by far.


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As I walked through the park, I felt surprisingly at home.  I've only been to Central Park once or twice in my life, and I knew I hadn't been to this section.  I looked at this bridge and had my answer. 

IMG_3312It looks quite a bit like this one

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and this one - in Boston.

Both Central Park and the Emerald Necklace chain of parks in Boston  were designed by Frederik Law Olmsted, who believed strongly in the importance of urban people having access to the serenity of nature.   

“We want a ground to which people may easily go when the day’s work is done, and where they may stroll for an hour, seeing, hearing, and feeling nothing of the bustle and jar of the streets where they shall, in effect, find the city put far away from them…”
(Frederick Law Olmsted, 1870)

Even though the city is never far from you, it is easy to feel apart from it in Olmsted's creation.

To be continued... 


Saying Good-bye

This is a post I've been meaning to write for nearly a month, because it was about that long ago that I took a deep breath and said good-bye.  I think each family has its rituals for marking the passing of the seasons.  In some families these may be well documented and anticipated events (the Soule family of the SouleMama blog do this beautifully).  In others they happen with no fanfare, aside from the occasional grumble while hanging plastic over the windows or removing fall's jetsam from the gutter. 

In my household, I know that spring has truly taken hold when my partner comes in from work and after the customary hellos announces "It's first day of no-socks!" with a smile on his face and a wiggle of his Birkenstocked feet.  At that point my sandals are usually already due for a wash, from being worn in New England's fifth season -  mud.  But Z's adoption of sandals is a sign that the warm weather is really and truly here to stay.  The woolens get washed and hung to dry  (like a reverse version of Christmas) and outdoor living moves into full swing.

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As summer gives way to fall, I see Z return to his beloved black socks without a backward glance.  I wait as long as I can to do the same (not just because I despise matching clean socks together, though that's part of it).  Finally the day comes when only a fool would subject their bare toes to such temperatures and into the sink my workhorse Tevas go.  Soaking in hot soapy water, they give up the dust from my garden, beach sand long trapped in the velcro, stains from popsicles that melted too quickly, as well as the scent of bug spray, chlorine and I'm sure plenty of sweat.  Now they're tucked away like woodchucks and chipmunks, waiting for the return of warm sun and green grass. 

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P.S. If you enjoy picture books (or have kids in your life who do) I recommend the book A Flock of Shoes by Sarah Tsiang. It's sweet and really funny. 


Foraging Makes It Taste Better

Smitten KitchenOrangetteDinner: A Love StoryRemedial EatingThe Wednesday Chef. Eating from the Ground Up. These are food blogs that I read as much for the back stories, as I do for recipe ideas.   So when I sat down to write about a salad and how a walk made it so much better, I automatically tried to write in a collective version of my favorite food bloggers' styles.  I remember doing this rather well in college French when given the assignment to write in the style of Emile Zola, but then I was only immitating one author.  And more importantly, today I prefer to sound like myself.

So I set that version aside and asked myself, what do I want to say about this salad?Scissors food project 072611
A couple weeks ago, my partner Z and I invited friends over to break in a new game that he'd received for his birthday.  Our friends took care of drinks and dessert, Z picked up an assortment of sushi and I made the Corn + Avocado + Cilantro salad from Real Simple magazine. 

Sort of. 

Through the "magic" of modern food shipment, you could make this salad any time of year, but right now, in the heat of the summer is when it truly should be made. Local and in-season make a difference in the flavor, especially when a recipe only has six ingredients, and two are givens (salt and olive oil).  

You start with the corn.  Grab a cloth sac and get ye to your local farm or farmer's market for summer's gold.  I'm lucky enough to live within walking distance of a farm stand where tomorrow's corn harvest can be seen over the shoulder of the cashier as you pay today.  With its wrapper of green and jaunty tassles, corn is the only food that nature wraps like a present.

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On the way back from the farm, stop at a grocery store and pick up avocados and limes, unless of course you live somewhere that grows these foods.  One nice thing about avocados, is even though they do not grow in the northeast, and therefore have to be shipped long distances for our enjoyment (a "sometimes" food rather than an every day staple), there is no loss in flavor.  Avocados do not ripen until removed from the tree, so unlike many other fruits and vegetables which are picked early to benefit the shipping process, but arrive with just a shadow of their potential flavor, avocados taste great several thousand miles later.

The final ingredient in the salad, as published, is cilantro.  I neither like nor dislike cilantro, which means it's not growing in my herb garden, and I don't want to pay for a bundle and end up with a pile of leftovers.  I was walking back from Wilson Farm when I bent down to nibble on some lamb's quarters growing by the side of the trail.  The first bite is nearly tasteless, but then there's a wave of green, much like the taste of a cucumber with the peel left on.  I decided to replace the cilantro in the recipe with wild lamb's quarters

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The walk home became a scavenger hunt.  Whenever I saw a sprig I plucked it and added it to my sac of corn, feeling quite triumphant.  Though lamb's quarters grow abundantly along the edges of farm fields, they are harder to find in wooded areas (like the one I was walking through).  What does grow there, in abundance, is wood sorrel.  This slightly vinegary herb is often mistaken for clover, but wood sorrel's leaves are tiny hearts, in that yellow sort of green associated with spring.  I tried a bit of lamb's quarters with a sprig of wood sorrel and smiled.  This tasted world's better than cilantro.  In no time I had enough greens to complete the salad.

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 When I got home I gave the greens a careful wash and whirl through my salad spinner.  I'd been careful to gather plants several feet away from the path, since it's a popular dog walking spot, but you never know. I ripped off the leaves and set the stems aside to add to my garbage pail vinegar (but that's a story for another post).

Corn + Avocado Salad

  • Shuck 4 ears of corn.  Either boil them briefly or cook them on the grill, turning them frequently.
  • Once the corn is cooked and cooled, place an ear in a bowl and carefully cut off the kernels.   Repeat with remaining ears of corn.
  • Chop one avocado and add to the corn.
  • Add lamb's quarters and wood sorrel leaves.
  • Pour in lime juice to taste (a tablespoon or two).
  • Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil.  
  • Add a pinch of coarse salt.
  • Mix gently and serve

  Corn avocado salad 072113

 If you'd like to learn more about cooking with wild foods, I recommend Didi Emmons book Wild Flavor's: One Chefs Transformative Year Cooking from Eva's Farm.  She has a whole section on lamb's quarters (also known as goosefoot).  Russ Cohen's Wild Plants I Have Known...and Eaten is a great introduction to foraging in New England.

 


Have Snacks, Will Walk

I've printed my donation page, charged up the iPod, checked the weather, and now all that I have left to do before tomorrow's Walk for Hunger is pack a couple snacks.  There will be plenty of food available along tomorrow's route, both at tents set up for the event and in shops we'll pass along the way, but I'm trying to be smarter about what I eat, so bringing something from home is the way to go.

Last summer, in the middle of a discussion about fences (we were on a walk at the time) Z, my partner, asked if I'd like a dehydrator.   I gave him a confused smile and said I had no idea what I would do with one.  "OK.  They sell dried pears at my work, and it seemed like something you'd like to make" he replied.  I was intrigued, but still resistant to adding another gadget to our kitchen.  Not long afterward I read Didi Emmons' book Wild Flavors, saw what she does with a dehydrator and knew I wanted one.

I've done a lot of experimenting with my dehydrator, but my current favorite things to make are dried pears (yes, Z knows me well) and fruit leather.  To me, biting into a piece of fruit is a gamble.  Will it be mealy, rubbery, squoosh like a worm or or make my eyes water?  It's hard to know until it's actually on my tongue, exactly where I don't want something on its way to rotten to be.  So, I tend to buy fruit, think about eating it, then feed it to my compost bin.  I don't feel good about it, but it's what I do.  The dehydrator solves this because it lets me take fruit that is over ripe (which I won't eat) and turn it into something sweet, healthy and consistently firm.  My idea of the perfect fruit.

 

Died Pears

  • Wash the pears.  I usually do 6-8 at a time to fill my dehydrator.  The number will vary depending on your dehydrator's size.
  • Chop into slices roughly 1/4" thick.  Some people peel them first since the skin will turn slightly brown, but then you lose fiber and probably some vitamins as well, so I leave the peel on.
  • (Optional) Toss slices in a bowl with lemon or lime juice.  This keeps the pears from turning brown, but I often skip it since it adds a slight citrus flavor to the finished product.
  • Place in the dehydrator  with room around each slice for the air to move. 
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  • "Cook" until dry to the touch with just a little bit of give.  I like to put them in before going to bed.  They're usually just right when I get up in the morning.
  • If you leave them in too long, don't worry.  Just call them fruit chips and enjoy the crunch.

 Fruit Leather

There appears to be no end to the possible variations of fruit leather.  And unlike my childhood memories of failed sun-dried fruit leather, using the dehydrator the process is nearly fail proof. 

  • In a medium size pot pour 1/4 cup water or juice.  Heat on medium.
  • Add fruit (see below)
  • Stir occasionally.  Cook roughly 15 minutes or until fruit is soft.
  • Puree the fruit.  This is easier with an immersion blender, but a regular blender will do the trick.
  • Spray Pam (or similar product) on fruit leather tray - these came with my dehydrator
  • Pour the puree onto the trays.  Spread to make an even layer roughly 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick
  • "Cook" until dry to the touch.  I find it takes about 6 hours.
  • Rip or cut into pieces and store in an air tight container.  On the rare occasion it isn't gobbled up in a day, I've had it stay good for several weeks.

Flavor combos:

  • Mixed frozen berries
  • Grapes (1 bunch) and apples (3)
  • Pears (6) with a dash of cinnamon and cardamom
  • I'm experimenting with fruit/vegetable mixes.  I'll let you know if I find one I like

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For my final snack tomorrow, I'm bringing something I've never tried before.  Amanda Blake-Soule, author of several books and the SouleMama blog is making this the year of popcorn.  Each month she posts a different topping recipe.  Creating a new popcorn topping is actually on my To Do list for life (I'm serious), so I've read Amanda's posts with a big smile on my face.  I finally found the nutritional yeast necessary for her Cheesy Herb Popcorn recipe, so I'll cook that up tomorrow morning, just before the walk.  I have a feeling the results will be messy, so the great outdoors seems like the perfect place to give it a try.  

Here are links to other walk friendly foods I've posted in the past: 


David Brown Walk through Estabrook Woods - Part 2

Saturday morning of the walk with naturalist/tracker David Brown, was cold and clear, just as a morning in February ought to be.  Parking at the appointed (for our walk) entrance to Estabrook Woods is nonexistant, so we parked along the side of the road, and made our way from there.  This area is quintessential New England, with stone walls, orchards and barns that belong on postcards.  

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Barn 020213
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This was my first time to Estabrook, but anywhere that can manage to be beautiful in February deserves another visit.  As we left the pastural landscape, and the trees stretched out overhead we heard a strange vibrating noise above us.  One by one we began to look around for the source.  There it was, a tiny woodpecker at the utmost reaches of a tree.  It's pecking made the whole branch sway, distorting the usually familiar sound.  As we made our way over the hilly terrain, our guide, David Brown would stop, take a closer look at something he'd spotted on the ground and wait for us all to circle him.  Often we looked blankly at the same spot of ground that had caught his attention, not seeing a thing worthy of notice until he started to explain. 

I'd like to share with you the photos I took of those finds and what we learned about them.  I did my best to keep accurate notes, but if there are any errors, they are mine and not Brown's.

 

Fisher scat_squirrel Estabrook 020213
Fisher scat

 


Until hearing Brown's talk (see part 1), I'd assumed that people were crazy when they claimed fishers were responsible for the disapearance of cats and small dogs in the Boston suburbs.  I always picture these tree climbing predators as inhabiting upper Maine or maybe the White Mountains.  It turns out that I was only partly right.  The disappearance of small pets is more likely related to the increase in urban coyotes, but fishers live here among us too.  They prefer to stay away from us and our dogs, so they tend to come out around sunrise and sunset. 

On our walk we spotted two examples of fisher scat, both on logs.  Brown explained that this is a common fisher behavior.  There are several plausible explanations for the prominent location, including marking territory.  The scat is full of gray squirrel remains.  When fishers moved into this area they discovered a totally niave food source, squirrels.  These ubiquitous creatures were used to escaping predators by climbing up trees, but the fishers could climb too.  Sometimes's fishers will stash an uneaten portion of a squirrel in a squirrel nest, until it's ready to come back to finish it.  How's that for irony?

If you're in the area and would like to see a fisher, Drumlin Farm in Lincoln MA recently took in an injured one that could no longer fend for itself.  It's housed on Bird Hill. 

Intersting side note, the word "acorn" comes from an Old Norse word that means "Squirrel".  Where acorns are ample, squirrels will be too.

Deer scat 020213
This pile of feces was found along a deer trail.  Many of New England's roads were originally based on deer paths.  It would have been wasteful not to, considering the deer had already found the easiest way through the forest. 

A few things you may (or may not) have ever wanted to know about deer feces. 

  • It is common for deer to relieve themselves while walking, in which case the pellets are more scattered than they are here.
  • Rabbit and deer scat look quite similar.  You can tell this is deer, because each pellet has a bit of a point (like an acorn) and a cooresponding indent on the other side.  The reason for the indent becomes clear if you picture these pointy pellets lined up inside the deer's colon.  Of course, you may prefer not to picture that at all.

This walk was taken in early February, before the big blizzard, so scat was much easier to find than animal tracks.  It was funny to be out with a group of adults and talking so avidly about defication.  The only other time I think I've ever talked and thought so much about poo is while potty training a toddler!

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This is a hole made by a piliated woodpecker.  The caverns inside were made by carpenter ants, the woodpecker's prey.  Here's a closer view.

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The cavern structure is quite intricate.  Over time this hole may be dug out a bit more to become home to any number of woodland creatures. 

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Continuing on the topic of bugs, I've seen these little balls all my life and have never known (until now) where they came from.  There's a type of wasp that inserts its egg under the bark of the oak.  The oak is irritated by this and creates a pustule (the ball).  When the egg has grown into a worm, it eats its way out (thus the hole at one end).  Here's what the ball looks like on the inside.

Inside pustule 020213


Black locust estabrook 020213
While we're on the subject of trees, this black locust (right center) located not far from a stonewall caught Brown's attention.  He explained that this sort of locust is not native to the area.  It would have been brought here by a farmer who wanted to take advantage of its nitrogen fixing ability.  The farmer wouldn't have gone through all that bother for a hay field, so this land, now covered in trees, must once have been valuable farm land. 

Our final stop was along the shores of Mink Pond.  There's a lot to be said about this area, so I'll save that for a third post. 

 


Thankful Emerson

Moon by Jerry  Crockett
As the days grow short and my dinner is lit by light bulbs rather than the golden glow of the late day sun, it's easy to become annoyed and irritable.  I find this is especially true when I am caught in the middle between my desire to use the evening hours for enjoyment, and a primal need to sleep brought on by the darkness.  Add days of cold rain and the descent into winter can feel pretty bleak.   

Then last night, while sorting the mail into Recycling and Read piles, I opened an unmarked envelope (which turned out to be a plea for money) and found this quote:

"We are thankful for each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food, for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends. "

The quote was from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lived just one town over from where I do.  I'm sure the shift of seasons was felt all the more strongly in his day when there was no full-spectrum light therapy other what you could find out of doors.  Emerson was no Pollyanna.  His life was visited again and again by the death of those close to him, and yet he kept looking for the good.  Looking to live a life full of thanks.

And so I add my own prayer of thanks, for the beauty found in unlikely of places - even junk mail.

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I mean to visit Emerson's house soon, and learn more about him that way, but if anyone can suggest a book about him that's enjoyable (rather than academic), please leave a comment or e-mail me.  Thank you

 

 


Walking Groups

I haven't been walking enough lately.  What's "enough"?  For me, it's however much it takes for me to feel at home in my skin.  When I've been walking regularly I feel like my skeleton, joints, muscles, even my breath are working as one to help me move through the world.  When I haven't... I feel a bit like Pinocchio, limbs all wooden and akimbo. 

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There's no doubt that I enjoy walking, but I'm sure I'm not alone in needing the occasional nudge to help get me out the door. I hear there are a number of aps that use your social network to guilt you into doing what's best for you (read Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney  to learn more), but I'm resisting the smart phone phenomenon, so I've signed up for several walk related events.  I've done the bird song walk, I just recently posted about, and an Introduction to Foraging walk that you'll be reading about soon.  I've also gone back to using MeetUp.com to find fellow walkers and walk-related events.  It's just what I needed.  I have walks lined up for both Saturday and Sunday of this week.  I can't wait to explore  with new, and hopefully, some familiar faces too.  

If you're in the Boston area, here are a few events you might want to check out.

  • Circle the City - a chance to explore Boston area parks joined by temporary car-free zones.
  • Battle Road Trail Walks - Walk historic Battle Road with a park ranger explaining the history
  • Lantern Festival Based on the Japanese Bon Festival
  • Walden Pond Tours - Understand Walden in a new way through a guided tour
  • Museum of Fine Arts - You'd expect them to offer tours of their galleries (which they do), but on certain days they also offer neighborhood tours.  Scroll to the bottom of the page for details.

 


An Uncommon Harvest

Each day when I get home from work, I hang up my keys, set down my bag and head straight to my porch to see what (if anything) has grown since the day before.  I get down low and scan the tops of my many containers for any sign of green poking through the dark soil and compost mix.  This is my first time gardening in any sort of preplanned, even remotely educated way and I'm both giddy and anxious to see some sign that I did it "right".  Is there enough sun?  Did I plant the seeds too deep?  Should I have paid more attention to what the package said about soil type?

I was recently doing the same thing with a friend's six-year old son.  We were walking around their garden to see what new plants had appeared after several days of rain.  I told him about my after work routine and he laughed "You're Toad!"

"What?" Kids are well known for saying just what they think, but I couldn't imagine where this declaration had come from.

"You know from Frog and Toad."  He looked at me expectantly.

"I don't remember."  It had been a long time since I'd read the series.

"Toad was in his garden yelling 'Grow' at his plants.  Frog came over and said 'What are you doing?  We planted them yesterday'". 

Now it was my turn to laugh.  I am most certainly Toad. 

Peas 041712

Thankfully, there is a harvest ready to be enjoyed today.  This isn't one of those plants that people day dream about as they flip through seed catalogs on cold, wintry days.  No, these plants are the embodiment of persistence, resilience and a sunny disposition.  I think their very prevalence makes them all the more fun to discover as a food source.

Behold, my backyard bounty -

Uncommon harvest april 2012
A bowl of violets and dandelion greens  from my lawn; and a little thyme from my container garden.  I've long been a fan of dandelions, but eating them?  When I was a kid, my older brother convinced me that the "milk" in their stems was poisonous.  This so-called knowledge made creating dandelion chain necklaces feel incredibly daring.  Since then I've learned he was just messing with me, but hearing dandelion greens compared to arugula in bitterness scared me off all over again.  However, dandelions as food are everywhere this season. 

On Earth Eats they're cooking them up and debating whether or not they can actually be called a weed since they're useful.  On Firecracker Farm they're gathering the blooms by the basketful and making fritters.  In Taproot magazine they're using them to make dandelion vinegar, salads and medicines.  It felt wasteful to ignore this bounty blooming all around me.

I'm not used to searching my yard for dinner, much less getting down low to find the youngest, mildest dandelion greens.  As I picked them part of me didn't really believe I was going to eat them.  But once they were washed and placed in my salad spinner, they looked like any other green.  I hadn't planned to eat anything else from my lawn, but when I saw the purple violets I remembered all the beautiful cakes I've seen Alicia at Posie Gets Cozy decorate with them.  And I'm sure I've seen Amanda at SouleMama cook with them too - maybe a garnish on her famous basil popcorn?  Checking first for bugs, I tentatively bit into one.  There was a slight crunch and sweetness, like sucking a clover flower. 

I decided to add these home grown ingredients to my go-to after work dinner - a microwavable package of frozen rice and whatever veggies, nuts and beans I have on hand.  I finished it off with a littel drizzle of balsamic vinegar and voila, the taste of spring!

Dinner spring 2012