Friday, January 30, 2015

Seed Sorting

Marigolds, with their bushes of feathery foliage, volunteered a place in our garden last summer. More than prolific and dotted with hundreds of orange, pungent blossoms, the plants occupied more territory than some of the seeds that I intentionally selected and planted.

Apparently the marigolds, whatever variety they are, like the lake house garden because the volunteers germinated in droves. So we transplanted and moved and pushed them around on the south end of the garden.

Late in the fall, Ed noticed that the seed heads had matured and harvested a bucket full of flower heads, all populated with the long, tubular seeds typical of marigolds. He laid the flowers out on the garage floor and let them dry.

In January we broke the pods with the seeds, sort of a head, sort of a pod, off the rest of the plants and tossed the dried stems. The seed heads were dumped into a box and I've been sorting out the stems and chaff and leafy structures so that only the seeds remain.

So now we have handfuls of marigold seed to plant this coming summer. Certainly the gardens at the lake and at the farm this summer will have rows of bright orange marigolds guarding the vegetables and waving their festive flowers in the summer sun.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Mark Making

A lot of the visual art world likes to talk about mark making. Mark making, the code words for just getting something down on paper, or cutting into fabric, or using your hands in clay, can be an intimidating thing.

Over the holidays I moved away from doing much visual art. I did a lot of cooking and baking and reading. I knit and I played keyboard. I visited with my family and watched football and concerts and dramas. I spent time with photography and Photoshop and did some writing. And I worked on a new website for my knitting company.

What I did not do was any mark making in the sense of picking up a pen or a pencil or some paint and just getting something on paper. By mid January, I needed a breakthrough to restart my drawing juices.

That breakthrough came late this month as I have been photographing birds at the feeders. None of the photo are stellar, but they do provide a source for sketching. This chickadee is the first of several sketches that might become watercolors. I'm just glad to see the work coming on the lines and shapes of these birds.

The next day I tried a winter tree in watercolor. I started with Alwyn Cranshaw's little book "You Can Paint" and copied the drawing and used the suggested colors.

I had been noticing tree "bones," the outlines of trunks and branches against the winter landscape as I drive across Huron County, but I had not put any of those observations down on paper. This one tree got me started. I didn't get out the right brush and I hurried the work, but I made some marks.

Finally, two days later, I grabbed a Technalo pencil (it is water soluble so it can be moistened with a brush and turned into graphite wash) and started drawing a pattern that has been scrambling around my brain. Now that I see the pattern on paper, I might take this further by making it larger and adding color.

All of this mark making feels good. The tools still work in my hands. My brain circuits are firing with color and line. I'm back to some mark making and that's good.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Great Caramel Corn Caper

I get a hankering for sweets in the weeks after the holidays. That's what happened last weekend when the kitchen was upended with a great caramel corn caper. The whole thing got started earlier in the week when I tried to pop some of the Glass Gem corn that Ed grew in the farm gardens this past summer.

Glass Gem, described as used for popcorn,  is one of the seeds that we bought at Native Seeds/SEARCH in Tucson. The corn kernels are dried and releasing from the cob, but when placed in hot oil, they turned toasty, but would not pop. Disappointed and still thinking that some caramel corn would taste really good, I turned to commercially grown popcorn and bought a bag of Jack Rabbit yellow popcorn at a nearby grocery.

We have a caramel corn recipe from a cookbook that's been in our kitchen for years that we like to use. It does not use a candy thermometer and the corn is finished by baking it in the oven. Perfect!

I pop the corn in a five quart IKEA pan (it is also my go-to soup pot) using olive oil, about 3-4 tablespoons in the pan, over medium high heat. I measure out a third cup of popcorn and, when the oil is hot, put two or three kernels in the pan. As soon as those kernels pop, the rest get added to the pan.

Now it is shake and slide time. I keep the pot moving so that the kernels will not sit in contact with the bottom of the pan and burn. It only takes a few minutes until the sound of the popping stops. That's when all of the kernels are popped and it is time to pour them into another bowl.

I cool the pan down a bit by taking it off the burner. Waiting a few minutes between batches means that the corn is less likely to burn in the pan.  The corn is divided into two baking pans (I use high sided foil pans, the two pans that I also use to bake granola).

Once there is enough popcorn (the recipe calls for 15 cups, but we were buttering, salting and eating!) it is caramel time. I make the caramel in the same pot which is already oiled and ready for the sugary caramel to cook.

After baking soda is added to the hot mixture, you have to work quickly to mix the caramel, now really sticky, into the corn. There will be chunks that form -- we like them! Baked for an hour in the oven this caramel corn really fit the bill for sweets for a January winter weekend. Most of one pan disappeared quickly and the rest was stored in a cookie tin for nibbles during the week.

The great caramel corn caper turned out just fine. Next I will have to try some of the different brands and varieties of popcorn that are available.  And maybe add some peanuts.

Ah, the joy of good food!

Friday, January 9, 2015

January Patterns

I find it difficult, in the first days of January, to wipe away the holiday lights and trimmings. Out on the split rail fence at the end of the driveway, we wound a string of clear lights that twine around the rails and provide bright punctuation to the dark nights in the depth of winter.

Photographing those light through a screened window turned each light into a four pointed star. Wondrous stars, they wandered into my camera and out into this pattern of dancing stars.

On Monday, January 5, the day of the full moon, the moon set in the morning (as full moons do) of a day that dawned very cold and windy. The kitchen thermometer said it was three degrees above zero outside and the wind was sweeping across White Rock Shoal. Floes that had formed the day before broke with the wind and became icy chunks that formed patterns as the waves pushed and pulled at the shoreline.

Here at Cedar Bluff we have been dragging our feet about taking down the Fraser fir upon which we hung a multitude of red balls and beads and vintage ornaments for Christmas. The beads and the balls and the tiny figures are all tucked away for next December, but morning and night, the lights burn brightly on the big fir.

I happened to spot a freighter, the Mesabi Miner, one the thousand footers that ply the Great Lakes, as it passed by at sunrise on Friday, January 9th. The morning was cold. Twelve above zero and there was a cloud line way out on the eastern horizon of Lake Huron.

My camera caught the reflected lights on the fir tree and the lights on the great ship and the soft tones of a winter sun rising across the great lake. Majestic moments like these form the patterns of January along the Lake Huron shore in Michigan.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Stepping Back

Willow Blog is about to take another big step. I'm thinking about my digital life as a very crowded room with lots of screens. Mobiles. Laptops. Desktops. Tablets. Facebook accounts and Twitter accounts. Well, anyway, I'm ready to step to the back of the room and lean against the wall for a while.

So, as of January 1, 2015, Willow Blog will be published once a week, probably toward the end of the week. I am finding that I could use some extra time and I know that I can gain it by four less deadlines per week.

"Deadlines!" you say. "But, gee, you are only writing a blog!"

And that is true. It is just a blog. But even a blog with short paragraphs requires careful writing and editing. And, as those of you who follow the blog know, there is always the photography. Each photo takes a minimum amount of time. All of that is time that I am planning to use in another way.

Some of those "other ways" will become more apparent as the year moves ahead, but for now, dear readers, know that I am writing and photographing and sketching and gardening and knitting and, yes, reading, as those minutes become a gift that I am giving to myself in the new year.

As always, thank you, thank you for reading. Your enjoyment and comments have been a huge boost to me.

Happy New Year, from under the Willow that shades us all.