Springtime in the Foothills of the Colorado Rockies

We’ve been in a rainy weather pattern with grey skies and cool temperatures. My walks in Apple Valley are accompanied by wonderful scents of flowering plum and apple, all the aromas heightened by the moisture. All sorts of birds trill away as I attempt to spot them in the new greenery. My Merlin bird id app heard lazuli buntings, hummingbirds, grosbeaks and tanagers among others today. At first we welcomed the moisture to our parched soil but really – enough already. I’d like to get into my garden and do some planting. And our poor driveway with its rain eroded gullies needs a good grading.

Bud and Rodney at the CU Art Museum exhibition. It’s up until the 15th July. Go see this wonderful show.

Rodney Carswell was here making prints and we had a great time over dinner reminiscing about our days at UNM, our art professors and fellow art students. And of course we talked about aging, food, movies and restaurants. Rodney brought gifts of New Mexico red chile, Shed Red, and El Poso tamales. One Friday during his stay  I made a big salad and shared the tamales with the crew.

Most days we eat salad for lunch as you know from my many posts about them. I try new combinations depending on what’s in the pantry and fridge, what leftovers need to be eaten up. I have a fondness for beets with blue cheese, white beans with a mustardy vinaigrette and toasted pepitas, walnuts or almonds topping everything. Here is a quinoa salad accompanied by beet wedges, Amish blue, and avocado over chopped romaine.

Cook quinoa like pasta. Fill a saucepan half full of water and bring to a boil. Add a cup of quinoa and cook for about 12 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain. Combine the cooked quinoa with this vinaigrette: the juice of a lime, 1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seed, a big pinch of hot red pepper flakes, salt, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons of dried currants.

We had grilled chicken over a salad of radicchio, arugula, and red lettuce with beets, cherry tomatoes and toasted pepitas. I have found that out-of-season tomatoes are greatly improved by marinating them with salt, pepper and some olive oil while assembling the other parts of lunch.

Pork tenderloin is a delicious addition to a salad.

Make a dry rub with ground fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper and let the tenderloin sit in the fridge until time to grill. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil before cooking. On a hot gas grill, (400°- 450°) cook for 5 minutes, turn on edge and cook for 5 minutes. Turn again, cook 5 minutes and then on the last side, for 5 minutes. An instant read thermometer should read 145°. Let rest for ten minutes before slicing. I served this with a cabbage slaw, roasted red pepper, cucumber and asparagus.

On one of the cold, rainy days I made a Bison Bolognese sauce to have with pasta.

In a heavy pot like a La Creuset dutch oven, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté a chopped onion, a chopped carrot and a chopped rib of celery until lightly cooked, not browned. Add a few cloves of garlic, chopped, and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Stir in a pound of ground bison, breaking it up, and cook until the pink is gone. Pour over 1/2 cup white wine and let it evaporate. Add a small tin of chopped tomatoes and a cup of water. Bring to a simmer and cook at low heat, covered, for as long as you have, preferably two hours. Check to be sure the mixture doesn’t dry out. Add water or stock if necessary. Serve tossed with pasta. Top with chopped parsley and parmesan to add at the table.

The grass is tall, the apple tree is blossoming, more rain in the forecast. Ah, Colorado spring.

A huge cloud above the sandstone cliff before the rain.

Redbuds and Wild Sweet William

by Mimi Hedl

Mature redbuds

Our homestead finally decided to embrace wild Sweet William. For 41 years I’ve admired this early spring wildflower richly blooming along creek banks and in those shady areas on the edge of woodlands. In spring when we’d drive ‘Ol Red, our 1962 red International pick-up, to visit friends in Bay, we’d pass by Second Creek where the trees hadn’t leafed out to hide the show the Sweet Williams put on. It was simply breathtaking, all that lilac-purple caressing our eyes after a winter of browns and grays. Ron always drove slowly but when we’d approach Second Creek ‘Ol Red crawled. We both felt spellbound by the soft haze as a spring breeze enticed the flowers to sway. It was a gentle prayer to spring and all her possibilities.

For years I tried to get a start of this flower. They were not easy to dig out of the gravelly soil and I didn’t have enough experience to know just what to do. I simply wanted them and kept trying and failing. In 1989 I discovered Missouri Wildflower Nursery in Brazito, a long drive from Strawdog, especially in the old truck. Every spring I would make the pilgrimage and look and look at all Missouri’s native plants, then buy a few, always a wild Sweet William. I still didn’t have a sense of how to recognize where a plant would grow, perhaps because the homestead hadn’t developed enough to have micro-environments. When I look back at all the failures I realize what persistence it takes to make anything thrive, except of course, that which we don’t want. It’s a fickle world indeed.

Finally, after 15 years, one plant survived under the wild plums we planted along the walkway to the house. And then that Sweet William came back in spring with another seedling, precious jewels to my eyes. As they slowly, slowly increased, I would move one seedling to a new spot. Sometimes I chose well, other times they didn’t make it through the spring season. (I think of Dolly Parton’s song, Wildflowers. There’s a line, part of a refrain, “wildflowers don’t care where they grow”. I want to write Ms. Parton and explain to her that they do care where they grow, they have particular demands, but once you meet those requirements, they luxuriate and thrive. But of course that truth would ruin her song and she’d have to come up with totally different lyrics and since it’s such a pretty song, I let that one go.)

Now that hundreds, maybe thousands, of plants grow with abandon, I remember the process of making a home for these beloved wildflowers. How do you teach an adult in our digital culture, let alone a child, to have faith in time and experience and not expect immediate results? For me, not a patient person, I realize my main gift remains persistence in the face of defeat and feel humble and grateful for that seemingly bland quality. Of course the head gardener guffawed at the philosophizing that I regrettably shared with her, including the Dolly Parton story.

Sweet William and celandine poppies

After I’d pointed out the redbud seedlings we’d left over the past few years, she interrupted me and said, “Not WE, that was just you. I wanted to leave them all. You do all that highfalutin’ talking about where a wildflower will grow and how you’re so persistent and then when a redbud decides to grow somewhere, you don’t let it. You’re just all talk. And then to think you’d go and ruin Dolly Parton’s song!” Oh dear what a land mine I stepped into. Maybe I do talk too much with the head gardener. She doesn’t get my sense of humor. If she knew she had been pulling up thousands of redbud seedlings over the years, she’d be livid. She doesn’t recognize the seedlings when they’ve just sprouted and I say, yes, that one should go, when we’re weeding together. Redbuds would grow in every nook and cranny of this fertile soil, if we let them.

I try to explain to her that one redbud tree will provide enough shade so we can sow specific native plants under the canopy, decrease the grass growing there and thus allow us to stop mowing. My big goal is to reduce the mowing so when I’m not so strong, there won’t be much to mow. Maybe a pipe dream, but… And it’s working. Look at these 4 year old young redbuds grown from seed, blooming for the first time. There are perhaps a dozen trees just like these scattered around the homestead. When a seedling escapes my attention, as SHE would never notice, I scan the territory and decide if it’s a good choice or not. The seedlings are easy to pull up the first year but require great effort the next and so on as they have a magnificent tap root.

Four year old redbuds

So I ask her, “Don’t you love the shade those trees provide on hot summer days, just slipping into the shadow of their leaves, lingering for a few moments, maybe even taking a brief rest?”  “There you go again!”, she says, “always having to say something fancy. Just get on with the work.” I look at her and smile, maybe she has a bit of Ronald Reagan in her I think, then agree, and say yes, let’s move on.

After this conversation with the head gardener, I refrained from opining with her on how the redbud trees add another dimension to the landscape, I guess you could describe them as a flourish, that magical element that brings the surrounding trees and understory alive. I could not have pre-planned this. I did not have the vision or the luxury of time to see all the possibilities of the homestead. My nose was to the grindstone, like most of us in our daily working lives. Now that I can lift my head and stroll around, seeing what seedlings appear where and how they’d fit into the entire landscape, I have a new freedom. It excites me every day. Of course now I run out of energy and have to pace myself, but the vision becomes clearer and gives a thrill to these spring days.

And the early spring days fill with mowing and weeding, sowing seeds, setting out early transplants that can handle a late frost. I’ve admired this anemone, named after William Robinson, an English gardener in the late 19th century who advocated wild gardening, revolutionary in a time of formal gardens in England. A small colony has grown over 25 years and I revere this anemone as a tribute to him.

We now, finally, have some sensible spring weather after the heat wave of over 80 degrees for at least a week causing gardeners to lose their minds and set out tomatoes and peppers, sow bean seed and otherwise lose all control and run wild, working until after dark. Spring does do that to us, makes us madder than hatters running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Oh, too much philosophizing, I’ve been warned and will simply go gently into the spring’s night air letting all the fragrances seduce me as only spring can.

Ethereal spring

Spring adventure

Twilight in Nebraska. Lines of cranes just barely visible in the darkening sky. Photo by Zoë

We took a trip to Nebraska to see the Sandhill Cranes on their migration north. Not knowing what to expect, we were stunned by the number of birds in the cornfields around North Platte, feeding during the day, then massing to roost in the river in the evening.

Thousands of cranes flying in long lines, swerving, flapping, forming v-patterns in the darkening sky. Swooping over the blind where we perched to watch this overwhelming sight accompanied by the cacophony of their calls.

Zoë bundled up on the bus to the bird blind.

Today on  Blue Mountain Road it’s windy, unsettling, howling around the house. I inventory the things on the porch and patio, checking to see if anything has flown. The ground around the house is scoured clean. We watch the acrobatic nuthatches, chickadees and finches at the feeders swinging in the turbulence, holding on for a bite before winging off. The laundry flaps and comes loose and I struggle to capture the sheets before they fly off.

The weather is changeable, deciding whether it’s winter or spring. Typical of our Colorado conditions this time of year. It’s been very cold in the mornings, winter cold, then sunny and in the 50’s.

It’s hard to choose what to cook – a hearty pasta or grilled chicken and asparagus. I’ve made avocado toasts with smoked salmon and a kale salad with sultanas, walnuts and parmesan.

Kale Salad

Cut the kale leaves away from the tough stems and slice into narrow ribbons. Put into a large bowl and add a tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt. Massage – squeezing and rubbing the kale until reduced to half its bulk, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl cover 2 tablespoons of sultanas (golden raisins) in a tablespoon or two of red wine or cider vinegar. Let marinate while you toast 1/2 cup walnuts. Stir 1/2 cup of grated parmesan into kale, add drained sultanas and walnuts. Garnish with julienned jicama, boiled eggs, avocado slices or cherry tomatoes.

For a celebratory dinner with Mimi Shark, due to visit this week, I plan to serve salmon skewers, (recipe here –Busy September) a barley and celery salad (After the holidays) and roasted asparagus.

So onward and upward.  Spring vegetables are beginning to appear in the grocery stores and the farmer’s market opened this weekend. Hurray – and hurry – Spring!

Night falls along the Platte.

Odds and Sods II

By Mimi Hedl

I had to laugh. I sat down to write and immediately needed a title. That’s my way, a title before I begin to write. The title helps guide me, focuses my mind. This February has seemed like a little of this, a little of that, so I said: “Odds and Sods”, then, “didn’t I use that title before?” And sure enough, I looked in my files and found it.  “Well, February doesn’t change names, why should I have to?” And so I haven’t, hence, Odds and Sods II. February makes me feel that way, although with the way the world spins, that may change in the future. Time will tell, as it always does.

The Spider Farmer LED light has done its magic with the seedlings. The onions have had 5 haircuts since mid -January when the seed sprouted. And how satisfying to hold the mice at bay with the wire fortress I spent hours and hours making and remaking until it held together and I could easily take off the top to water, prune and transplant. This light has pulleys so getting in and out of this contraption takes no time. And seeing the seedlings in the morning, when the light comes on at 6 am, gives me a rush of happiness. The lavender seeds sat in the fridge vernalizing for 2 months. When I’d open the fridge I’d look at the flat and imagine seedlings filling it. Within a week after coming out from the cold, the new seedlings made me swoon. Seeds don’t come with guarantees, you never know if they’ll come up or not and you’ll often hear gardeners proclaim, “My (fill in the blank) germinated!!” A joyous moment indeed.

The German winter lettuce in the cold frame germinated last fall but has only recently become lush enough to make into salads. After a winter of eating cabbage salads, the fresh lettuce tastes like a gourmet treat. I put screens over the top at night as the ground hog continues to haunt the homestead and adores, absolutely adores, the fresh lettuce. We have that in common, I tell the head gardener, and she shakes her head at me like I have a screw loose.

Near the cold frames stands the new bamboo drying rack. The bamboo grove had offered comfort only for the birds, not for me. I couldn’t get inside, feel snug and cozy out of the wind and blowing snow like I did as a girl under cedar trees. This demanded changes. On several sunny days, down on my hands and knees, I cut one bamboo cane after another until carved paths emerged and a refuge established.

I bundled 20 canes together and began to erect a bamboo drying rack. Once the leaves all fall off, I can trim the tops out and use the long canes in the garden or make trellises, etc.  The rack is a place to store the cut bamboo. The stalks are so tall, it’s almost impossible to lay them down anywhere, plus, I get the sculpture the bamboo makes on its own. It took 5 iterations before the wind decided not to destroy my work and for a graceful structure to claim the territory. I call this “whirling dervishes” especially when the wind ruffles their gowns.

The legs of our saw horses finally collapsed. I decided to build new ones. Once into the process of cutting 18 degree angles on the top piece, where the legs will rest, I needed to enlist Patrick to do the plunge cuts on the side my saw couldn’t figure out how to cut, and too dangerous for me to attempt. After that rigmarole, I reclaimed the old tops, spending a day taking them apart, pulling nails, etc. and cutting new legs, all out of used wood in the old hay barn, my museum of many flavors. You can see the saw cuts on the old horses, such beauties, such history in each cut.

As I carried in wood for the night, I spied a downy woodpecker lying on the ground. When I came back for another armload of wood, she remained in shock, not moving. I feared perhaps Ninja, Petra and Patrick’s beloved cat, would come prowling by and decide on her for dinner. Ordinarily I don’t touch wild birds or any wild critters except the occasional tortoise on the road. Somehow she called to me and I brought her inside, put her in this basket, set it close to the fire, and hoped she’d revive. There was no movement for ever so long. Still, a basket over the top seemed prudent. Hours later I gently lifted the lid and saw her eyes blinking and just as quickly I closed the lid. I went up to bed hoping I’d find her better in the morning.

At about 3 am, as habit dictates, I came downstairs to feed the fire. It felt hot by wood stove and I worried the downy female might not like Florida, so I pushed the basket away from the stove. As I pushed, the lid tilted ever so little giving the now active female a chance to escape and me to groan at my foolishness. I have spent hours trying to get trapped birds out of the house, but never on a freezing night.

For 30 minutes it was a comedy act. She was obviously healed and not cooperative. She flew up, then over and down, high and low, in and out. With the front door open, the house cooled down in a hurry. Finally I trapped her, I think she was exhausted, and put her back in the basket, lid firmly attached, the house freezing. I would release her when the sun came up and watch her fly away, her ladder -back pattern disappearing into the white oak. Now when I see the female downys, I wonder if it’s her.

This is the 5 March, Year of the Dragon bouquet I sent virtually to my daughter-in-law, Lynda. For years I’ve written to her as Year of the Snake, only to discover I was off by a year. And she never called out my error. The hazelnut catkins and Roman hyacinth turned these ordinary Ice Folly daffodils into a lovely bouquet.

Indeed I’ve had computer problems. I never get headaches except when I have computer or phone problems, then I feel semi-crazy. Petra, Erik and Hilary saved me, with good advice, calmness, relating bigger and more serious problems making mine seem trivial and simply solvable with patience and logic. Grateful beyond words and a new computer to boot. Sometimes the cost of learning how to cooperate with technology seems way too high, but like all of us, I’ve grown used to the convenience and immediate gratification, so I pay the price, though not without complaining.

March came in like a lamb and now shows lion-like ways, chilly, damp, strong winds. The birds hit the suet feeders, I haul in more wood. Soup’s on the menu, red chile-potato with lots of fresh cilantro. Let the March winds blow as the daffodils proclaim spring.

Lentils for lunch

Mimi’s computer got fried so her essay and photos are temporarily lost. In the meantime, I thought I’d write about a delicious lentil dish I’ve been making. The recipe is in Ottolenghi Simple. Some would say that no Ottolenghi recipe is simple but with a little messing with ingredients and technique, they are well within a home cook’s abilities and time. This one in particular comes together with ease.

Roast 1/2 inch wide half-moons of a peeled butternut squash and wedges of a large red onion. Add 10 – 12 sage leaves if available. (I left these out of the final dish.) Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and fresh-ground pepper. Place on a grill pan or baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast at 400° for 20 minutes. Turn the squash pieces over and continue roasting for 10 – 20 minutes longer, until tender and a bit browned.

While the veggies roast, cook the lentils. Fill a medium sized saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 cup of lentils, green, brown or black – don’t use orange lentils for this dish. Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender.

Drain, then place in a large bowl. Stir in 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 garlic clove, minced, a handful of Italian parsley, roughly chopped, one of mint, if available, and one of cilantro. Add a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Top with 2-3 ounces of gorgonzola torn into smallish pieces. This is best warm or at room temperature.

I plan to serve this when Terry Maker and Chris come for lunch this week after she signs the edition of her beautiful new lithograph.

Buon appetito!

Terry signs the B.A.T.

Salad for Lunch

Terry Maker and Bud goof off by her beautiful new lithograph.

After a long break without artists in the Shark’s Ink. studio artist Terry Maker arrived to make a new print. Each day I prepared a special ‘artist’s’ lunch. As is my wont, I mostly served salads accompanied by Moxie bread – brought by Terry from the original bakery near her home in Louisville, Colorado. (We also now have a Moxie Bakery in Lyons, lucky us.)

Here is a selection of some of my concoctions.

I had a bag of Royal Corona beans in my Rancho Gordo stash, perfect for a winter salad. After cooking them until tender I marinated the large beans in a lemony, garlic vinaigrette, added diced red pepper and parsley. For the cauliflower salad go to Busy day dinner for the recipe. I had wonderful anchovy stuffed Spanish olives – a gift from the VanDyks – to add to this favorite dish.

I’ve been making a new kale salad adapted from one in The Smitten Kitchen. Remove the kale leaves from the tough stalks and slice very thin across the leaves. Place in a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two olive oil and squeeze and massage the kale. It will shrink to about half the original quantity. In a small bowl combine a tablespoon of vinegar and one of water. Add a ¼ cup of sultanas (golden raisins) and let macerate while you prepare the other ingredients.

Toast ½ cup of walnuts, watching carefully so they don’t burn, about 3 minutes at 250° in the toaster oven or in a small, heavy skillet on the stovetop. Combine ½ cup panko or other bread crumbs and a clove of finely chopped garlic in a small skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil. Toast until light brown, a couple minutes over medium heat. Grate ½ cup parmesan. Toss together the kale, walnuts, parmesan, and the drained sultanas. Top with the bread crumbs just before serving so they stay crunchy.

We still enjoy the kale salad that is inspired by one we often ordered at long gone Acorn in Denver. Go to First post for the recipe.

One day Terry brought a dense loaf of Moxie Bakery’s rye bread that seemed perfect for avocado toast. To the mashed avocado I added a squeeze of lime, a pinch of salt, and a minced green onion. Then placed slices of cucumber and a shower of pomegranate arils over all.

To end the week I celebrated my birthday with Sheila, Walt, Moira, Zoë and Bud at a Sunday lunch. I made grilled salmon skewers with salsa verde, a big green salad with roasted butternut squash, fennel and pomegranate. Zoë made a cranberry ricotta cake and good fun was had by all. I do love cooking for dear ones.

Birthday flowers

St. Fiacre and Brother Cadfael

by Mimi Hedl

St. Fiacre shrine before the wind storm

I’d gone out to the Park to sow poppy seeds in Cadfael’s garden when much to my surprise I found him sitting on the bench in his garden, head bowed and looking somewhat serious. Usually I stay out of his garden when he’s around. If he wants to visit, he leans over the boundary of either the Culinary or Cottage gardens that touch his. Braced on his shovel, he greets me, smiles, comments on the new growth of the betony or other herb, then turns around with a wink and goes back to his world. We respect each other’s solitude. Both of us need and want the silence when we work, only the birds and insects, the wind and sun accompanying us. But on this day, with a light snow on the ground, I felt concerned and stood at the entrance to his garden clearing my throat to catch his attention. Brother Cadfael is a man of few words. He said, “It’s the shrine to St. Fiacre.” I looked at him with astonishment. He’d never complained about Fiacre’s shrine. I asked him, “Do you object to us honoring him?”

I must interject this. Brother Cadfael lived mostly in England during the 12th century. St. Fiacre was raised in Ireland but left for France to find solitude when his healing skills became too much in demand, building a small hut in the forest surrounded by his garden. That was in the mid-15th century. And you say, hmmm…now we’re in the 21st century. Yes, yes, I realize that. Please do not expect me, humble me, to explain how such things happen. You know they just do. I feel sure you have secret communications with folks from other centuries, you simply keep it quiet so as not to make people look at you with THAT look. I’m beyond that. I accept my eccentricities and feel pleased we don’t live in times when they burned witches at the stake. But we’ll keep that quiet, now won’t we!

Anyway, Brother Cadfael slowly shook his head. “You know how often I visit his shrine, how many bouquets and special herbs I leave there. Have you seen him today?”

Downed shrine

And that’s when I knew something had happened. I did an about-face and hurried out to the shrine in the fence row. As I approached I understood Brother Cadfael’s sadness. I fell to my knees. The strong, even violent winds had taken down the wooden structure Ron built 35 years ago. And St. Fiacre laid, face down, on the snow. Unharmed. I picked him up and with utter joy raced back to Brother Cadfael. As I approached I held up St. Fiacre and shouted, “LOOK!” He lifted his tired head and burst into a “glory be”. He invited me to sit by him. We sat silently together as he marveled at how St. Fiacre had survived the fall, how he never thought to go closer when he saw the shrine laying on the ground, that he thought that was the end of his pilgrimages to his shrine and the communion the two gardeners shared. I assured him I would repair the shrine and we would put it back up, better than ever. He smiled at that.

Then he did the unexpected. He asked a favor of me. “Would you, could you, ah, do you think, would it be possible…could we possibly put the shrine in my garden? I could watch over him then and he’d always have fresh greenery, everyday I’d put something beautiful on his altar.” He caught me off guard. I didn’t know what to say. First of all, the repair will take me a good while. Just getting the nails out of that seasoned oak will challenge me. I’ll need help. Everything weighs so much. And then transporting the shrine a thousand feet… I just didn’t know about any of it. It seemed like too much to think about, but at the same time, he’d never asked anything of me before and is always grateful when I give him seeds or another plant or when I opened up that new garden spot for him. I didn’t want to disappoint him nor did I want to put the shrine in danger of future damage. There are these huge white willow trees, the mimosa tree in the corner and any of those branches could fall on the shrine. I started going in circles. All this time Brother Cadfael remained silent. He allowed me time to think it over.

St. Fiacre on white willow

Finally I told him, “Brother Cadfael, I’d love to put the shrine in your garden. It seems appropriate to have him closer to your monastery garden. I know he would feel at home here. While I’m repairing the shrine, we can hang his statue on the white willow’s trunk. If you’d think about a good, safe spot for the shrine during that time, I’ll trust your judgment, one way or another. Does that sound agreeable to you?” He nodded and smiled. I left St. Fiacre with him while I went back to the house for a hammer and nail to hang the statue.

Lichen and moss on downed shrine

Within a few days of the accident, I had the nails out of the oak boards with the help of a pry bar. The pieces we can still use have moss and lichen growing on them, gorgeous and rustic, just what I admire. The restoring process will be slow as other chores come first, burning the plots, sowing seed that needs stratification. Brother Cadfael doesn’t mind. He has St. Fiacre with him.

We sowed the poppy seed after I’d hung up St. Fiacre and Brother Cadfael’s already thinking of the potions he’ll make from the flowers and seeds. Peace has been restored and Ron, or Thirsty as he liked to be called, would be shaking his head and laughing, saying something like, “How many projects of mine have your hands touched?” And I’d smile, because I never would’ve thought I could’ve rescued any of them.

Burned meadow

End of the year

A flying fish or a zeppelin?

December has been busy with friends, family and food. I expect that many of you have also experienced a flurry of activities around the holidays. I mostly enjoy the commotion but need moments, or days, of quiet and solitude. Our perch on Blue Mountain Road gives us  a lovely, calm view of life with visits from many birds and beasts. We’ve had frigid temperatures, warm, sunny days, and snow, in our changeable Colorado winter.  

I spent some time baking goodies to share with friends and family ─ walnut crescents, cuccidati, nut roll.

We met up with friends at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art holiday party. Everyone dressed up, eager to celebrate together.

Girlfriends ─ Ana Maria, Sherry, me, Jane.

Sherry, Jamie and Sherry’s mom, Suzy, came for Christmas Eve dinner. That afternoon, Zoë, Bud and I made sweetcorn tamales to accompany the salmon Bud would smoke. We had a lovely time with these dear ones.

Zoë in the kitchen.

My sister Susan and husband Charles hosted the Colorado family for Christmas dinner (and Thanksgiving).  The center of attention was, of course, Corey and Liz’s daughter, little Lilikoi, eleven months old and just beginning to walk. A delight to watch her explore the world.

So, here we are about to begin a new year. I know we’ll have new challenges and opportunities. I wish you the best of luck in navigating it all. Many thanks to all you loyal readers.

HAPPY 2023!

All the Possibilities

by Mimi Hedl

Thanksgiving bouquet

We brought wine bottles from Colorado forty years ago, half of them filled with home brew. Now that I don’t make beer and wine but once every 4 or 5 years when I can’t resist the abundance of elder flowers, all those bottles simply take up space down in the root cellar. Plus the back room of the hand-dug cellar needs refurbishing. The railroad ties Ron used to line the walls have deteriorated and allowed mice and other earth dwellers to tunnel in. We’re going to rebuild the interior with fresh lumber, making it somewhat smaller, and it’ll pose problems for the tunnelers trying to gain entrance. All those bottles would get in our way and we’d have to move and then move them again. I asked Elizabeth if they could use any. She said maybe a dozen but she could take a photo, post it on Facebook, and ask for bids. And she did just that. I don’t do Facebook so this was a new experience.

Door to the root cellar

A few weeks later, she had two offers. Sarah bid the highest so she had first dibs. She’s starting a business for stress relief. One of the rooms will be a rage room where kids will break glass. In another room, they’ll splatter paint all over themselves and onto a canvas, and another room will host gender reveal parties. She’ll use the vintage bottles, filling them with blue or pink powder, maybe both, she exclaimed, for the new parents wanting to celebrate their baby’s arrival.  All this was new to me. I hadn’t heard of any of it and for a moment I felt possessive of the bottles: “Those bottles have wine and beer in their souls. They shouldn’t be used for anything else!” And then that patient voice spoke to me, “Let go of your preconceptions. Move on. Embrace change.”  When I watched how Sarah handled each bottle, looking with satisfaction, holding them up to the sun and how she expressed her gratitude for the bottles, I relaxed, smiled and let go. Ahhh… 

After helping load 70 wine bottles into every nook and cranny of Sarah’s SUV, I came in to find a message from Elizabeth saying she and Cody had been out in the woods and harvested 7 pounds of oyster mushrooms. They had already dried as many as they’d need for winter and did I want the rest? This is just one more act of kindness two of my new gardening friends have bestowed on me.

Oyster mushrooms

Petra and Patrick, Elizabeth and Cody represent the first gardeners in forty years who have a similar passion to what Ron and I had. How odd to meet like-minded people after so many barren years. It makes me believe in the possibilities of anything.  OK, here’s another example. Ron and I used fluorescent shop lights to start our seedlings. When the old bulbs burned out, with an awareness of energy-saving LED lights, I recycled the frames and bulbs and moved on to LED shop lights. I assumed, I didn’t research, that these lights would give the same output of energy. My seedlings last spring did not measure up. I knew I had to make a change. I asked Elizabeth for suggestions. She said they use an LED grow light from Spider Farmer and produce healthy seedlings. One fixture would cover a 3’ x 3’ space. When the box arrived, I expected a 3’ x 3’ box and almost panicked when it arrived in a tiny box. This fixture measures 11” x 12” and feels heavy and substantial. It’ll cover more than enough space for my seedlings. Once again, that kind voice reminded me, “the world has moved on, you can too”. I’m excited to watch this year’s seedlings thrive and thrilled to have advice from someone’s experience. (Elizabeth and Cody inherited the LED shop lights. They needed new ones and were pleased to get them. Yes!!)

All three of us homesteading couples have a unique piece of land with its own glories and challenges. For example, the road to Elizabeth and Cody’s is so steep my ‘96 Honda scraped bottom the first time I went down. Now Elizabeth picks me up at the top of the hill, a taxi service, after I park in front of the gate. Their land has a remarkable diversity of plants and animals, a huge lake, 18’ deep at the deepest. They get flocks of wild geese and all kinds of water birds. They’re making paths through their beautiful woods and have many wildflowers, vines, trees and oodles of mushrooms of all kinds. Their permaculture gardens inspire  me. Elizabeth scatters seed to the wind, letting everything grow in a mishmash, successfully. She uses strawberries as a ground cover and has thousands of runners.

Petra and Patrick’s place sits on top of a steep hill with brilliant views of the sky. The stars dazzle with no interference from trees or buildings. A spring-fed pond keeps the ponies happy. Because most of their land, like ours, was pasture, they get to landscape it and grow whatever trees and shrubs they like. Petra has plans for an oak savanna and edible natives everywhere. Patrick is looking into wind and solar power and moves about on their tractor like a pro. They set up a clothesline early on and I smile in solidarity when I see their clothes blowing in the breezes. They insisted on a riding mower with a bag. Patrick spreads all the clippings on the trees and shrubs Petra has planted. In one short year they’ve increased the biodiversity a hundred fold. What a pleasure to know these couples.

The head gardener and I have our own autumn tasks. Stashing the bamboo and spreading mulch chief among them. We put up a large, tall wire basket to store the branched bamboo. I like to stick these pieces in the gardens to give the birds places to hide and perch but the freezing and thawing of the soil pushes them out and then I can’t get them back in because the earth’s frozen. So this year the head gardener thought ahead and made some hideouts before the freezing cycle began. We staked down this big basket so the wind can’t topple all the wonderful pieces that vines love to twine around. And birds have discovered a refuge from the cold winds.

Look at how neatly the head gardener uses the obvious storage holes for the unbranched bamboo. When she threads the pieces into these openings it feels like we have a bamboo lumber yard. Sometimes I’ll amble over to the storage bins and poke in some bamboo pieces. She frowns at me. “One at a time,” she’ll shout! Oh yes, she loves order and if one piece is poking out, she’ll take out the whole lot and redo it so it’s neat and tidy. I have to confess, it does make it much easier to get them in, in the autumn and out, in spring. Come spring these horizontal canes provide a sheltered space for a vining plant to begin to grow, protected and shaded once the summer sun comes.

The birds mercilessly hit the windows. I’d put up a line of feathers on a string, but as my daughter pointed out, I needed larger feathers than the little ones I used. And then bamboo spoke to me. I split a cane, drill a hole near the node, put a strong string through the hole, hang them, and watch them move with the wind, telling the birds not to come near.

Jeremy, Johnny, John, Patrick and 3 year old Easton all filled the woodshed with beautiful oak. I stood out visiting with them as they stacked, told stories and teased each other, and of course me. There’s something special about being out in the cold, doing a job together, watching the woodshed fill up.

Our Lady has her autumn garb. And a new head. With no more bushel basket gourds, I felt puzzled. Then I looked at some frames for unfinished baskets I inherited when Walt, my friend and fellow basketmaker had passed. He did unexpected things that made you laugh or smile, I can give him this. I know he’d be tickled to see one of his frames become the head for Our Lady. And she loves the way the wind blows through her mind, clearing the cobwebs and freeing her to dream.

The Print Fair

We’ve had a busy couple weeks. In late October we flew to New York City to participate in The Print Fair which opened on the 27th. Cynthia and Bob again graciously lent us their wonderful loft in Chelsea for the week. We ate simply at familiar restaurants close to our temporary home like Cafeteria and Westville. I’m still walking with a cane so we took cabs and limited our walks. I told folks I was doing art fair PT.

Bud, Roseanne and I were happy to talk with artists, clients, and colleagues not seen since the last Fair in 2019.

Enrique Chagoya was honored and had an on stage conversation with Kara Maria and Bud. All in all a successful trip.

Photo by Arian Colachis

I think the NYC PT worked. I feel better and more flexible each day. Wonderful Bronwyn Muldoon at Lyons PT has discharged me and I continue to take walks in Apple Valley and at Pella Crossing.

On our return to Lyons, Zoë convinced me that I should get an I-phone, something I’ve put off, feeling content with my flip phone. With her help I’ve figured out the basics and the kitchen photos in this post were made with my new phone.

Sister-in-law Jan came for a visit and we viewed the Sharkive exhibit at the CU Art Museum, played Scrabble, cooked and ate with Zoë, viewed Picasso prints at the art museum in Fort Collins, and had lots of good conversation.

Snow fell all yesterday and through the night. It’s cold. What to bake? I chose gingersnaps to sweeten the grey and warm the kitchen. This recipe is from Marion Cunningham’s Baking Book. I use blackstrap molasses for its deep, slightly bitter taste.


I make these in my Cuisinart. Use a mixer or a bowl and spoon.

Cream together 6 ounces butter (1½ sticks) and 1 cup of sugar.

Add 1 large egg and 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses.

Stir in 2 cups unbleached flour, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Roll tablespoons of dough into balls then turn in turbinado sugar. Place 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake at 350° for 12-14 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Makes about 32 cookies.

The sun came out this morning but it’s still cold. Cold and beautiful.