Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday prairie walk....

I'm playing hookie from church, but spent a fine morning reading God's Word on the front porch with my hot coffee on the side. I reckoned it was a good day for a prairie walk in Chuck's. Chuck's is a pasture that is mostly made up of gumbo and alkali (soil types) but overflows with wildflowers in the spring season. My mission was to find the Gumbo Lily for which this blog is named and to explore, walk, and refresh. The dogs came too. They always appreciate a good run and they like to explore and chase antelope along the way.

The yellow flowers are called Golden Pea or Sweet Pea and as you can see, there's plenty of cactus to be found in this desolate pasture.

Here is the alkali I was talking about. The water from melted snow and rain brings up the salty, bitter minerals that crystallize and make the land white like snow.

Doesn't this grass look like it's growing in snow?

After a long walk along the cow trails, we came to water. The reservoir was clean and full of fresh water. I realize this mud does not look "clean" but it is good, fresh drinking to cows and wildlife. The dogs took a swim and I waded. The mud is very sticky so I had to scrape it off my feet before I slipped my Birkies back on. Dirty feet always make me wonder whether or not Jesus used a scrub brush when He washed the disciples' feet. (John 13)

Killdeer tracks along the banks of the reservoir.

The gumbo lily grows in the dry soil of barren clay prairies, buttes, and badlands. It is sometimes called the Gumbo Evening Primrose. It is very low-growing 4-8" tall. There is a taller sister to this primrose called Nuttal Evening Primrose which grows 1-2 feet tall and is a much courser plant with smooth whitish bark. The flower, however, is very similar.

It's taproots grow strong and deep into the soil and they are very difficult to remove and transplant. I've tried and failed many times. The flower is so delicate it reminds me of thin tissue paper or the lightest, finest silk. The flower measures about 3 inches across and has four heart-shaped petals that are white, fading to pink. The gumbo lily blooms mostly in the morning and then closes during the warm afternoon to reopen again in evening. They are pollinated by night-flying insects. I often think of myself as a gumbo lily, living in a remote place on the prairie with taproots that grow deep. It would be hard to yank me out of the plains now that I've been blooming here for 27 springs.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Li'l Helper....

Looked who stayed with her Grandma all day!
The Grandangel and I spent lots of time at the clothesline and on the lawn playing on the star-gazing-blanket in the warm sunshine and the soft breeze. We played fetch and frisbee with the dogs and then we ripped up grass with our hands and threw it into the air like a confetti parade.

Snake in the grasssssss....

I headed out the door one evening with my big camera in hand and my field glasses round my neck, all set to go birding. I hadn't treated myself to any bird watching time except by-the-by, so I decided to start in the back yard on the west side of the house where the wind wasn't blowing as much and the sun was shining warmly. Immediately, way up high, I spied a pair of goldfinches bringing little bits of grass and small twigs to the crotch of our green ash tree. I was so excited and kept on walking and gazing upward and nearly stepped on this sleek fellow. I think I let out a short squeal, but I knew right away that he was nobody to worry about. He was a jolly bull snake whose main job is to eat mice and other small rodents. Bull snakes hardly ever strike, but mind their own business. They say that bull snakes will attack rattlesnakes so if that's true, we appreciate them for that. They are not poisonous so I'm not afraid of them, but I was surprised when I nearly stepped right on top of him. I'm sure he would've coiled up and tried to bite, had I done that, but since he didn't seem one bit bothered by me but was seeking a quiet place in the warm sun like I was, we shared the same plot of lawn for a few minutes. I watched the birds while he basked in the sun.

When he started moving my way, probably to head for his home, I decided to move. I think he would've just glided by me without any worries, but I really didn't want to wonder what he was doing or where he was crawling behind my back. So I got up and moved and took pictures of him. He did get a little bothered by me fiddling around him so he coiled up a little bit just to give me the "don't mess with me" look and I decided I had had enough of bird watching for the evening, picked up my things, and went back home.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More bread...

More bread ideas anyone?

My daughter-in-love loaned me her new book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I've been baking bread for years and years, but I haven't really gotten into the artisan style breads. My family really prefers the plain sandwich loaf type breads -- white or whole grain. They aren't into the hard crusty breads much. I, on the other hand, love ALL breads! Round, baguette, boules, onion, olive, rye, wheat, oat, cheese, or dill. Whack off a generous slice for me! This book is terrific because it not only gives you recipes for the artisan type breads, but also for the traditional loaves, peasant breads, sticky rolls, pretzels, and more. There's a Tuscan White Bean Dip that I'm dying to try too. Hertzberg and Francois have thrown in a few recipes to serve alongside your homemade breads. Things like: Yogurt Soup with Cucumber and Mint, Bruschetta, and Tuscan Bread Salad to name just a few. There are some sandwich recipes to make with your homemade breads: Pan Bagna (Tuna and Veggie Sandwich), Reuben, and Stromboli.

As you can see by my pics, I made one of the basic doughs called Soft American-Style White Bread and turned some of it into Cinnamon Sticky Rolls (I used the filling and topping from this recipe). They were excellent, and I still have two more loaves worth of dough left in my frig to use later. I plan to make Sugar Bread with what's left and take it as a host/hostess gift for tomorrow's Memorial Day Get-Together.

What makes Artisan Bread in Five Minutes so "easy" is that you make a basic dough recipe that takes just five minutes to mix up and toss into the frig to use whenever. It yields 3 or 4 one pound loaves that you bake whenever you need bread. It could be daily or a couple times a week. The longer the dough sits in the frig, the more fermented and tangy the dough becomes. Think sourdough. The add-ins are endless. You can be so creative with one basic dough recipe, yet there are several doughs to try in the book. Below, you'll see just how simple the Five Minute Bread is to make. (turn off music to hear it)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ready, set, bread!

Here's my white bread dough, formed and set into well-greased pans. I'm trying a "new thing" with the bread this time -- double loaves. Kathie at Island Sparrow says she always bakes her loaves with two rounds in a regular bread pan as shown above. I don't know why exactly she does this, but I thought, "Why not?" I love trying something new.

The bread is raised to about double in size so I slashed the tops with a razor blade and spritzed them with water.

Fresh out of the oven, the loaves turned out just like I wanted. Now I can see why a double loaf of bread would be smart. You could leave it whole or break it in half when you don't need a whole loaf of bread. This would help with spoiling, but generally, a loaf of fresh bread doesn't last long at our house. Please pass the butter.

Just for fun, I found these bread kneading and shaping tutorials at The Back Home Bakery which is in Kalispell, Montana. I'm mesmerized by them. And if you love to make homemade bread like I do or if you are just curious about bread-making, you might like another of my favorite bread links, The Fresh Loaf. You'll find recipes, tutorials, and forums all about baking bread.

One more photograph..... I went out walking through the pasture yesterday afternoon and came home with a small bunch of blue bells and the breast feather of a hawk (or something). I love my springtime prairie.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Here's the dirt.....

(I used the Impatient Gardener book to figure out the best companion plantings)

I just can't resist gardening in bare feet. Something about digging my toes into warm, tilled soil makes me happy.

Yesterday was the Day of Preparation. Hubs and I built and set up two more raised bed gardens for veggies. We sawed and hammered and lined the insides with tar paper to try to preserve the wood. I tilled the soil where we were to set the boxes beforehand, and then Hubs dumped one and a half tractor buckets of good, composted sheep manure right in. THIS is good dirt to be sure! It will gradually work its way down to the bottom soil, making it more productive. We spaded it in and watered it down to settle the soil.

Today was Planting Day! The day to plant potatoes, to set in tomatoes and peppers and cabbages.It was the day to plant seeds: lettuce, carrots, radish, beans, peas, cukes, zukes, beets, onions, basil, thyme, and rosemary. Oh, it sounds like a lot, but you must consider that my beds are tightly sown. This is what I'd call Compact Gardening. It's a far cry from the field gardening that I used to do. It's all still a great experiment for me, but so far, I like the results -- especially less hoeing.

Potatoes fill 1-1/2 of the beds in the back of this picture. I've never planted potatoes in raised beds before so it will be interesting to see how many spuds these containers will hold.

I set ice cream pails around the tomato plants in the raised beds to protect them from the wind. Later on I will stake them. I used cages for the Whopper Tomatoes in the front garden. It's a regular garden, not a raised bed garden. I tipped the cages upside down, cut off the ends that are supposed to poke into the ground and made long staples out of them. I "stapled" my cages into the ground and lined them with tar paper to protect the tomatoes from wind and to soak up more of the sun's heat. Now to wait and wait and wait.....for those homegrown tomatoes.

These hands are the result of a day's work in the garden. My favorite soap for cleaning up is Kirk's Castile Soap. I like to dig my nails into the bar, suds up and then scrub with a brush to loosen all that grime from my fingernails and from the creases in my hands. I tend to have very rough hands this time of year from digging in the dirt and watering by hand so to smooth Gardener's Hands, I'm keeping a homemade salt scrub next to the mud room sink.

Salt Scrub

1/2 c. plain table salt or sea salt
1/3 c. oil (almond, olive, or any other vegetable oil)
Essential oil of choice (lavender, peppermint, lemongrass, etc.)

Mix ingredients into a wide mouth mason jar or plastic tub. Dip a little out as you are at the sink washing your hands. Rub and scrub long and hard to remove rough, dry skin. Rinse well and rinse the sink well too. This scrub can be used on rough feet, but can leave the tub or shower slick. Be careful.

Ahhh, I think I'll sit down on that bench and rest awhile and admire the tulips and daffies.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Turning out....

A few days ago we took another ride horseback. This time we turned the yearling steers out from the feedlots to a fresh, spring pasture. They looked so fat and healthy walking out together and this green grass is going to add lots of bloom and shine to them.

On this ride we took the yearling heifers out to their spring pasture. They were continuously stopping to rip off a big bite of fresh, green grass as we trailed them out. They were in no hurry and enjoyed the slow walk and new grazing along the way.

When we got them through the gate, there was cool, clear water on the other side. The heifers walked right in and drank deeply. It is such a blessing to have all this water from the heavy winter snows and spring rains and snows. All of our reservoirs are full, every dip, every little hole and creek bed has water in it. Doesn't this look just like an Old West picture? It always feels good to me to turn out the cattle from their winter feed grounds to green pastures. It's like setting them free to do what cattle do best -- grazing the open range.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hail, snow and rhubarb pie...

Yesterday we were out sweating in the 75* heat and planting a big row of lilac bushes along The Neighbor's house (our son, DIL, and grandangel). Then by evening a big cloud came over, cooled the air WAY down and dropped a half inch of rain and some pea-sized hail. It was fun to watch it bouncing up out of the lawn. S. got an action shot for us.

The days have been quite nice lately and my rhubarb has decided to unfold from it's long winter's nap. It's a ways from picking, but it won't be too long now.

I decided I really needed to move some of my rhubarb to a new location with more sun and less tree roots, so I divided a couple of my plants by splitting them through the crown with a spade, digging deeply to get the roots. I read that you don't want to divide and move rhubarb if it is over 6" tall. Better to wait until fall. Since my plants were just coming up, it was an easy move. (the white stuff is snow)

I grew up on rhubarb. In the North Country it's the always-reliable garden fruit. There are rhubarb plants on old homesteads in the country that are still growing and thriving on neglect. They really do prefer a bucketful or two of composted manure once a year and a good, deep watering, but if that doesn't happen, they remain faithful. These thick, juicy stalks were picked from my folks' rhubarb plants. They live about an hour south of us and their gardens, trees and plants all tend to be a good 2-3 weeks ahead of ours. I picked enough rhubarb to make four pies and at present, we're almost done eating our second. Oh, the taste of spring!

The old family recipe I use is a rhubarb custard pie with a crumb topping. Of all the rhubarb recipes in my stash, this one is our all-time favorite. I'll share it with you.

Rhubarb Custard Pie with Crumb Topping

1unbaked pie crust
4 cups chopped rhubarb

Put rhubarb into crust.

1 1/4 c. sugar
3 T. flour
2 eggs
Pour this custard over rhubarb. Spread evenly.

1/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
1/4 c. margarine or butter

Cut in butter so it resembles small peas. Sprinkle over top of pie spreading it evenly to the edges.
Bake in a 350* oven for 1-1/2 hours. Pie will be dark golden in color and have a dry crumbly top.
Cool and serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream and coffee.

Look what's blooming in my backyard! The tulips are making fat buds while the daffodils are blossoming up a storm.... literally. Today it's been storming or squalling on and off and at one point, we had an all-out-blizzard and just now we're dealing with high winds and occasional snow flurries. Such is May in the North Country....just wait a few minutes, and the weather will change. Do you spy a friendly visitor? The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bench Monday...

I didn't have a bench handy, but I did have my saddle.
This pic was taken before riding horseback last Monday, but I'm just now adding it to the new Flickr Group called Bench Monday today. Check it out for some really fun ways to enjoy your Mondays....standing on benches.....and things.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Dividing Iris...

Normally I divide irises in the fall, but today I spent most of the morning digging out a passel of them from my front flower bed. It was quite overrun with iris and catmint and this spring I am determined to set that bed to rights with some proper attention and a little garden-love. I'm spading the whole thing up and then will mulch the back of it so as to keep our wood foundation from deteriorating. Then I will add some more composted manure, till, and replant the spot with some xeri-plants that will tolerate our harsh winter and summer conditions. Iris do that job beautifully, but I was long overdue in whittling down the over-population of them.

I dug a huge cardboard milk box full of common irises and two 5 gallon buckets of oriental iris. I replanted more of the common irises in the backyard garden along the fenceline and I'm excited about how nice that will look as they grow. I don't expect my little transplants to bloom this spring, but perhaps next. Sometimes iris surprise me and pop out a beautiful blossom despite their uprooting. They are tough, tough plants.

Here are the iris transplants back in the soil in the backyard.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Move 'em out, head 'em up....

I was singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" as we saddled up and anticipated the ride we'd take together. It's one of those songs that's been in our family history for a long time, and it naturally comes to the lips on a morning like this when the sun is shining and the wind will be to our backs as we ride 'em up.

This past Friday we branded the heifers' calves. We let them sit and heal up for a couple of days in a nearby pasture and today they were ready to move 'em out and head 'em up to the Belle Pasture for some fresh spring grazing. The smell of sagebrush and wild onions filled the air as Three Sons and I moved the cow-calf pairs out this morning. See those nice brands on the calvies' sides?

"The Road Less-Traveled"
(S. took this photo)

Move 'em on, head 'em up,
Head 'em up, move 'em out,
Move 'em on, head 'em out Rawhide!
Set 'em out, ride 'em in
Ride 'em in, let 'em out,
Cut 'em out, ride 'em in Rawhide.

By Frankie Laine

Monday, May 04, 2009

New spring arrivals....

Flying above me....

(click photos for larger image)

Floating beside me....

We are plains dwellers so when these great white water birds come swooping in with the spring, it's quite an amazing sight for us. They landed on the stock pond near our house so I did a little bird watching one morning. I wonder if they scooped up some of the salamanders and frogs that we see everywhere? Still no signs of the little warblers yet.

The Pelican Chorus

King and Queen of the Pelicans we;

No other Birds so grand we see!
None but we have feet like fins!
With lovely leathery throats and chins!
  Ploffskin, Pluffskin, Pelican jee!
We think no Birds so happy as we!
Plumpskin, Ploshkin, Pelican jill!
We think so then, and we thought so still!

~Edward Lear
click to read more of this silly poem


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