big plans

So, we bought a van.  We've got big plans to take 6 weeks and drive across the country next summer and we were looking at renting a van or the smallest of RVs.  We were pretty shocked at how much it would cost to do so, and so weighed it all out and decided if the right thing came along, we'd buy it.  Papa's car will need to be replaced soon and surprisingly, the van gets about the same gas mileage as his little hatchback, so......... here we are.  The proud owners of a vehicle that looks kind of like a minivan, a cargo van and a wagon all got together and made a shiny silver baby.

We've got plans to remove 3 of the 4 rear seats and build a platform that will hold an air mattress some evenings, with room for storage below.  We are having all sorts of fun planning everything from our route to what gadgets to buy to how best to make an awning/mosquito netting, and everything in between.  Mike and I did a 6 week cross country tour the summer of 1999 (we were practically babies!) and I know we'll hit up several of the same places, but we also want to see plenty of other things, too.  We know we want to spend a fair amount of time in the four corners states, California, the pacific northwest (including BC), and in the general proximity of Yellowstone.  Also Badlands.  Maybe Great Lakes area (we've done Isle Royale and it was incredible)....... ah! we are going to run through those 6 weeks fast!  I'd love (LOVE) any and all recommendations that you might have for places not to be missed.  We are primarily looking to see National and State Parks (the little one will be a rising 4th grader next summer so we are looking to take advantage of the "Every Kid in a Park" program, which gives 4th graders and their families free access to federal lands), but we would love to know about great little towns and such along the way as well.  So- what are your favorite places in this beautiful country of ours?


'round here

These summer days typically start off with a cup of something warm (usually enjoyed in the garden).  Generally, it is accompanied by fruit.  Often, melon or berries.  Cherries, too, since it's their time to shine.  I find myself buying a bag of cherries every couple days and easily justifying all the dollars spent on the glorious little stone fruits based on the fact that they are not available fresh for very long, so I (we, but......if I'm honest I have to admit that I definitely squirrel away the majority of the tasty orbs) have been devouring them quite steadily. yum, yum, yum.

Also, kombucha.  So. much. kombucha.  I brew it for most of the year, but come late fall the temperature in my house just isn't quite adequate for a good fizzy batch and so somewhere along the line, I inevitably let it slide and then scout out a new SCOBY and start again in the spring.  I was the happy recipient of a healthy, happy, newborn baby SCOBY from a friend earlier in the spring and started with a gallon and have been doing all sorts of fun secondary ferments (the favorite this year so far has been blackberry lime and, for me personally, the tulsi-rose-cardamom).  Just before we left for our recent trip I started a four gallon batch and we kegged it upon returning, so now we've got kombucha on tap.  Heck yes.  I feel like we took it up to a whole new level right there.  There is a nice fizzy brew at the ready without having to juggle the refrigeration of so many swingtop bottles.  (the keg refrigeration we have covered because, um...... well.... we have a kegerator on the front porch.  we are so classy.)

Berries.  Berries, berries, berries, berries.  The raspberries started early and had a nice long several week run.  At first, as always, we started by simply eating bowls full of them.  Then we moved onto just handfuls and tossing them into smoothies (and salads, and kombucha batches, and oatmeal...) and then, eventually, I mashed up the rest and froze them on a hot day for later jam-making because I just couldn't imagine all that steaming and boiling at the moment.

There has been a color shift though, and we've since moved on to the blackberries and blueberries.

The makings of a fine lavender-peach jam.  I use Ashley's delicious peach-lavender butter recipe as a starting off point and always set aside some without lavender because the other people that live in my house seem to think lavender in food is akin to eating lotion (silly people), and I use honey to sweeten both batches, 'lavendered' and 'un-lavendered'.

The first time I've kept an orchid alive long enough to see it flower again.  I feel so accomplished, but really, the success belongs to the orchid.  She's so pretty.

Chanterelles!  yum, yum, yum.  A friend posted photos after foraging and I was having mushroom envy and thus was inspired to go out hunting myself and lo and behold, I found a basketful with not a lot of looking.  In this batch though I did collect four False Chanterelles (I tasked Mike with checking for lookalikes while I was in the shower- glad he did, as false chanterelles, though not deadly poisonous, are known to cause a good deal of digestive unhappiness).  The rest we sautéed in butter and put over rice pasta with some crispy kale.  Simple and delicious.  Buttered noodles become adult food when you add wild mushrooms and greens.

Pictured below is a second batch of chanterelles, from the same spot, and some recent backyard garden goodies.

A bit of canning~  Dilly beans and beets, and the aforementioned lavender-peach (and just plain peach) jam.  More pickling and jamming to come soon.  The beans and beets and peaches and berries are calling my name and I just haven't felt like dealing with them lately....... but alas, I know my six-months-from-now self will be so glad that I made pickles and jam, so... soon.  Really.

The other day I got in a bed of fall greens, along with some late plantings of bush beans and squash.  Still plan to add a small planting of root crops and green onions.  Mostly now though the garden calls me for weeding, harvesting.  The planting and seeding has definitely slowed.

Pink and purple blooms, dusky purple gloaming.

Some glimpses of these fleeting summer days~


in and around the garden :: mid summer splendor

(a full basket of herbs to dry for tea~  recently my six-months-from-now self gently nudged my right-now-self's shoulder and whispered a reminder that I rather like herbal tea, especially in Winter, and I ought to get picking and cutting and drying.  so I did.  tulsi and mint and anise hyssop and elder flower and catnip and feverfew and chamomile and caldendula and eucalyptus and lemon verbena and lavender and raspberry leave and california poppy- all in this harvest basket above.  whew!)

coming home from a week+ away in late July means lots of garden catch-up.  it is no exaggeration to say that the first thing I did (after petting my dear Ollie cat) was to take a walk through the garden and weed a little here, pick a little there.  even before stepping a foot inside.  and oh, the flowers!  flowers, flowers flowers.  so much golden and pink and purple what with all the rudbeckia and sunflowers and cosmos and coneflower and larkspur and zinnias.  it's like full on summer glory out there when it comes to flowers right now.

the basil is amazing and surely some pesto-making is in my near future.  I generally grow genovese and thai basil, and I have been cutting thai basil to top my dinner just about every night, so loving its bright and complex flavor.  I've also been cutting and drying lemon balm and mint and tulsi by the armloads to have plenty for my favorite tea blends this winter.

this mid summer garden of mine is a place of beans and squash, peppers and greens.  we've harvested the onions and the garlic~ always one of my favorite things.  we grow our entire year's supply of garlic and enough onions so that we don't have to purchase them for at least a couple months or so.  they take up a good amount of space for a good amount of time, but I am never ever sorry to have planted so much and if anything, usually wish I planted more.

we've got a couple tomato plants out there but mostly I just pick tomatoes when I'm at work at the farm.  they take up a lot of space and we seem to have some sort of fungal wilt in our soil that always, always gets them, so.......  it's kind of sad to watch them grow up all hearty and happy and then one day be totally wilted.  now I plant a few each year and pretend to ignore them and not really care (all the while totally caring) and we get by like that, the tomatoes and I.  and speaking of garden hardships, when we came home from our recent trip I had to pull out several (most!) of our winter and summer squash plants due to damage from squash vine borers.  ah!  what beasts!  these plants that looked SO happy and vibrant and that were covered in baby squashes were just all sad and wilted.  squash vine borers are kind of new to us, and I've decided that they pretty much suck.  if any of you have tried and true tips on dealing with them, please send them my way.  I've always thought of the squashes as being pretty tough until they eventually succumb to powdery mildew late in the season, but this is no joke.

the rhubarb that was transplanted almost two years ago from my grandpa's land in the Adirondacks has now really found its footing and seems really happy.  so sweet to have a little piece of my grandparents with me in this way.

the raspberries gave out weeks ago and we are on to blackberries and blueberries and grapes.  and the grapes are so, so good!  having them almost takes the sting away for the fact that the squirrels ate all but one or two (out of over a hundred!) of our apples on our young trees.  and the photo up there with the pear?  that is our pear harvest.  as in, that ONE pear.  a late (well, totally appropriately timed actually, when not accounting for whacky climate change) frost got just about all of the flowers on the pear tree, but later on it put out just a few flowers and this wee pear is the one that made it through all of that.  it will be our first pear from the backyard.  it is weighing down a wee little branch and there is something altogether kind of ridiculously cute about it all.

the garden is my happy place, no doubt.  I look forward to spending some time out there every morning and throughout the day.  when I participated in Amanda Soule's 'Garden Tour' guest posts over on SouleMama last summer, I very much enjoyed answering her very thoughtfully put together questions for the interview portion of it.  one of her questions was "what is/are your favorite thing(s) to grow?"  it seems so obvious a question to think about and plan according to, but I realized that year after year I would of course plant these things, but then also plant 'just a bit' of so many other things, too.  well, after thinking about it and answering that and other questions, I decided I was done growing the things I don't really, really love and/or enjoy growing myself, for one reason or another.  so now I am growing loads of greens and herbs and flowers and alliums and I also grow a fair amount of snap peas in the spring and beans and squash (well, I try anyway) in the summer.  a smattering of nightshades and root crops.  I've left behind the broccoli and cabbage and brussels sprouts, the carrots  and turnips, (they just never seem sweet when we grow them no matter what season or variety!) and larger tomato and pepper plantings (relying on the farm for those instead), and it feels good, this dedication to my favorites.  I feel like at first glance it almost looks like it is all tulsi and flowers and kale out there now.  it isn't really, but........ well, they feature heavily.

if you have a garden, I'm curious- what are your favorite things to grow?