Monday, September 27, 2010


 "Do not allow the empowerment of women and girls to be 'ghettoized' strictly as a women's issue, " said a  participant in the Clinton Global Initiative.  Will the Shepherdstown Town Council pay her any mind? Doubtful. There are women in the council, but the question is, do they represent the women in the community?  How can they when only a tiny minority votes at local elections. Ask the non voters why they stay away from the polls and they often say that they are disgusted with the town's farcical administration. They are tired of lies. They are tired of folks who care only for their personal agendas.
Can this be changed? I doubt it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Fairy ring.

Male and female Diana fritillaries.

Diana fritillary larva.
 August is the time for fritillaries and fairy rings. Both are present in our wild garden. Diana fritillaries, so have the distinction of being dimorphic. That is, it occurs in two different form. The female's wings are a velvety black marked  with a  shimmering blue dice-like  pattern (fritillus means dice box in Latin) and the male's are  a gorgeous black and tawny wings  Their  larvae  feed on violet leaves. Adults feed on the nectar of milkweed. I have seem them noshing on crepe myrtle, clover, and echinacea. They live for four to five months and those of us who lucky enough to live in Appalachian bottom lands can expect to see them at their meal time, mid-afternoon.
Fairy rings are not as beautiful as butterflies. All the same, their earth bound beauty is remarkable when observed at close quarters. Our garden erupts with fungi of greater visual impact, such as the dreaded  Dead Man's finger. It also harbors inkycaps, the bane of drinkers of alcohol. We allowed our most recent fairy ring to deacy, not knowing that its 'shrooms, much as inkycaps, are edible.We will not make that mistake again.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Bad publicity  once made  tomatoes and cucumbers distasteful to fearful Europeans. The former was said to be poisonous and the latter "fit for consumption by cows only." Samuel  Johnson once said that "A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing.Nevertheless,  today's gardeners love these slandered vegetables. In my case, they are the only ones I have been able to coax from my container garden. The cucumbers must have come from a ten-cent package I got at a discount store. They are frighteningly prickly and far from handsome. Once peeled, however, they are perfectly acceptable. The prickliness identifies them as pickling cucumbers--slicing cucumbers are smooth and uniformly green.
So far my harvest has been so modest, pickling is out of the question. besides, I prefer cornichons, the best of which, in my opinion, come from Poland. My paltry supply of fresh cucumbers will do for salads and all I need to do is choose between various recipes. Rose Martha Rose Shulman's  Persian salad recipe  calls for the addition of radishes, tomatoes and a dressing made from lime juice, olive oil and garlic. A mix of cottage cheese and Greek yogurt is all that is required for her Creamy Cucumber salad.
Soup is my alternative to salads although my attempt to duplicate a Brazilian recipe made with maxixe, (Cucumis sativa) was not a great success. Northeast Brazilians cook maxixes in milk to which they add butter and queijo de coalho, a cheese I replaced with mozzarella. next I will try Fannie Farmer's Chilled Cucumber Soup and Emeril  Lagasse's  more elaborate version with green peppers, jalapenos, dil,l coriander and mint. An addition of shrimp should make Fannie Farmer's soup  a good meal for Meatless Monday. Then, there is always green gazpacho. Let the cows try to fight me for it.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Clockwise --sheep's milk cheese, cornichons, olives, taramasalata, octopus, anchovies with roasted peppers. Japanese rice crackers at center.
Anchovies wrapped in roasted red peppers.
Jimmy's watermelon.
The self-important do not nosh. They find the vapors of their self-inflated egos nourishing enough. Luckily, I have only met  such people in books and films. Those who share my table are considerably easier to please. For example, they do not object if, in the dog days of summer, the dinner menu is made up of appetizers. Hungarian Korozott, a mix of sheep milk cheese, Liptauer, paprika and caraway seeds is one of those dishes for which there are probably several recipe, but  I learnt how to make it from a friend who never owned a cookbook. She had a talent for guessing the correct proportions for any dish she prepared and after some trial and error I  realized that given enough practice,  I can also turn out a decent  Korozott. Pita, taro chips, rice crackers are good vehicles for this creamy mix, but my friend always served it with Carr water crackers.

Hummus is another no-recipe component of summer feast. All one needs to make it is garbanzos, garlic, lemon juice and  tahini. Mash the lot together, et voila, something far superior to the pallid thing that passes for hummus at the supermarket. Tinned octopus served marinated with slivers of preserved lemons and paper-thin slices of red onions, a small tin of wasabi almonds, olives, rice crackers, bagel,  and taro chips, cubes of herbed feta, salad greens, a baguette  and cornichons make this meal of feast.
Here at the village there is an abundance of cherries, plums and peaches, but the last time when I had appetizers for dinner, recently,  a fresh watermelon donated by our friend Sally's husband, Jimmy rounded up  the meal splendidly.
  I am in the throes of designing a webzine and I am trying to  catch up with  book reviews for my book blog.  These days, the less time I spend in the kitchen, the better.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


Peaches up close.

At the peach orchard.

Chickens at the A-wee farm.

Cornfield on Flowing Springs Road.

This is how a groundhog eats a cantaloupe.

Our creek.
All photos by Ilana MCBjorlie.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


                                                           Photograph by Jordan Matter

The ancients blamed the constellation Canis Major and its most brilliant star, Sirius, also known as the dog star, for the hottest summer weather.  Whether Sirius is the cause of global warming is something only that polymath Sarah can explain. All I know is that it is hot as blazes in the lusty little village. Corn wilts, perennials droop, shrubs give up the ghost. It rains, occasionally, in quantities just large enough to keep gardeners and farmers hoping for a miracle and hope, as the Bhutanese supposedly say, is painful. Much easier it is to face reality.  Help is not on the way. Plan accordingly.
I have been thinking of the tyranny of hope. A friend whose  business that has been dying  for at least a year, gambled on an improving economy, rented more space and  expanded stock,  to no avail. It was a brave thing to do and I admire this friend's sang-froid. Nevertheless, in this case,  misplaced hope put so much in jeopardy I wonder if it would not have been better to chuck the project a year ago. Naturally, the question of whether a failing project is worth further effort is something for which each individual has a different answer. For my friend, it must have been as essential to go on as it was for Icarus to fly towards the sun. Regardless of the result, the experience must have been valuable. In the end, perhaps this is all that counts.

Friday, July 30, 2010


Dana Aldis is an artist is a painter based in Seattle. Some of her work is available at Etsy. She can be contacted through Facebook.



These are some paintings by D. Prizzi, an artist based in  New York. Please visit her site. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


The first tomatoes of the season make dream of a bustling kitchen where a capable cook prepares huge batches of tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and  ketchup for canning.  I think the image in my mind's eye comes from an old Judy Garland and Margaret Sullivan movie, Meet me in Saint Louis.  Plump and  gravel voiced  Marjorie Main played the  cook, Katie,  who labored over a vat of ketchup in a Victorian kitchen complete with Willoware. Watching her, one could almost almost could easily imagine that savory scent  of allspice, cinnamon, cloves wafted through house, calling up memories of  picnics and  barbeques. 
There are no faithful  retainers in my house, more is the pity. Canning is a labor intensive chore usually performed in the dog days of summer. It requires fortitude and dedication along with the certainty that there is a serious demand for the  product of one's labor.
The reality is that it makes no economic sense to make ketchup for my small family. A few years ago a friend brought me such  a large quantity of mangoes I felt compelled to make mango chutney. It was good chutney, as chutneys go. I gave away several jars, my family ate a few and there reamained such a vast number of jars  we slapped our FLAGRANTLY DELICIOUS label  on them and tried to sell them at a town fair. I found out that ours is not chutney country--the salsa vendors did not fare that ell either. I think that ketchup would go a bit faster and no doubt the home canned variety would be superior to stuff available at the store.   It makes more sense to think of my tomatoes as ingredients for salad, sandwiches and pasta primavera. Still, I like to think that someday I will have a reason to dust off my pressure cooker and fill dozens of canning jars with FLAGRANTLY DELICIOUS ketchup.

Monday, July 26, 2010


chocolate cake

An explanation for  those of you who have been craving the chocolate banana cake from Jane Green's novel PROMISES TO KEEP and who wanted a recipe. It was my feeling that readers should buy, beg or borrow the novel in which it was published. On second thought, maybe  the author's recipe and my variation on it will encourage those who visit this blog to discover--or rediscover--Green's work.


1 cup plain baker's chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 cup plus two tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 bananas, mashed

Preheat to 350 F
Melt chocolate in bain-marie
Cream  butter and sugar. Add eggs gradually while beating. Stir together flour, baking powder and cocoa and fold into the mixture. add melted chocolate and mashed bananas.Bake for 45 minutes.



Preheat to 350 F

 1 cup plain baker's chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup plus two tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon double vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon Saigon cinnamon
1/8 cup confectioner's sugar
2 cups hulled strawberries or raspberries

Melt chocolate. Cream  butter and sugar. Add eggs gradually while beating.
Stir  together flour, baking powder and cocoa and fold into the mixture. add melted chocolate and mashed bananas.
Bake for 30 minutes.
Dust with confectioner's sugar.
Decorate  with berries. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Host an ice cream social.

Ice your bathtub.

You can keep your hat on.

Have an ice cold vodka and caviar feast.

Look at Russian paintings such as this one by Repin.

Watch  The Nutcracker ballet. Concentrate on the snowflakes.These are from the Moscow ballet.

Read Doctor Zhivago.

See Doctor Zhivago.

Get yourself a vintage fan. Remember that fans were not always  frivolous objects. Japanese samurai learning  the art of Tessenjutsu  used war fans made of iron. Follow the middle course. Get a Spanish lace fan and slay only  with your eyes. 

Buy a fancy parasol. 

Look at Ivan Kramskoi's cool lady with a parasol 
                                                      Look at Repin's portrait of his daughter.
 Make several pitchers of   lemonade. Flavor each with mint, ginger,  rosemary and lavender. Invite friends over for a degustation.

               In the cool of the night, have a moon viewing like the people in Gakutei Harunobu's paintings.
                                           Don't forget the manju, moon viewing cakes.

                                           Remember last winter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


                                             David phlox blooms in the intense July heat.
Fixings for Bellinis.

" With my whole body I taste these peaches, I touch them and smell them. Who speaks? I absorb them as the Angevine Absorbs Anjou. I see them as a lover sees, As a young lover sees the first buds of spring And as the black Spaniard plays his guitar. '" Wallace Stevens

While  Spain  dithered, Syria banned the Burka.  France gears up for a tremendous s debate on the constitutionality of its anti-burka law. Strange world. Katherine Mansfield thought so too. Lately, I have been rereading her LETTERS with intent. That led me  to research on a  writer I  have yet to read, the Provencal  poet and naturalist Jean Henry Fabre.   I found his poems online with translations from Provencal to French. I also found his entomology books at online used bookshops. These little jaunts into literary cyberspace have their dangers. Inevitably, I find books I absolutely must have, such as the complete Shakespeare--my late husband got custody of the copy I used to read. He moved to the steppes to set up housekeeping with Gertha Klavichord, a  person of Teutonic extraction, and so it was goodbye Shakespeare. I have replaced the late husband before I replaced  Shakespeare--an omission I am about to correct. 
Buying books when one's stash has already reached critical mass is folly, I know. Surely I can  get Charles Lamb's LETTERS, Fabre's SOUVENIRS ENTOMOLOGIQUES, John Forster's LIFE OF DICKENS from the local library.  The catch is that I want my books at my fingertips for those occasions when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering exactly what Fabre had to say about nougat,  what is the second verse in Walter de la Mare's Song of Enchantment and like that. It happens, you know. I could read some this online I if I were willing to share my bed with my laptop. I can't. There is too serious a risk that the mountain  books  teetering  on my bedside table would choose the occasion to collapse and on it, crushing it forevermore.
So I raise a glass of Belllini made with some divine white peaches I found at our grocery store. Here is to France, Syria and online bookshops!  

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Finally, we have tomatoes. Having taken the trouble to start and cosset seedlings I feel that it is only fair that there should be some reward for entire process. This year my  veggies and herbs are planted in containers. I have switched, reluctantly, to plastic pots. Unglazed terracotta is  aesthetically pleasing, but it allows water to evaporate too rapidly and the result is distressed plants that cannot survive our 100F weather. I also use whisky half barrels which I tuck behind thorny rose bushes to keep the deer away. So far so good. The pear tomatoes are way ahead of the Tigarellas. I  confess that I am impatient for them to ripen. We have been baking bread with  whey  left from goat milk cheese and the idea of bruschetta, chevre and olives  dances in my head.
Working on novels and book reviews takes up most of my time. I have recently posted a review of Robin Oliveira's novel, MARY SUTTER in my book blog, This coming week I will be reading from a treasure trove of goodies  I received  Simon and Schuster-- Eric leMay's book about cheese, IMMORTAL MILK,   THE WISDOM OF THE LAST FARMER, David Mas Masumoto's reflections on organic farming, ABIGAIL ADAMS,  a biography, by Woody  Holton , BETWEEN ASSASSINATIONS, a novel by Aravind Adiga, and  THE MADONNAS OF ECHO PARK,   by Brando Skyhorse. Additionally, I will review Carey Wallace's THE BLIND CONTESSA'S WRITING MACHINE and Alan Furst"s SPIES OF THE BALKANS. I am looking forward to a guest post  Carey will be writing for richtexts and I will be giving away a copy of THE BREAKING OF THE EGGS--see richtexts for details.