We’re Baaaaack!!!

April 19, 2010 at 11:00 pm (bee hive, Bees, Entertainment, Eydie Wight, Hobbies, Insects, movies, music, Plants, Uncategorized, Wine Making, wisteria) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Dandelion Wine

By Eydie Wight

Well, here it is midnight and I’m sitting on the couch with the laptop, in my pajamas (I am in my pajamas, not the laptop) Futurama is on TV, and I’m sipping on a glass of Lemon Balm wine. I made a small run of this wine on a whim at the end of last summer, eight bottles total, and I have to admit it’s become my favorite. Lemon balm, also called “Melissa”, is a square-stemmed aromatic herb in the mint family. It’s leaves, fresh or dried, make good tea, especially iced tea. In the summer, whenever I go out, I crush a few leaves between my fingers and then roll them along my arms. The scent is fresh, vaguely citrusy, and mildly minty. I get several cuttings throughout the late spring and up until the first frost from about a one foot by two foot bed on the side of the house. The plant is said to have a mild sedative action, and I’m not sure if it’s that or the alcohol content, but I feel pretty mellow. It was a good day today.

I picked dandelions for my second run of dandelion wine. This is the first wine of the year that I make.

Kamikazi Bird

(Sidebar. I fell asleep shortly after the first paragraph last night, and have now, after coffee, resumed. As I am typing here I am interrupted every few minutes by a thud or series of thuds against the bedroom window. We have this kamikaze bird who sees either the reflection of “his” tree in the window, or sees the reflection of himself in the window and thinks it’s another bird in his tree. It repeatedly bangs into the window. I would think by now the poor thing has brain damage, it’s been hitting the window MANY TIMES a day, starting shortly after dawn, for over a week. I just got the bird book to find out what kind of bird this birdbrain is. So much for animals learning and adapting for survival of the fittest. Thud. There he goes again.)

Mowing Like A Sailor

Anyway, I picked dandelions today while Sammy mowed the lawn. He had to leave the areas where I was picking until the last, and since I seem to wander blithely with my bucket in hand from patch to patch, he must have looked like a drunken sailor weaving around in the yard. It takes about a gallon and a half of dandelion heads for one gallon of wine, and I usually pick enough for two gallons at a time. If you have dandelions like WE have dandelions, that takes about an hour and a half. I went out in the afternoon. Dandelions have to be picked when the flowers are fully opened to the sun. Otherwise they are full of bugs. Although these bugs ARE edible, for the most part, they can make the wine have a bitter flavor. So, if the flowers heads are open, the bugs will either leave when you start to pick, or you can flick or tap them off.

Picking Dandelions

There are many methods to picking dandelions. I’ll share mine with you. It involves beer. My favorite apparel is a pair of very baggy shorts and Sammy’s Blind Melon t-shirt. I stole the shirt from him and cut the neck and sleeves out. The front of it is printed with the picture of the little bee girl from the “No Rain” video. That girl looks just like me at that age. (Hey! Brother John here… I would love to see a picture of you in your dandelion gear!) I never had the cool bee costume (wish I had, I’d have worn it every day) but I did have a black and yellow striped shirt that I appear in several pictures wearing. I also pick dandelions barefoot. Cool breezes and tender spring lawns are meant for bare feet. The only equipment needed is your hands, a bucket, and a can of beer. I use a bucket that has gallon lines marked on it. I tend to use a six gallon bucket because it’s tall enough to use like a walker when I’ve been picking awhile. Some people sit to pick, and I do at times. In fact, last week when I picked my first batch of dandelions in the 82 degree heat, I did sit. I’d pick everything I could reach, stretching out further and further until I was lying on the grass. Then I discovered that if I just rolled to the next patch it was much less bother than getting up to relocate. That worked fine, for about seven rolls. The last time I had apparently parked myself on a red ant hill. Little devils put me on the afternoon banquet menu. So today I would lean on my bucket walker and pick one-handed. I sat the beer on the arm of the glider-rocker that looks down over the grassy slope where the dandelions grow the thickest. Every fifteen minutes or so I would work my way back up to the rocker, sit down, sip a little beer, and just enjoy the day.

Blooms bustin' out all over!

There were blooms everywhere. Tulips and some late daffodils and hyacinths in the cultivated beds and pansies in the flower box. Dandelions, violets, speedwell, grape hyacinth, forsythias, lilac, redbud, crabapple, cherry blossoms, and ground ivy. The Wisteria trees are covered with bloom buds. This is the first year the white wisteria will bloom.

While relaxing, I can sometimes hear a hawk pair that court in the skies (and will later raise their family in a nest somewhere up on the ridge). And always there is the sounds of songbirds, the air is full of chirps, coos, and warbles.

The Italian Honeybee

I have been so tickled this spring to see my friends, the Italian Honeybees, out and about in the yard. Not in as great a number as they were two years ago, but last year there were next to none and I worried about them. I always let the honeybees go first when I’m picking dandelions. I watch them and sometimes have little conversations with them or sing to them, or follow one from patch to patch. My honeybees will be arriving later this spring. The hive is painted a lovely Bahama green and ready to set on its chimney block foundation up in the back of the six tree orchard.

Thud. The crazy bird is back.
Thud.

I have a couple of whimsical rules when I pick dandelions. I try to pick at least a few flowers from all over the yard. That way the wine will reflect home. I never pick all the flowers from a patch, leaving some to go to seed. That way the wine will reflect bounty. I’ve picked thousands of dandelions, and there are still thousands more. And no two are ever exactly alike. Cool! As I picked today my hands become so full of pollen I left yellow hand prints on the bucket. A couple of the bumblebees I saw had such loaded pollen baskets they could hardly lift off from flower to flower.

It's a Dandelion Involucre!!!

After I finished picking the dandelions I took the bucket inside and let it sit while I made supper. That way, not only did I get supper made, I gave the flower heads time to close. Supper was venison chili and a simple dessert. Yummy. Once the supper dishes were done Sammy and I sat down to cut the stems off each dandelion flower head. Some people leave the stem bits attached, but I think the sap from the stems is bitter. We just grasp the now closed flower petals with one hand and cut the stem off at the base. The green “involucre” (a ring of small leaves, or bracts, at the base of a flower or flower cluster), is left on. You can pull the stem away with your fingers but I think cutting is easier. It takes about as long to prepare the flowers as it does to pick them. By that time Sammy and I were both getting tired. So we channel surfed while cutting and cutting and eventually settled on “Captain Ron.” After the heads were prepared I placed them in a bucket, poured in three quarts of boiling water to each gallon of heads, stirred the mess, and put the bucket lid on tightly. The mash will be stirred once a day for a week and kept covered. Then the process of adding the yeast, sugar, and lemon juice will begin.

Thud. Little bugger has to have a headache. He never knocks himself unconscious but the cats are starting to hang out under the tree.

I’d better finish this and try to fit in a few things before work tonight. Maybe play my fiddle a bit. I’ve been working on a Scottish version of “Amazing Grace” using drone tones. And trying to combine two versions of “Bill Cheatham” that I like. And I found a peppy little version of Bach’s Bourree in E minor. (Remember Jethro Tull’s version?) Or I might go for a jog. I should go for a jog. Okay. I will go for a jog!

Sunday Supper: My chili recipe is nothing special except that it uses ground venison (courtesy of Dad) to replace the ground beef, tomato juice Dad and I canned last summer, and a cup of finely diced young dandelion and chicory leaves from the yard. The chili needed a handful of mashed potato flakes to thicken it slightly and was served over brown rice and topped with cubed Colby cheese.

Dessert was easy. Mom made and froze a million zucchini breads last year in our never ending search for ways to preserve the summer squash harvest. I put a crumbled slice of zucchini bread in a small bowl and added a heaping spoon of chunky applesauce. I microwaved this for one minute. Then I added a big spoonful of vanilla yogurt and drizzled the top with cinnamon and honey.

Permalink 9 Comments

Spiders, Snakes, Aphids, and Bees!

September 21, 2008 at 11:30 am (bee hive, Bees, Brother John, Jasper, Plants, Recipes, Wine Making) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


By Eydie Wight

Snakes And Bugs And Bees... Oh My!

Today was another of those days when the place for morning coffee was on the deck. I opened the door, let Emy cat out and fended off the boisterous good morning activity of the dogs. I wasn’t out for more than a minute before I went inside to grab a jacket to throw over my pajamas, and slide my new moccasin birthday slippers on my feet. The temperature had dipped down into the 40’s over night. I am surprised that the home hummingbirds are still present, active, and seemingly in no hurry to leave. They continue to dive bomb each other, hover in front of my face, and perch on top of my wind chimes. Emy discovered a few days ago that she can jump on top of the deck rail and walk along it, tantalizingly out of reach of the dogs. They whine, they entreat me to get her down so they can chase her, they finally pretend indifference until she casually strolls over to where I am now leaning against the rail and rubs her face against mine. That does it, the dogs explode in a frenzy of jealous barking, making so much noise I have to trick them away from the house with a stick I throw far out into the yard so that Sammy has a slight chance of continuing his sleep.

Today is the last day of vacation! I love the changing of the guard of the seasonal flowers. Right now there are asters of all kinds in the un-mown areas of the yard. New England Asters willingly cluster around the mailbox, their light blue flowers seeming to glow in the morning light. Small white asters (I’ll have to look those up in the flower book) grow in abundance, creating bushy clumps. Fortunately none of us are allergic to goldenrod, because it is everywhere. My thoughts this morning, besides a song that is stuck in my head, are on wine. (The song, by the way, is “By the light of the silvery moon.” I don’t where all these obscure tunes come from, but this one must be one of my mother’s old barbershop quartet tunes, because it’s not only in my head, it’s in my head in four part harmony.)

Wine, we plan to bottle the blackberry wine today if all goes well. The wine has “cleared” and is a gorgeous color. I keep telling myself what the wine book says, that the wine must “mature” but the little voice inside my head (I think it’s the same voice that’s singing baritone) says, “Drink it. Drink it. Drinkitdrinkitdrinkitallnow.” But don’t worry, the last time I listened to that voice it was telling me that “no, of course not, bell bottoms will NEVER go out of style.” As I wandered around the yard I took notice of several fat rose hips on the Jacob’s Coat of Color Rose. My old wine book mentions that one of the truly exceptional elites of the homemade wines is rose hip wine. The author of the book only made a few bottles a year and prized them above all other. I don’t have nearly enough rose hips of my own, but I know a place where the multi flora rose (wild rose) grows thick. I went there a few years ago to pick some hips for rose hip tea. Like the blackberry session, each fat rose hip pulled me further into the brier warren until I suddenly found myself surrounded on all sides by impenetrable thorns. Thorns grabbing my shirt, pants, gloves, hair, holding me fast until some handsome prince came to magically free me and kiss my waiting lips…Right in the middle of THAT pleasant daydream a deer leaped out of the briers, not more than three feet from me. Well, by the time I tore my way out of the warren, yelping all the way,with the deer gracefully leaping unscathed in the other direction, I was pretty sure I would need plastic surgery and a pint or two of blood.

It’s not unheard of to have September frost, and I’d been planning all week to take the house plants inside for the cold season, so we decided to make that one of our last vacation projects. We really only have one southern exposure window downstairs in the spare bedroom, and each year all of the “big” plants get crowded around this one window until the room looks like something out of Jumanji. When I met Sammy and we began our courtship, he had one fairly big avocado tree that he had grown from a seed. At the time we met this tree was decorated with colored lights and red bows and was Sammy’s Christmas tree. I promptly named her “Iris” and would blow big Co2 laden kisses on her whenever I saw her. (Plants like that, you know. They don’t even care if you’ve had garlic, or Kosher pickles, or never brush your teeth-not that I know about that one, but I know someone who does!!!) Anyway, now, some four years later, Iris brushes her head on the ceiling and throws her arms out in a six foot span. Her “little sisters” (also grown from seed) number four, and we’ve even given some away to loving homes! We also have a beautiful “walking” iris we got as a start from my dad, a robust calla lily, some elderly Dieffenbachia, and a Mimosa pudica (“sensitive” plant). This plant curls it’s leaves up whenever they are touched, then slowly unfolds them again. All in all there were nine plants to bring in. Before they left the great outdoors each plant was trimmed of wind tattered or bug eaten leaves, re-potted if needed, had a scoop or two of potting soil added to “top off” the pots, and was sprayed with a soap solution to kill off aphids.

While I was re-potting and puttering and rearranging, our cats were having an adventure. Sammy called me downstairs from the kitchen where I had been stuffing a pickled egg into my mouth (and yes, Brother John, you DO have to chew them at least once!)

NOTE: Brother John here… you may be interested in knowing that I do NOT like pickled eggs! Probably comes as a surprise to my family. See? You learn something new every day!

Sammy had that mildly interested, not distressed at all, manly tone to his voice so I suspected immediately that the kittens had “found” a new toy in the basement, one that Sammy wasn’t real comfortable with. The toy turned out to be a little ring necked snake. These little guys are hardly bigger than a good sized earthworm and are pretty laid back. Not, of course, when they’re being batted across a concrete floor like an air hockey puck while being chewed on from the backside up by two brave kittens honing their hunting skills. (I guess snakes have a backside…) Sammy wondered aloud two or nineteen times if there were probably more snakes in the basement. We did have a nice sized garter snake in the basement beside the soda tub on our wedding day. Sammy’s not overly fond of snakes. Or the multiple ladybug infestations we get inside the house each winter after the stove is fired up, or the rather large (actually very, very large) hairy wolf spiders that take up residence also in the basement come winter. I actually had a spider one year, before I met Sammy, named Tawanda. She was very curious and liked noise and vibration. Often she would “come out” to check out company. My sister-in-law and her husband were visiting one late fall and we were sitting around downstairs enjoying the wood stove and drinking beer. Enough beer that when all of a sudden my brother-in-law’s eyes bugged out of his head and he said, “Ohmygod, what IS that?”, Tawanda looked much bigger to him than she really was. Tawanda had come over to investigate and was nearly on his foot. Tawanda’s body was about the size of a somewhat flattened walnut. I had difficulty preventing George from flattening her more. Finally, they took pictures and went home claiming I had a pet tarantula.

Today was the kind of day that called for a woods walk and hot soup. I’ve been hungry for a thick, full bodied, stick to your ribs soup or stew. I bought the ingredients to make potato soup but then as the vacation days went by the ingredients disappeared. The milk went into cereal, the sausage went into pizza, the onion went into spaghetti sauce. The potatoes are still there, waiting patiently as potatoes do. I’m like my Scottish friend who, when I asked him what his favorite food was, said “Stovies”. I said, “What’s that?” He replied, “Any thing that’s made from potatoes and cooked on the stove.”

I did get a little bit of a walk in. Just as I was finishing re-potting my plants, Sammy came down the ridge with the camera in hand and said, “You have to come see this. This is incredible.” I said, “What’s that Sweetie?” He said, “Bees.” Well, I was pretty sweaty despite the cool day so I broke off some of the lemon balm that grows by the basement door and rubbed it on my arms. I walked up the hill toward the “orchard” where we have our six fruit trees. To the right of the orchard is the ‘upper pond”. This is an eight by eight round pond, about five feet deep, that is fed by a spring that runs all year long. Sounds lovely but two years ago some tree roots in combination with winter burrowing bull frogs resulted in a series of leaks. Now there is only about two feet of water in the pond, but it is nice, clear water. Between the orchard and the pond is a large patch of yard we decided to let fallow this year. It is covered at the moment with the bushy asters I need to identify. It was also covered with Italian honeybees. Not covered by a swarm, these little girls were busy gathering nectar and pollen from the asters. It was so covered I heard the busy hum of hundreds of bees before I even got close. I watched them for the longest time. I wonder, who has hives near here? I know all the neighbors, in fact, should we take to this beekeeping life, I plan to ask them to let us hive the protected niches of their fields. Could these fine little Italians be a wild hive? If so, will they be okay for the winter? They had such delicate little flights from tiny flower to tiny flower. They were happy bees that day and I wished them a safe trip home and safe winter.

Jasper had, of course, followed me up the hill. He patiently waited for me to interview the bees, and then, when I started back down toward the house, ran a little way up the hill and gave me a look that said, :”Come on. Up this way.” So I followed him up. Jasper is my hiking buddy. He loves the winter, and likes nothing better than the woods in snow. One year he and I set out after a storm had given us several inches of white powdery snow. It was so cold and dry the snow kicked up in plumes as we made our way up the ridge. I lost sight of Jasper, not difficult since he’s white, so I called him. All of a sudden he was there above me, on an outcropping just exposed enough to catch eddies of wind that swirled the snow around me. I had a sudden image of myself in buckskin and furs, my long black hair plaited as I searched beneath the snow for wintergreen berries to take back to add to venison jerky for trail mix to feed the tribe. Jasper and I shared one of those moments when the world is is suffused with joy and all of heaven stops to approve. Today we just walked up to the top of the ridge and then raced back down. Actually, Jasper was the only one racing, but I let him think he won.

Permalink 4 Comments