Sunday, January 29, 2017

Week 9- January 29, 2017 How long will January last?

Welcome to Week 9

The sun came out on Friday. It seemed like an old friend who had gone missing for a while. People were out in the neighborhood walking around, staring at the sky and smiling. That great expanse of blue around the sun was also much welcome. This break in the weather carried over into Saturday morning when there was a wonderful sunrise. I did not even put on my coat in the early morning before I went out and snapped this picture.

January continues. What can be frustrating about January is that it can give you a glimpse of warmer times. That was last week when I was able to do some good raking work in the garden. This weekend there may have been some sun, but  the temperatures will stay below freezing.

But that is....wait for it....pumpkin weather. I had four pumpkins that had been waiting since October to be carved and go on display. I carve pumpkins and then hang them outside from the ropes that support the orchid cactus during the growing season. So here is the first one, inside where the flowers would adorn the hat, and then outside, in the elements. (You might be able to tell that the hat is the part of the pumpkin that was sliced off to scoop out the insides.)

Let us get right to the picture contest.

Your winner last week was the Candy lily.

What a nice flower. I have about 2 billion seeds. Maybe not that many. I will start a bunch this winter and have them ready to set out in April. Yellow ones too. There should be some to share.

The full voting last week was
Candy Lily  20
Yellow daylily  13
Star of Bethlehem 9
Red Poppy  7

Week 9

I think this week presents the altogether best set of pictures this year.

I did not intend to put so many good pictures in one week. Each year, starting in October, I pick 50-60 pictures  that I think could be in the contest. I then start narrowing the field, getting down to closer to 50. I then start matching the pictures up in test matches. I try to make the contests somewhat equal. I try to balance the fields. Sometimes it is hard, when one or two pictures are just stunning.

I also try to match types of pictures. This was the week when I decided to match closeup pictures. And what pictures they turned out to be. I really can say that I thought each picture, when I looked at it by itself, could make the finals. They all knock my socks off, a phrase I have used before.

So here you go. I think you will find this an amazing group. I honestly do not know which will come out on top.

#1 Columbine (May 21, 2016)

I love columbine. This particular columbine is the state flower of Colorado.
What a great picture.
There is a particular sparkle to the white petal. That can be difficult to capture on film. There are all those yellow things, dancing out of the center of the flower. Do you notice that there is the shadow of some of those on the flower itself.

All columbine do well in the spring garden. Like poppies they fill in the time between the spring bulbs and the lilies of summer. Columbine come in an amazing array of colors and shapes. They come back for a few years, but I do not find them long-lived. Each year something starts eating them, hopefully after they have bloomed. I spend time looking for bugs. Then I remember the rabbits. Every neighborhood needs a roving cat or two to control the rabbits.

I find that columbine can be grown from seed. I will start some this weekend. The foliage is relatively frost hardy. They can be some of the first green in the very early spring garden. There was even some of it last weekend.

#2 Pink Japanese Anemone(October 22, 2016)

What a great combination of colors, and shapes. That greenish center is really a gem. And all that yellow and then the pink. Wow. This is another Japanese Anemone. The variety is Prince Henry. There was a white anemone in Week 3 of the contest. I have really been pleased that the fall garden could be so well represented in this year's contest. Making sure the garden does well late in the year is an important goal of mine.
Japanese anemones bloom from mid August on. This double pink one is particularly late. They will take a mild frost, an important feature for a later blooming flower. They are quite reliable each year and will spread. I have found they will transplant, even though they have a deep root.

#3 Purple Coneflower (June 26, 2016)

This great closeup was a surprise when I blew it up. I knew about all the great patterns to be found in coneflowers. What I like about this picture is the color. What a really great green center. I think the pollen may be found in the little yellow things around the edge. They look like tiny flowers within a flower.

#4 Black Daylily (July 10, 2016)

My goodness. This picture snuck up on me. I took the picture. I did not intend for this to be such a great closeup picture.  I did not intent for it to be a closeup at all. But when I blew it up, the focus stayed sharp. There was the orange stems, the really deep black, and then the yellow pollen. And of course the center of the plant looks like there is a fire in there somewhere.

There you have four amazing pictures. I really am interested in seeing which one you like. Please take the time and tell me why you picked your choice. Call your friends to have them vote. It really is a great field.

Bonus Pictures
As the contestant pictures are close-ups, let me show you each picture on its way to the final blowup.
Here is the black daylily.

Here is the columbine:

Here is the Coneflower. Of the three pictures the middle one was picked for the contest. I find it interesting how the initial picture was not all that interesting. Sometimes when I am playing with cropping and closeups, I do not realize what can be found until I find it. That was true for the daffodil closeup from a few weeks ago.

Here is the anemone.

Here is the white anemone from Week 3, blown up. It has that great green ball.

This past summer we spent a delightful week in the Durango, Colorado area. The hikes at higher elevation were pretty amazing. At those times I really love finding flowers that I have in the garden. Given that the state flower of Colorado is the columbine, it is not surprising that we found lots of them.

If I had a contest for pictures I had taken anywhere, this picture would have been right there.

These flowers were on a walk at Coal Bank Pass, where we had been told there would be fields of 5 foot tall wildflowers. That was the case. Here are more columbine pictures from that walk.

Here  are other columbine from the garden. Not all the pictures are from 2016.
The first one is from 2013 and is one of my all time favorite pictures.

Here are more Coneflower centers:

The patterns remind me of little corn plants just coming up in the spring. As you drive by those fields, the lines of little plants just wave with the contour of the hills.

You can again see that the pollen must be those little yellow bits around the edge.

What wonderful rods. Could you have guessed the colors change on each one?

Pickled Beets 
and Marinated Beets too
by Julia Mears

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we usually have a jar of pickled beets in the refrigerator, which is true. So today I will tell you how I make pickled beets and also how I make marinated beets. Different, both good.

We had a garden at our house when I was growing up, along the fence with the neighbors' yard. It was sunny there, and we grew lettuce, green onions, radishes, green beans and yellow beans, tomatoes and of course beets. My mother made pickled beets in the summer. My mother is not a canning person. The pickled beets lived in a little red or blue bowl in the refrigerator with one of those shower-cap-resembling bowl covers. That was my pleasant introduction to beets. Years later, when Philip and I were hippies living on a farm with some other people, we did can food: tomatoes, applesauce, jelly, cucumber pickles, and beets. I no longer can food very often - some jelly from time to time or some applesauce. But we still make beets which we keep in the refrigerator in quart jars.

I bought some nice little organic red beets at the Co-op. I bought 11 (not sure why not 12), which were somewhere between ping-pong ball and tennis ball in size. I rinsed them off and put them in the heavy yellow enamel pot and covered them with water. No salt. I boiled the beets (not furiously but steadily) until a sharp knife slid in and out of the bigger ones easily. I think it was about 45 minutes.  At right are beets waiting to get started. Below are beets cooking away.

This picture illustrates one of the true facts about beets: they will stain your hands (although a couple of washings will take care of it) or your favorite tea towel. Be advised.

When the beets were done, I drained them in a colander. Before draining, I poured out some of the nice pink beet liquid into a cup for later. Then I slipped the skins. That's the term. The skins really will slip off by rubbing under warmish water. But it works best if you do this while the beets are still warm. If you let them get cold, the slipping part is much harder. If you run into an imperfection (like a slice where the beet was damaged by a shovel while being dug up), let it go. Similarly, don't worry about the cut-off tops. In the winter, beets tend to be sold with the tops cut off, which is okay with me. Imperfections are dealt with later.

Here are some slipped-skinned beets, waiting for the next step, which is trimming off the dings or the tops where the greens were cut off. I trimmed my 11 beets and sliced them across so I had little circles. As below. Note the red cutting board. The beet juice does wash off.

As I sliced the beets, I put them into a glass quart jar. Then I sliced about 1/2 cup of onions, cutting an onion in half lengthwise and then slicing one half (it was kind of a big onion) into half-circles. I stuffed the onions into the top of the jar. My 11 beets yielded just under one quart of sliced beets (with a bit of room for some onion).

Then I made the pickling liquid. I put 3/4 cup of the beet cooking liquid into a small saucepan. Or you could use water. I added 3/4 cup of cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 3 whole cloves, 5 whole black peppercorns and half of a big bay leaf.  I brought the ingredients to a boil - stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolved. When the ingredients boiled, I poured them over the beets in the jar, making sure that the cloves, etc. got into the jar. Then I screwed on a lid and put the jar into the refrigerator. That's all there is to it. The pickles should stay in the refrigerator for a few days before you eat them.

Some notes: 1) Use a quart canning jar if you have one. If not, use a bowl like my mother did. Do not use plastic. 2) If you do not like onions, leave them out! 3) If you don't have a canning funnel, pour your pickling liquid into a glass measuring cup with a spout. 4) I have made these while on vacation in a not fully stocked kitchen, using red pepper flakes (1/4 teaspoon) instead of black peppercorns and I think 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves instead of whole cloves and wine vinegar instead of cider vinegar. The beets were just fine.

On to marinated beets. We put them in green salads because they are pretty and tasty. Marinated beets are milder than pickled beets. We use yellow beets because they are pretty and because red beets stain what they touch, including the rest of a green salad. I prepared and cooked 5 organic yellow beets, a/k/a golden beets, also from the Coop, until they passed the knife test. I slipped the skins and cut them into cubes. Slices would be weird in a tossed salad.

Then I made a basic vinaigrette dressing. For this jar, containing about 3 cups of beet pieces, I used 2/3 cup of a combination of olive oil and vegetable oil. I have a hard time using lots of olive oil to marinate. Maybe this is not an issue for you. I added about 1/3 cup of cider vinegar. I poured the vinegar and oil into the jar, and I added 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon of pickling salt (kosher salt does not dissolve well in cool or cold liquids). I screwed on the cap, shook it up and put it in the refrigerator.

The marinated beets should also have a chance to pick up the flavors of the marinade before you use them. Say, a week. One additional point: you have to remember to take the marinated beets out of the refrigerator 30 minutes or so before you want to add them to your salad. The oil will congeal in the refrigerator, and you want the oil to warm up so you can shake up the jar and fish out however many beet pieces you want to add to your salad.

This is a picture of newly made marinated beets and a jar from my refrigerator. Note the congealed oil.

You should feel free to jazz up the marinated beets with garlic or lemon juice for part of the vinegar or herbs.

And last of all, here is a bowl of properly aged pickled beets (not the ones I made today).

The onions, which are raw, soften, turn red (of course) and get pickled. The presence of the cloves and the peppercorns and the bay leaf provides a note of suspense to the meal. Pickled beets are good with cook-out type food. Also with meat loaf or pork roast or mac and cheese. Any time a little zip is needed.

Odds and Ends

I have put up several pictures of my agrecum orchid in previous weeks. The bud was developing. It gets the award for the most interesting bud.

It bloomed on Monday.

Here it was at the end of last week.

This was Monday.

As the week progressed it turned white. It was also more fragrant than any orchid I have ever grown. The scent would hit you as you entered the room from any direction.

As I go back through my picture gallery I find flowers that I really like, that mostly do not make the contests. One such type is the little pansy, called viola. They are annuals, even though they will self seed. They are inexpensive and can be planted very early in the spring. They will probably not last through the heat of the summer, but some plants are like that. Some of the faces are such fun.

Here are more pumpkin pictures. The idea is that they will freeze solid at this point. They they should last until March in reasonably good condition.
Julia did the hair work. She told me confidentially that she had never stapled yarn to a pumpkin before.

You saw Julia's knitting a few weeks ago. She made many pairs of mittens that are now warming the hands of elementary age kids throughout Iowa City.
With the birth of Christopher Philip 10 days ago, here is what she made this week:

So much fun. So many pretty things.

While the picture contest brings us quite a diversion, I have to admit it has been an awful week. Between Des Moines and Washington the news is one grim thing after another. Frustrations are starting to show up many places.
What can a person do?

In the middle of these troubling times we find comfort and direction in these words we may have already shared with some of you already. Our daughter Katie sent them to us. It is a prayer based on words of the prophet Micah as elaborated by some unknown rabbi:

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.
Do justice, now.
Love mercy, now. 
Walk humbly, now. 
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.



Pat said...

That last picture seems to me very life-affirming, as if there's a little furnace at work deep within the flower. The flame-like orange erupts from within the deep, almost black flower--almost as if it had a heart. Wonderful! ...Pat

Dave said...


How good are you at predicting what flower will win the contest each week? I'm very good at winning Oscar pools and very bad at predicting your contest winners.

Raisin said...

Almost went with the columbine, but In the end, the center of the coneflower won me over - it looks like a magical forest deep within, with a mysterious light in the green center.

philip Mears said...

Pat- I do think that the black daylily gets my vote this week. I love those mysterious centers.

Dave- I sometimes think that in a particular week there is one picture that stands out. In week 5 I was reasonably confident that the red orchid cactus closeup would be picked. This week I had no clue. If asked I would have guessed that it would be a contest between the columbine and the daylily. I do think that the picture with the most votes after the first day is not necessarily the winner.
It is interesting to compare the question of who will win with which one do I like the best.
At a minimum I will send you an email next Sunday and tell you which I think will win next week.

Raisin- The coneflower pictures, and I include the bonus ones, best illustrate how very different closeups can be from far away.

Anonymous said...

So many great pictures! As a Coloradoan it was hard to pass up the columbine, but the richness of the black daylily was too compelling. Loved the beet recipes, too. This blog is a gem <3

Catherine Woods said...

Like Faith, I'm also a Coloradoan although a transplant, as I come from Greater Chicago, by way of Aurora and later, Oak Park. I have even lived in Iowa City on 4 distinct stretches, including one on Morningside Drive, very near to the Mears Garden. Anyway, I do love my adopted state including the state flower. So, I found this week's Columbine photos a delight and voted for the Columbine contest photo. As for the recipes, I love pickled beets and am looking forward to giving your recipe a try!