Sunday, May 30, 2010

Celebratory Ravioli and a Garden Picnic

Jessica was to leave last thursday, but has extended her stay for another week.  We are so happy about this!  To celebrate, we spent the day in the woods and at the beach, and she and the girls made supper for us thursday night:  butternut squash ravioli with rosemary oil.  Oh, wow.
She exuded patience while teaching the girls to make these little pillows of delight (yes, I just said that), and they rose to the occasion, listening carefully and then following through with the steps...

We will definitely make these again - she used this recipe from

:: :: :: :: 

Friday evening we were ready to walk to the garden carrying a picnic supper the minute Dan walked in the door.  I knew he was missing the garden (it is week 9 of the quarter, in case anyone is counting - one more and exam week to go...) and it needed watering, and we needed to eat...
We made a ramps pesto pasta salad, smoked paprika hummous, and ambrosia basil roll-ups.
Oh, and strawberries. It was gooooood. 
The garden was glad to see us, with all this hot hot weather we've been having, and it was fun to be there together...
 It is summer, and it all feels kind of like one long hot celebration...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hitting the Medicine Trail

Last weekend we had a women's outing to United Plant Savers, located on 340 acres in the county south of us.  UPS was founded by some world-renowned herbalists (Paul Strauss, of Equinox Botanicals and Rosemary Gladstar among them) to preserve native medicinal plants of the United States and Canada.  The sanctuary we visited is used as an educational site, hosting interns from all over the world who come to camp and work on the sanctuary, steeping in herbal knowledge and getting to know the plants themselves.  
 A friend of mine is an herbal scholar and interned there last year, and after enduring hundreds of questions from me, offered to take me there herself.  I quick grabbed my cousin Jessica and my friend Erin, dropped the girls off to play all day in the woods with their best friend Esme (Erin's daughter), and we were off.
It was a hot and sticky day, but the woods were cool for the most part, and the path she chose led us past well-marked patches of familiar herbs.  Have you used Goldenseal to ward off a winter cold? It was everywhere here, and became familiar enough to spot by the end of the hike.
It is the root of the Goldenseal that is used as an immune-booster; here Sacha finds a small rootlet for us to taste.  It is recognizably bitter!
 Sacha confirmed something that I had thought I'd heard before: there is a 200-mile area west of Charleston, WV, of which this woods is a part, that boasts the most botanically diverse deciduous forests in the world.  (whew - did I say that right???)  Ginseng is one of the plants that is abundant here.  I've never felt confident in identifying this plant, but after comparing its five leaves to the common Mayapple and the ubiquitous Virginia Creeper, I think I've got it.
It helped that at this time of year we could often find a small little seed ball in the midst of the leaves.  Sacha took us off trail to find a ring of ginseng she had planted during her internship two seasons ago.  It took a while to find the small plants, but with the help of a fern she called the "seng pointer" - apparently it often grows in close proximity to ginseng, offering a clue to its whereabouts - we found it.
The new ginseng plant is the darker green on the left of the photo above - the light green fern on the far right is the "seng pointer" fern - I can't remember its proper name.  There is great demand for ginseng, which is hunted by poachers who sell the roots on the Chinese market.  Apparently the ginseng we buy here is harvested in Korea.  Go figure.  To help protect the ginseng that grows in this sanctuary, the interns watch for the leaves to yellow in the fall, collect the red seeds to plant elsewhere, and remove the leaves so poachers will not be able to easily find the valuable roots.
Blue Cohosh
Solomon's Seal
The woods were so beautiful, filled with the song of the thrush...I wasn't satisfied with the photos I got of it, but I couldn't believe the intricate design on this wild ginger leaf.  It looks like a lotus, imprinted on the leaf.
Wild Ginger
The trail took us up along a ridge, where the land is slowing being "reclaimed" from its life as a strip mine.  It was muddy, the mosquitos were abundant, and we found this turtle seeking refuge in the leaves and mud - what a good idea! We had something similar in store for us - a cooling dip in a pond at the end of the trail...
Heart Pond and someone's skull, sitting on a rock
 Preservation of our own kind - 
Jessica helped several turtles out of the road 
on our way to and from the Sanctuary

The day inspired us, relaxed us - thanks to the plants, the company, the conversation, the cool water, the time to refill and reconnect.  

(note - the girls also had a great day - they spent much of it  in the outhouse, taking turns holding a large flashlight and watching a large female black widow dance around two smaller males - very very exciting.)

Morning questions

Ani's voice is the first I hear every morning.  Without exception.  I have noticed that her first words are often a question and though I'm sure I have missed some good ones, here are a few of the more recent...

How did the earth actually get to be here?

When you have a dog, do you get to choose a name AND whether it's going to be a boy or a girl?

When we say "the light in me sees the light in you", that's kind of like saying "i love you", isn't it?

 The waking thoughts of a five-year-old make me deeply deeply happy...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

May 22

This week has been filled with the ordinary - books read (starting "HP" or Harry Potter, again), books listened to, yoga done, together and alone, squabbles refereed, giggles overheard...
All of it ordinary. And extraordinary, the sharing of it with each other.
Listening to a collection of Roald Dahl stories on our road trip, we loved James and the Giant Peach and were so excited to see this millipede on our walk, imagining had one of the magical green wiggly things found its way to its path...
There has been as much Outside as the weather would allow, and some fine cooking when feeling housebound.   Jessica loves to cook and heard my longing for Indian food as an invitation to concoct.  We made paneer cheese for the first time - it was great! And not hard at all!! How lovely to have her company in the kitchen.
Picnics outside (yes, curbside, cause that's where we live.  Curbside, with tablecloth. Lemonade and tomato sandwiches), farmer's market, potlucks...we are doing all right.  Oh, and tonight? Tonight there were fireflies...More than all right.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The garden and wild snacks

My cousin Jessica and I spent the first part of our "date" tonight working on the garden - gotta love that kind of a date (followed up with a great meal out and a walk with ice cream cones...pretty near perfect).  I'll have to write a garden update when I've taken photos of its current state - it's that time of year when, thanks to the rain and the warm temperatures, the growth is exploding.  Nothing is growing faster than the comfrey - we were taking bets on how big it would be during our walk there with the girls this week, and Eliza guessed that it might be as high as her's almost as tall as she is!  Tonight the hum of the bees was tremendous - I counted as many as twelve just from the side I could see. Happy happy garden...
While we were there, the girls were snacking on the new lettuce (lettuce! we've never grown lettuce before!!)...
and then I realized that Anika was doing some selective weeding of our and our neighbors' plots.  She was finding all the sorrel and picking it to eat!  It has a nice tart, almost lemony flavor, and is easy to identify, and would be great in a salad, if it ever made it home with us.
On the way home we pass a honeysuckle vine, and we had to stop now that it has blossoms, for our first taste of the year.  
Do you know how to get the sweet drop of nectar from a honeysuckle blossom?  Well, you pick the flower with the green bit on the bottom still attached.  Carefully sever the green from the flower with your thumbnail and attached you will find a long thin strand - pull it slowly down out of the flower's tube - 
and it will draw out with it a perfect droplet of nectar.  The tiniest bit of heavenly sweetness.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Camping treasures and adventures

Yes, more camping photos...
Eight-spotted tiger beetle
A morning slug
Our Saturday hike began with finding a snail, which Eliza finds irresistible and well, so do I.  Then, just a few jogs down the path from the trailhead, I spotted this interesting orange matter "caught" in a spider's web.  I at first thought it was debris from a neighboring rotted stump, but no... was a mass of tiny spiderlings.  We all just held our breath, watching them.
Star Wars is the adventure flavor of the season with these boy cousins, (wait. with all our boy cousins!) so every downed log became a starship of some kind.
Our avid tree climbers and log riders were game for it.
At the top of the ravine, I got a glimpse of a scarlet tanager, which I hadn't ever seen before.  It was so striking, and my photo is blurred because it didn't sit there posing for long.
 The nature preserve where we were hiking was situated along a creek that had cut a deep ravine through the surrounding rock, leaving interesting formations along its banks and narrow "turkey necks" or "backbones" crossing overhead.  We made our way down into the gorge and along the creek...
We hiked for longer than we'd expected to, but the kids all helped each other along, finding toads, rocks, fossils, using their imaginations to make it to the next starship.  All this before it rained.

My cousins, the true treasures of the trip.