Saturday, December 27, 2008

Monica's Seed Exchange

I winter sowed my first flat today, with Cypress vine (Ipomoea quamoclit), kiss me over the garden gate Polygonum orientale, Sea holly (Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Willmott's Ghost'), and larkspur (Delphinium elatum 'Magic Fountain Cherry Blossom'). I didn't have other containers ready, or I would have sown a lot more.

After planting in late afternoon, I spontaneously lit my bonfire, which was too windy to start on December 21. Doesn't the winter-sown flat, on a workbench on my deck, look nice against the bonfire happily burning in the background?

While winter sowing, I realized I have too many seeds. Mind you, that realization did not stop me from ordering 18 more seed packets today from Value Seeds, nosirreebob.

I bet a lot of you are in a similar situation: You simultaneously have too many seeds, yet you want more seeds, too. So I propose that we pass them along to each other! That way you can get rid of some of your extras, and pick up something new to try.

I'll host a round robin seed exchange. Here's how it works. Everyone emails me their postal address, and I'll divide people into small groups (yes, European friends can participate; I'll try to group you together to save on postage costs and time). I'll start the swap for each group by placing a dozen or more types of seeds, in little packets, into a padded envelope. I'll also make a numbered list of the other people in each group, and send the list, along with the seeds I'm offering for the swaps (did I mention I have some awesome heirloom tomato varieties from Ann Arbor tomato guru Royer Held?), to the first person on the list.

When the envelope arrives, that person runs gleefully from the mailbox into the house and takes out any seed packets they want, replacing them with the same number of seed packets for the next person. Then they send the packet on to the next person on the list, ideally within a few days, and so on until the last person sends it back to me. I'll then pick out my share of seeds and donate what's left over to a local community or school garden.

You can use any kinds of seeds (veggie, herb, native, showy, perennial, annual, biennial, woody, whatever), and enclose any amount of seeds per packet. (If you have a lot of seeds, perhaps you can divide them into multiple envelopes.) You replace seeds by the number of packets you took, not the number of actual seeds. (It's also OK, for example, to take 6 and replace 5, or to take 5 and replace 6. Use your own judgment.) You can use any kind of envelope or packet to hold your seeds, whether the original seed packet or one you made yourself. You need to label the seeds by name and color, plus anything else you find helpful. The photo shows examples of packets used in a previous swap, though there'll be a lot more of them in the actual envelope you receive.

I'll also enclose directions with the swap, plus you'll be able to see how others packaged their seeds by the time the packet reaches you.

I've participated in this type of round robin before, and it's a lot of fun!
To join
, email your name and postal address to me at gardenfaerie02 at yahoo dot com (removing the spaces and replacing "at" with "@" and "dot" with ".") by Friday, January 9, 2009.

I know this deadline seems early, but it takes a while for the packages to make their rounds and I want to accommodate those who winter sow. If you're interested but don't have seeds yet, I could push out the deadline a few weeks. Let me know!

Happy new year! Monica

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bonfire No, Doggies Yes, Camera Oh My!

I usually have a holiday party on December 21, with a little solstice bonfire. I make the fire in my Weber grill to honor the city ordinance that fires be containable, and the flames still get impressively high. For six years, in rain and in snow, I've enjoyed this tradition, which I learned about from my Finnish friend Jaana (they have huge bonfires in Finland!). This year, unfortunately, my grill stood flameless: It was just too bitter cold and too freakin' windy for the fire to light and stay lit. I was a little bummed.

Then today I got a Christmas card from my niece Sam that just made me smile out loud (um, you know what I mean). My granddogs‡ visited Santa Paws at their home in Colorado Springs! Koda is on the right, and she's looking quite pleased and proud in her Santa hat. The antlers really suit Xerxes; he looks so natural wearing them. And I love his tongue hanging out--it's a great touch. ("OK, Santa! I'm ready. Let's get the sleigh. Oh boy oh boy oh boy!") Even though I'm more of a cat person, I enjoyed taking the dogs to the dog park when I visited my niece in June. Koda liked to play fetch with the other dogs, and Xerx liked to wander around the edges of the park sniffing everything. They're both well-trained, lovable animals.

And finally, remember my posts about camera recommendations? I was looking for a new camera partly because I thought mine was too clunky and mostly because the LED display no longer worked for aligning the shot. Well, and this is truly embarrassing because, honestly, most of the time I'm pretty organized and not too dumb, it turns out it wasn't the LED that wasn't functioning, it was my brain! After pointing Frances to her camera's manual online, it occurred to me it had been a long time since I looked at my own camera manual. (I'm not one to ignore user guides, especially as I used to write them as a technical writer!)

Oh my. Heh heh. So, so much information in there. Mainly, there's a button that turns off the LED to save battery life (and verily my batteries have in fact lasted a lot longer since not using the LED preview!). This button is right next to the button you press to download photos to the computer. I must have accidentally pushed this button when downloading or when pulling the camera out of my pocket or purse.

And not only that, but you wouldn't believe all the other nifty features my camera has, which I had no clue about: I can shoot movies (with sound!) and there are settings for panoramic views, portraits, and different conditions such as nighttime, snow, beach, indoors, and even underwater! I knew I could override some of its settings, like telling it not to use the flash, but it turns out there are a bunch more high-end manual features I can set too, like selecting the shutter speed and aperture values. I don't even know what that means, but it must be good!

I'm so glad I didn't buy another camera yet because this one will suit me just fine. And instead of thinking of it as a klunky point-and-shoot, I now think of it as a very svelte higher-end camera. Problem solved.

I wish you all a happy holiday season and a great new year.
Frohes Fest und guten Rutsch!

~ Santa Monica

‡ My friend Carole and Rose both enthusiastically talk both about their grandkids and granddogs, and if my niece had kids they would be my grand nieces and nephews, so I guess I can call her dogs granddogs, too! Hey, I talk to plants and I'm a cat lady. I'm not worried about what people think!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Es Weihnachtet Sehr!

Or, in other words, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (literal translation: It Christmases much; you gotta love the German language!). My little grouping of retro holiday figures welcomes you to this seasonal post! And they also qualify for Cielo of The House in the Roses' request to show some treasures.

I still haven't gotten the house as decorated as I'd like (you can see decorations from last year here), and I only just decorated Piney, my Norfolk Island pine that I use as my Christmas tree, last night. But it is feeling more Christmasy, day by day.

Last Saturday, December 6, I hosted a St. Nikolaus tea. "A who what now?" you may be asking. And I did sort of make up the idea. Well, the tea part. In Germany, kids leave a boot out for St. Nikolaus (or just Nikolaus if you're from the north, as my family is) on the evening of December 5. The custom varies by region, but in general good girls and boys can expect to find their boot filled with chocolate, nuts, oranges, and/or small gifts. Not-so-good kids would get a switch (branch), but I don't think anyone ever does. The idea is to see how your behavior measures up so far, and whether you need to be better in the weeks remaining until Christmas! Anyhow, I decided to treat my friends to some sweets on December 6 in the form of a little afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen: I served Stollen, Lebkuchen, Strudel, Christmas (plum) pudding with hard sauce (to honor my English side), coffee, tea, and assorted chocolates.

I managed to set a nice table (which may not look like much to you, but I can tell you I'm no Martha Stewart!), which is shown here before guests arrived. Fiona was being very good (perhaps awaiting some tuna in her own boot), deigning to comply with my request for her not to go on the table, by sitting the next best place on a chair.

Here's a closeup of a table setting.

And here are my guests, wanting me to hurry with the @#$% photo so they can eat!

And Wednesday, my friend Carole and I took a day trip to Chicago to visit the Christkindlmarkt (German Christmas market). We took the train, shown above rolling into Ann Arbor. Choo choo choo choo woo woo!

Carole and I are raising our Glühwein mugs to say cheers to Garden Girl, who couldn't join us as she was working. But don't worry, Linda, we drank some for you! (My recipe for Glühwein is at the end.)

Here's a view of the Christkindlmarkt facing west, with City Hall in the background.

Here you can see the red and white striped roof of a booth with a closer view of City Hall. I love its traditional architecture amidst a city of so much steal and glass (I also love the modern architecture as well, but I like the overall mix best).

There were lots of booths with vendors from Germany selling all kinds of crafts and holiday items, including this one from Stuttgart, where I lived for six months some 20 years ago, doing an internship for Daimler-Benz. That's the Richard J. Daley Center (courthouse) in the background, plus the Chicago Picasso sculpture.

The huge tree is the focal point of the market. It isn't actually one tree, but a bunch of real boughs made into the shape of a tree. In fact, almost all the greenery at the market was real (as in the little display below) and everything smelled very nice. There was an obvious attention to detail.

This attention to detail, and the use of natural materials, was also evident throughout downtown. When I was in Chicago this summer, I was amazed by how "green" such a huge bustling city felt, due to the many, many flowers planted in window boxes, pots, and other nooks and crannies. It made the city feel more friendly. This time, the flowers were replaced by greenery (mostly real) and holiday lights, and the city still felt gardener-friendly! Many trees were wrapped in white lights and we came across all kinds of container displays.

These planters were outside a bank.

This decoration surrounding a lamp on a hotel was magnificent in real life because it was huge— the pinecones must be 12 inches tall or bigger—but that isn't obvious in the photo.

The gazing ball looked beautiful in a box container of greens along Michigan Avenue.

Here some redtwig dogwood add color and dimension to this pot.

After finishing at the Christmas market, we decided to walk around a bit, as Carole had not been in Chicago before.

Because I had not seen the Water Tower in any of my previous visits the last few years, I got it into my head that we should take a little walk there. The walk ended up being a lot more than little and I was afraid Carole might kill me at some point, but she was very accommodating. Let's just say we both got quite a workout that day!

One of my favorite places downtown Chicago is Millennium Park, which is a green oasis in the city. Because it was more or less not entirely out of the way to walk there on the way back to the train station, I persuaded Carole to go there. Even this time of year, I was eager to see the Big Jellybean (official name: Cloud Gate). It's just the coolest sculpture.

It looks like this from far away.

And like this from closeup, reflecting not only Carole and me (we're waving hello, so be polite and wave back), but the lovely skyline.

It was getting dusk and time to head back to Union Station (which incidentally was about twice as far away as when we arrived), but I couldn't resist taking this photo from the western edge of Millennium Park, with Michigan Avenue in the background. It's such a beautiful view, perfect for the season.

And, finally, here is my recipe for Glühwein. Verily, I feel so cultivated and domestically wise (almost like Joey at Village Voice who always posts the most fascinating recipes!) being able to share this with you. You see, my larder and cooking skills are the equivalent of the stereotypical bachelor's. While I do have a few nice retro Pyrex dishes and an honest-to-goodness (but rarely executed) flair for baking, cooking still stymies me. Most of my gardening friends are also excellent cooks, but I'm more of an excellent eater. But don't let my little confession put you off; this is a tried and true recipe that's been a big hit at my solstice bonfire parties!

Monica's Glühwein Recipe

3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange
12 whole cloves
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine (I use Trader Joe's merlot)

This recipe can be made entirely in one large pot, or started in a small pot or large pan and then finished in a crockpot. (Knowing my bachelor ways, you'll know I use a crockpot!)

1. In the large pot or pan, combine the water and sugar, and stir thoroughly. Add the cinnamon stick.

2. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer while completing the next step.

3. Cut the orange in half, and squeeze the juice into the simmering sugar water. Push six cloves into each half of the orange rinds. Place the rinds face down into the pot or pan, so the side with the cloves touches the pan.

4. Continue simmering, uncovered, for 30 minutes, until the liquid is thick and syrupy. Enjoy the word "syrupy" which just sounds cool!

5. The wine gets added now. If you've made your mixture in a big pot, add the wine into the pot. If you are moving to a crockpot, pour the sugar water mixture into the crockpot, then add the wine, and then place the orange rinds in the crockpot upside down so the cloves touch the bottom of the crockpot.

6. If using the big pot, heat on low until steaming, but not simmering. If using a crockpot, cover it and set it to low and leave it sit a few hours. The longer it's heated, the richer the flavors. Taste now and then for flavor to determine when it's "done."

7. Remove orange peels and serve hot into mugs or cups. If you like, you can strain the Glühwein through a tight sieve to catch any tiny bits or orange that may have come off in the process, but I prefer the texture as is, which is still plenty smooth.

This recipe makes six 4-once servings. Because I tend to make Glühwein for parties, I tend to double or triple the amounts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thanks, Human!

In the festive holiday season of overeating, I like to make sure wildlife is included. Here's a gingerbread house I made especially for birds and squirrels. Everything's edible for my wild friends (no chocolate, no hard candies, etc.) The house is made of real gingerbread and the sides are held together by icing made from confectioners sugar. A friend makes the houses and hosts a party where each person decorates the house to her fancy. In my case, I used peanut butter to hold all the items (sunflower seeds and other sweet treats) in place. You're welcome, squirrly!