Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's Growing On - Berries and Blossoms

Looking over my entire garden, it appears a bit too unruley right now, so I'm taking on a more focused approach by searching for those little details that seem to stand out. The things that caught my eye today, strawberries ready to be picked.
And, much to my surprise (really, more like delight!), early raspberries ready to be plucked from the vine too.
 The fragrant sweet peas, just beginning to bloom.
I do not know the name of this beauty, but adore the color changes of its leaves and the brilliant yellow seed forming in the middle of each little red blossom. My secret hope is that over the years this perennial might be able to grow to some sort of giant proportion in my garden, hiding all the weeds in the process.
The large pot of sage in my row of potted herbs in Garden Nbr. 01 is beginning to bloom too. To be savored during the upcoming winter months when spread on a grilled chicken breast (or simply crackers and cheese), once more sage blossoms are showing, I shall pick them (along with some of the leaves), steep them all together in boiling water, and cook up a batch of sage blossom jelly.
Even the leeks are about to bloom. Once this bud opens, the blossoms can be added to salads, soups, stir fries, or even steeped in boiling water and made into leek blossom jelly.
A handful of sweet sugar snap pea pods were ready to be picked, and once home, found their way onto my dinner tray.
What's to become of the strawberries and raspberries? They will fill jars labeled "Strawberry - Raspberry Jam" - tomorrow.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ginger - Crystalized, Tea and Syrup

Distinct in flavor, I think the crystalized ginger that you make yourself is much tastier than what you can buy at the store. It's very easy to make yourself, and certainly doesn't require many ingredients. Here's what you need - 8 ounces of ginger (I use organic from Trader Joe's) and one cup of sugar.
Peel and slice the ginger. If you have a grapefruit spoon, that works better than a vegetable peeler when it comes to scraping the peeling off of the pieces of ginger, but a regular spoon will work just about as well if you don't happen to have a grapefruit spoon handy. I make my ginger slices somewhere between one eighth and one quarter of an inch thick, but it doesn't have to be precise.
Put the peeled and sliced ginger pieces in a pan, cover with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium. Cook the pieces of ginger for about 45 minutes, or until fork tender.
 Drain the cooked ginger pieces and reserve the liquid (tea) in which they were cooked.
Return the cooked ginger pieces to a pan. Add one half cup of the reserved ginger liquid and one cup of sugar. Bring to a rolling boil. Cook and stir for about twenty minutes, or until the liquid has cooked down to a syrup and the ginger pieces appear glossy (crystalized).
Drain again, reserving the liquid (syrup). Roll the ginger pieces in a little sugar and place on a rack to dry.

A wonderful benefit of making your own crystalized ginger is that not only do you get a much larger quantity of crystalized ginger for your money, but you also get a jar full of delicious ginger tea and yet another jar full of ginger syrup - all with no artificial flavorings or colors.

Store the ginger tea in a jar your refrigerator and add a few spoonfulls of it to your favorite tea for extra flavor. The ginger syrup is absolutely delicious! Use it to flavor plain yogurt, as a topping for ice cream, drizzle a little over fresh fruit, pour some into chilled soda water for a refreshing drink, or simply pour the syrup over your pancakes and waffles. It's all good and it never ceases to amaze me how much I can make from just eight ounces of fresh ginger root.
 After it has dried, store the crystalized ginger pieces in a jar.
To learn about some of the health benefits of ginger, go here - Health Benefits of Ginger.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Summer!

It's official, summer is here. Finally! Ushered out of their nest on this first day of summer, these yellow sac spider hatchlings on our back deck fled as quickly as the their little legs would allow in the warm afternoon sun.
Stopping by my Happy Valley gardens long enough to water, this fat robin was seen watching for worms working the raised bed where I've been burying our compost lately. The compost is breaking down so fast, most likely because of the many worms there so it's no wonder that the robin sits on the edge of that bed - patiently waiting.
Visiting with other gardeners while there, we loved the whisps of mare's tail clouds in the summer sky above the gardens.
 Relaxed and comfortable and warm, the Village Green in Fairhaven was a pleasant stop.
 I loved this potted rose I passed while walking down an alley in Fairhaven on my way to lunch.
Sitting outside, we enjoyed our lunch at Skylarks and made a note to come back soon to enjoy an evening of live jazz.
Happy summer to all!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What's Growing On - In the Yard and Along the Trail

A light drizzle was falling this morning as I walked the dog along the trail amplifying the colors of the summer flowers. Wild roses sprinkled with rain drops along the Railroad Trail.
 Purple Japanese iris misted with rain in the side yard.
 Cosmos in the planter on the deck with just a few rain drops.
The center portion of this purple clematis in the back yard reminds me of a sea anemone - especially in the rain.
 It seemed this slug like the allium in the side yard, especially in the rain.
 And Torrie, he's just so easy going, he enjoys the trails and the yard - any time, any weather.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What's Growing On - In the Garden

This is the time of year when my first quick glance of the garden gives me the impression that it's becoming overgrown and unkept. Here's my Garden Nbr. 01 at the Happy Valley Community Gardens.
At first glance, I feel like running from the weeds that seem to grow much faster than my garden plants, but then I start looking at the detail of the blooms and berries that are forming and I don't feel so overwhelmed. I know that if I simply take the few minutes to pull even just a few weeds while I'm watering each bed, progress is fast. Today after finishing the watering, weeding and picking a few early strawberries, I photographed a few of those beautiful little details that often get missed.
The borage is just beginning to blossom. Since their starshaped blossoms face the ground, the best way to photograph them is from underneath. I love how the drops of water and the light clouds in the blue sky above seem to highlight their blue blossoms. Those blossoms are edible and quite decadent when frozen into ice cubes and searved in a glass of lemonade on a hot, hot summer day.
 The first of the peas are beginning to fill out their pods.
 Clumps of green raspberries are forming on the vines.
 The chocolate mint is quickly spreading to fill up its raised bed.
The French fingerling potato plants are growing fast and looking healthy.
There were even a few early strawberries ready to be picked with plenty more to look forward to within the next few weeks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fly Away

So quickly they grow, our porch light baby robins are flying. First there were three, then there were two.
While eating breakfast, I saw one perched on the edge of the nest. It fluttered down to the bench and on out to the trees in back of the yard.
 Climbing the ladder, there was only one baby left in the nest.
Not long after the second one flew away, so did the third. Now the nest sits up there on top of the porch light, empty. Debating about whether or not to remove the nest, we've put away the ladder for the season, the excitement of watching baby robins grow up is over, and we've reclaimed our deck space.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Railroad Trail to Memorial Park

Living so near the Railroad Trail, it has turned into one of my favorite thoroughfares. If I need anything from a grocery store, I have easy access to a large Haggen grocery store simply by walking less than five minutes along that trail. If I want to take the bus somewhere, there is a covered WTA bus stop right in front to that grocery store. Allowing easy access to a multitude of hiking opportunities, like the Railroad Trail to Scudder Pond hike I enjoyed over the weekend, this time I decided to take the trail in the other direction - to Memorial Park. In honor of the Whatcom County residents who gave their lives in service to this country, in addition to this monument, there is a large monument representing each war that individually lists the names of each local service person that died in the line of duty. 
A narrow bridge overpass at Interstate 5 connects park visitors to residential streets where after walking only a few blocks, the Railroad Trail intersects.
 The view from the Interstate 5 walkway overpass.
Along the Railroad Trail, the wild roses were in full bloom. The color of these, a much deeper pink than often seen.
On one of the trailhead posts, a sign had been posted about a lost dog. If you've seen Lilly, please call the number listed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Railroad Trail to Scudder Pond

With the logging of our forests once a major industry in Whatcom County history, years ago Bellingham had a very active system of rail tracks running throughout the town. Trains ran east and west connecting the old saw mills and logging operations around Lake Whatcom to Bellingham Bay; and north and south connecting Bellingham to Seattle, Vancouver, BC and points beyond. My grandfather often worked with the railroads not only here in Whatcom County, but also in Skagit County and British Columbia, Canada. That was years ago though as my grandfather was born in 1876, and over the years as the tracks became obsolete, cities and counties purchased many of the abandoned grades and since integrated them into their local trail systems. Not many signs of the old tracks remain today except for a few old trestles. Here's one such trestle that I passed along the trail today crossing Whatcom Creek very near the boundary of Whatcom Falls Park.
This trail marker found along the Railroad Trail shows some of the many options for connecting with other trails along a hike. It was a lovely afternoon, so first we hiked to the furthest distance - to Bloedel Donovan Park at Lake Whatcom.
 From Lake Whatcom, continuing our hike, we rejoined the Railroad Trail.
Our next stop was Scudder Pond. The North Cascades Audubon Society was deeded the Scudder Pond property by Vita Armitage in honor of her father, O.C.Scudder and it remains a protected wildlife preserve. Believed to have formed due to a plugged culvert under an abandoned railroad line causing the pond to separate from Lake Whatcom Lagoon, Scudder Pond and the surrounding area have been designated as wetlands by the City of Bellingham. Home to a diversity of migratory and breeding birds, while there, we were entertained by a pair of red winged blackbirds as they flitted and sang their way around the reeds and bushes in the afternoon sunshine.
Next we branched off the Railroad Trail onto the Whatcom Creek Trail and followed that trail into Whatcom Falls Park. So much of that Whatcom Creek area was destroyed during an explosion along the Olympic Pipeline, and efforts to restore the Whatcom Creek area after such a huge disaster has finally paid off. Today, the creek banks look as they did before the fire and fishing is once again allowed in the creek. This being fishing season, kids and families fishing filled the banks of most of the best looking fishing holes.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Thompson Trail

We decided on the Thompson Trail in Anacortes as our first ride of the season. From left to right, here we are - Lisa, Darrell, Lori, me, Joy, Martin and Janel.
Janel, Lori and I carpooled from Bellingham to meet up with the rest of our group in Mount Vernon, then proceeded to the trail head in Anacortes. Lori secures our bikes in the trailer to make the final leg of our drive to Anacortes.
 Darrell makes a last-minute adjustment on the seat of Joy's bike.
 Martin arrives, ready to ride.
Left over from an abandoned narrow gauge railway originally built by Anacortes resident Tommy Thompson, my favorite portion of the Thompson Trail is the old trestle over Fidalgo Bay. The trestle was destroyed by a fire in 2009, and I am so glad it has since been restored. With salt water and the San Juan islands around you, what a lovely place for a group a bike.
Janel and I pause to have our photos taken.
We rode about ten miles along the trail, stopped for lunch at the local bowling alley (great fish and chips by the way!) followed by giant rootbeer floats at the Fidalgo Drive-In. What fun that was!