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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

DSCN6529 - Version 2No, silly one; not racketeering, a common occurrence around the Windy City.

Rake-eteering; the active participation involving a band of active children, and a few responsible adults, in the yearly “rake up” of the back acreage here on the Cutoff.

Niece and nephew, Heather and Andrew, gathered up our dear grand-nephews and a few of their friends for an active afternoon of raking leaves, riding with Uncle Tom on John Deere, participating in the lively art of being buried in leaves, and maybe a few pieces of shortbread in between.

The Antler Man and I could not adequately express our love and appreciation of Heather, Andrew and the crew they brought over. Our load is a great deal lighter today because of their generosity of time and energy. Life is good on the Cutoff – and I hope the boys had a good, long sleep last night, enjoying that extra hour we all got.

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9780670015443I’m Swedish, which makes me sexy, and I’m Irish which makes me want to talk about it.”

So begins Kathleen Flinn’s delectable memoir of her family’s journey and food.

It wasn’t the cover that drew me to this book, it was the title, which recalls Flinn’s grandmother Inez, who refused to use toasters when the oven worked well.  The end result was often burnt toast, which she said “makes you sing good”. Don’t you love it?  My Yia Yia would come up with phrases like that, and so would my dad. “Children are starving in China” comes to mind admonishing a picky eater, though my sister got a tongue lashing once when she replied “then feed this to them“.

I digress.  Actually, I really don’t  digress, for this book brought on memory-upon- memory of my own family, both paternal and maternal, and the role food played in making me who I am. I read this in two bites, er, two days, and found myself wanting for more.

The book starts with Flinn’s mom and dad hastily moving from Michigan to California, via Route 66, with all their belongings, including three toddlers and one more on the way, to help run a pizza parlor owned by her Irish uncle – in the ’50s! This was long before pizza was known in most American homes. The Flinn’s eventually move back to Michigan, where they lived on a farm, ate plenty of chicken and eggs, and make do. It is, in its way, the story of growing up in the midwest in the fifties.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is the love story of Flinn’s parents, and maternal grandparents, finally her own. It is also about the abject poverty she eventually discovers her father grew up in with her grandmother raising a large family, in the Depression, on her own. It is about how her grandfather, once jailed for bootlegging, becomes a cook in the army during WWII and how she goes about doing sunshine work, dressed as cowgirl delivering her mom’s baked goods, in her new, suburban neighborhood.  This is a well-seasoned ragout of colorful grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins,. It is Flinn’s familial immigrant stories, and more, as she weaves chapter upon chapter of memories, replete with a relevant recipe for each chapter.

“Burnt Toast . . . ” is not just about food. It is also about how the hardships, trials, and tribulations of life often serve to harden our resolve, build character, and furnish life lessons. That burnt toast can make us sing good is also about the grand midwestern spirit – and more. It’s mostly sweet and funny, just a wee bit sad, and waiting for you to open it’s covers.

Off I go now to bake a Jack-o-Lantern Tea loaf to take to a friend’s house for dinner tonight. My own story of how I came to this long-loved recipe can be found here.

 

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DSCN5973Shall I tell you a story of linen and ink, gardens and waterfalls, sunshine and splendor?

It occurs at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois.

Our garden club’s adventure started with a private tour of the Lenhardt Library; a treasure trove of horticultural books, journals, periodicals, reproduction prints and more. There was an amazing display of noteworthy bookplates, including those of Charles Dickens and Eugene Field.  Several of us were particularly interested in Field’s bookplate as we first met long before joining the garden club, when our children attended Field School, named for the poet. (you know him – Wynken, Blynken and Nod).

After our introduction to the wonders Lenhardt has to offer, we were taken into the June Price Reeder Rare Book Room. It was as if a hush fell on my soul, so enthralled was I in the presence of four centuries of bound and conserved horticultural wisdom, some of which became the template of remedies for modern medicine.  To touch the linen pages that predate the anniversary of Columbus’s discoveries, the day before Columbus Day is commemorated here, is rather awesome, indeed. The library is in the painstaking process of digitizing  these books and journals, some truly tomes, for all to access. You can see some of them by clicking the link to the rare book room above.

No garden club event seems complete without food, so, we stopped for lunch at the Cafe. We commiserated over sandwiches, soups, salads and sunshine, then separated, some taking a tram tour of the grounds, others walking the paths.  I suspect most of us also ended up in the bountiful gift shop before heading home.

The groundskeepers were busy, hauling this and that, flowers and soil, pumpkins and gourds, readying the Botanic for this weekend’s fall festivities. It was a pristine day; the best kind for visiting such an expansive garden. The Chicago Botanic Gardens is a destination for grade school field trips as well as an international destination to world travelers.  It pleased me to no end to hear the many languages that were being uttered and the universal joy of horticulture.

Here are a few photos taken in the Rare Book Room.  Our guide was Leora Siegel, the library’s director. It is an understatement to say that she was exemplary as she guided us through the centuries of books. I felt a tinge of regret when the tour concluded as I longed to hear and see more.

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Finally, a few photos of the grounds, which include the Japanese garden, the vast vistas, waterfall, and stunning chrysanthemums dripping from the main arbor leading out to the Botanic’s grounds.

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It is that time of year for the gathering of seeds, the raking of leaves, the cutting back of perennials and the discarding of annuals.

It is that time of year for “putting the garden to bed”.

DSCN5944. . . and so, we did at our Garden Club meeting on Monday.

We didn’t actually put any gardens to bed; we had an informative presentation about chores to do in the Autumn garden in preparation for winter.  No matter how long one gardens, there is always something new to learn. New tools. New techniques. Reminders of tried and true ways. Our presenter, a well known and respected owner of a local feed store, Pioneer Feed in Villa Park, showed us examples of diseased plants, explained soil additives, talked about plant treatments, and even explained how a Sawzall can be employed to rejuvenate Miscanthus grass.

This presentation followed refreshments and our business meeting.  Finger sandwiches and gelatins molded with fruits or vegetables was just what we needed on a cool Autumn afternoon, with cookies and brownies for desert.  A fulfilling meal, followed by the informative lecture, all centered around putting our gardens to bed.

These centerpieces were crafted and arranged by club member Nan. A smaller bed (above) was on each table.A larger one (below) brought out the Goldilocks in me. All were given out as door prizes, much to the pleasure of those who won them, and I think we all stepped a little lighter as we left, our gardening chores awaiting us in the weeks ahead – and the comfort of knowing we all had a place to rest our heads at day’s end.

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DSCN5900I should have shown you what was IN the jar first, but, I was too busy playing Goldilocks and ate the whole thing up. 

Only fooling you. Here is what it looked like before I attacked my yogurt and granola with unfettered glee,

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while scoping out the Chicago Botanical Gardens for an outing the gardening group is taking later this week. 

Have you had any jarring experiences lately?

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DSCN5809I seem to be drifting under panels of panes lately; and so it was at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan last weekend.

As we toured this inspiring living gallery of plants and art, in and out of rooms of glass and paved paths of wonder whilst under a stormy sky, I could not help but wonder in awe at how art and horticulture articulate so well with each other.

The sculpture below changes as one walks around; first a man, then a woman, surrounded by shrubs and greenery.

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A queen bee rules from her throne, frogs guard benches, and conservatories house exotic plants that thrive in the upper midwest lakes region.

I’ll stop writing now, dear reader, and just show you a few photos of the delights of the Meijer gardens.

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Wednesday, there was a rare opportunity to tour the greenhouse in the Biological Sciences Learning Center at the University of Chicago . It was a brilliantly clear day in Chicago with calm waters along the many miles of lakefront and an azure sky tempting the skyscrapers and architecture.

Susan, our guide and sister-in-law of one of our Garden Club members, was extraordinary in her knowledge, commitment, and sense of humor as she took us through prep areas, down hallways, one glassed room after another, and atop the greenhouse roof hosting cold frames. It was an illuminating tour amid one of the most respected institutions of higher learning, research, and development in the world.

Can you find the greenhouse? It is mid-right, about 5 stories up, shot from a passageway leading to the facility. The greenhouse needed to be rehabbed because of the emerging structure behind it. This is Chicago, my friends; always changing, rearranging the sky along its magnificent lakefront.

After our tour of the greenhouse, we went for lunch in the Sky Lobby Food Court; a seventh floor cafeteria that is always open, 24/7. You can see it below, viewed from the rooftop area of the greenhouse, it is the glassed rim trimming the building across from where we were standing.

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