Homemade Chocolate Donuts; Ah-mazing

No, I did not get up early this morning and make homemade chocolate donuts. If I had they would not be Ah-mazing. They would be dry or burnt because when I cook, my mind is half on cooking and half on about a billion other things. Like getting ready for my Sunday School class (which I am doing today), or working on a landscape plan (which I am doing today), or creating a list of native plantings to replace more traditional plants with (which I am doing today). Instead, I am linking you to a blog that does have a recipe for homemade chocolate donuts. An Ah-mazing blog. Its called Everyday Occasions, by Jenny Steffens Hobick. I sort of stalk her.

Here’s the link:

Homemade Chocolate Donuts

While I was lazing in the bed this a.m., excited that it was Saturday and I didn’t have to get up and cook ANYTHING because the teen would sleep until noon, Jenny was in her kitchen. While my coffee was brewing, and I was eating Cheerios out of the box, Jenny was preparing the do-nut batter. While drinking my coffee on the back porch in my pjs, and simultaneously kicking the Coast Guard son’s butt in an riveting game of Words With Friends on my smart phone, Jenny was drizzling the chocolate over her freshly baked donuts. When the teen finally did get up, I offered him a granola bar. I didn’t tell him about the donuts at Jenny’s house. I seriously don’t want him to know about the competition. He might move.

So, for all you Marthas out there, this one is for you. For the Marys, well you’ve got something to add to Pinterest.

Ramping Up For Spring: Recipe for Some Ramps

Allium tricoccum, better known as ramps in these parts, are officially in vogue. Though native to the Eastern seaboard, the oniony little vegetables are getting attention as far away as San Francisco and Seattle. Chefs are introducing them in creative cuisine, finding ways to serve these newly trendy delicacies in fine restaurants.
Bo Taylor, archivist at The Museum of the Cherokee Indian and longtime ramp lover, isn’t as interested in gourmet ramps as he is in cooking up a “mess of them” and enjoying them with friends and family. Heralded as the first spring vegetable, gathering and cooking them is an Appalachian tradition. And according to Taylor, ramps aren’t just good eating, they’re a healthful spring tonic, one that cleanses the blood and chases away colds and flu.
The season for ramps begins as early as mid March and continues into May, depending on the weather. For Taylor, the earlier the ramp is dug, the better. He prefers to rake the frost off his patch (a location he keeps secret) and look for the “whites,” the bulb or onion-looking part of the ramp that Taylor considers the true delicacy. He insists, though, that ramps aren’t to be dug up completely. “You need to cut the ramp bulb, leaving a slight part of it attached to the roots for next year’s growth.”
As for the smell, according to Taylor and John Stehling, owner and chef at Asheville’s Early Girl Eatery, ramps are like onions, or garlic; they have the unfortunate aftereffect of making you, well, odorous. So, it’s probably best to follow the advice of Taylor and Stehling on this: If you’re going to eat ramps, just enjoy and accept the short-lasting consequences.
With that in mind, here’s a recipe from Stehling, which is occasionally served as a daily special at Early Girl.
Ramp Cornbread Stuffing
1/2 Tbs. butter 
1 cup celery, diced 
1 cup green peppers, diced 
2 cups ramps, diced 
1 Tbs. garlic, minced 
1 tsp. salt 
1/4 tsp. pepper 
5 cups crumbled cornbread 
3 eggs 
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock 
1 cup heavy cream 
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 450°F. In a pan, sauté butter, celery, peppers, ramps, and garlic until tender. Season vegetables with salt and pepper, and remove pan from heat. Mix in the remaining ingredients, and place in a greased baking pan. Cook for 45 minutes, or until liquid is gone. Serve with pork or turkey.

Yesterday Valentine’s; Next Up, St. Paddy’s Day

Yesterday I walked into Bible Study at The Cove and found 500 women (yes, that many attend) wearing red. Red sweaters, red coats, red blouses, red scarves, red turtlenecks, red shawls, red pins, red earrings. In some manner of “fashion” each had adorned herself with a bit of (or for some, a lot of) red. Why?

It was Valentine’s Day.

Many of these women are widows. Many are divorced. Some have never married. Most are grandmothers. My point? The majority of them–I would suspect–are like myself. They weren’t going home to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a night out, or flowers and chocolates. They would spend their evenings alone.

We meet in the auditorium that seats about 5-600 women, and it was awash in red thanks to their wardrobe choices. Our hymns for the day, posted on screens above our heads, had a red background with a faint outline of red roses.  And, The Cove had a special treat for us. Gigi Graham, who attends our Bible Study and is Billy Graham’s oldest daughter, was going to speak personally, giving an update on her family and famous dad.

After Bible Study, we eat lunch in the grand dining hall that looks out over the mountains. Postcard perfect is the description here. Laughter filled the room as the ladies surprised each other with special Valentine gifts. (Here’s mine.) There was a lot of visiting between tables to show off cards, bouquets of flowers, framed pictures of  friends, baskets of goodies, homemade treats, and funny little gifts. This was a happy bunch of women, and you know what? They looked like little girls. The oldest of them was transformed into girl of about 8 or 9, delighted to be receiving a Valentine gift. Gone were wrinkles and any heaviness of spirit. They were giddy with joy. Why?

It was Valentine’s Day.

For these women, not having the requisite male in their lives didn’t seem to diminish the day. There was still love to celebrate, and plenty of love to go around. Love for friends, for family, for their Bible Study comrades, and for every person they encountered. They shouted out “Happy Valentine’s Day” and passed around hugs to friend and stranger, alike. They were excited to celebrate the day, male in their lives or not. I’m certain many would love to have their beloved spouse back. I’m sure many would be game for a new fella. But not having one didn’t dampen their spirits. While my young, single friends were crying over their lattes, these women were showing love to the world.

They are image-bearers. They love as their Father loves.

And, they do it loudly. What a bunch of raucous, old ladies.I can’t wait to see what they do on St. Patrick’s Day. You can bet, I’m wearing green.

Crafty Valentine’s Card

My sweet niece, who is nice enough to go with my mom (her grandmother), my sister (her mom) and myself to Bible Study every Tuesday, made Valentine’s cards for each of us. Check mine out and you’ll see why she is currently my favorite niece. The other nieces are hopefully reading this and will immediately start bribing me with gifts. Go ahead girls, Aunt Cindy is waiting. Let the competition begin.

This is me waiting.

And yes, they call me Cindy, and no you’ll never find out my middle name.

Its a card made out of flowers that are made out of a pages from a book. 

You untie the ribbon to open it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I need to tell you that she used the pages from Wickedly Lovely. She is a teeny bit twisted.

The First Signs of Spring: Mud

Spring arrives in South Turkey Creek on the bottom of my family’s boots. Long before I see my Spanish bluebells, I see mud.

“Mud is spring and spring is mud,” I so vividly remember my grandfather saying—a Haywood County man who never missed a gardening season in his 70-plus years. A glance at my kitchen floor reveals the timelessness of his observation. Spring is right around the corner, and my floor is proof of it.

These days, “Take off your boots!” has become as much a cry of anticipation as of annoyance for me. I wonder why the teen doesn’t use the handy garden bench—but then I remember that it’s buried under garden catalogs, backpacks and muddy soccer shoes.

Another clear sign of spring’s soon arrival is the plant clutter. I’m sure I am the only mother that keeps the science projects. The latest one is growing in the sole remaining free spot in the house: a corner of the kitchen counter.

Squash plants? I kept repeating to myself. I am keeping the squash plants?

I can already picture myself come mid-August, tossing squash over the garden fence into the creek. By that time, I’ll be sick of them, yet here I am refusing to toss the project into the compost pile.

Adding insanity to clutter, I wasn’t content to keep only the test group—the ones grown under “continual light.” I kept the control group, too—the ones that saw light for maybe 15 minutes a day. These poor, deprived plants are now drooping so far down over their Styrofoam cups that the cat jumps up at them and bats them around.

And then there are the hydrangeas, which reside in my office. There are two of these shrubs, parked right in front of the French doors. My bird feeders are on that porch, and every time I go to feed the birds, I have to slide these huge—and I do mean huge—plants around on the carpet, revealing the water stains beneath, and scoot my way past.

I bought the hydrangeas three springs ago and still can’t decide where to put them. They do well in pots on the back porch, though, and that’s exactly where they’ll be again when spring arrives.

Spring may bring mud, but it also brings space. All winter long, my house is home to porch plants, seedlings and houseplants. Add a teen, a dog and two cats, and it gets a little crowded. Spring beckons, and I’m dying for all these plants and seedlings to be released to my yard, where I can better tend to them. I look forward, too, our natural migration outdoors as the weather warms.

Still, desperate for some other sign of spring, I walk outside to look for my glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae)—beautiful small, blue flowers that are the first blooms in my garden. One year, I got carried away and planted 500 of them. But I’m forever grateful to my much younger self’s extreme behavior in the garden: They cover the perennial bed in a mass of blue, pushing up through leaves and twigs that haven’t been swept yet. The sight makes me want to weep for the sheer joy of spring—and of course, as I walk back inside, I forget to remove my own shoes.

But I’m so eager for spring that I’ll accept this annual mud-track through my house as the stamp of the season. It’s my first whiff of lilacs—that first paused moment out-of-doors—and my reminder to start looking soon for the bloodroot in the mountains around me and the crocus in my yard.

After all, behind the mud lies the spring.


Do Not Disturb

Articles about people like Parker Andes, head gardener at Biltmore (http://www.mountainx.com/article/3796/Green-genius and www.biltmore.com), generally gets more viewers for my print or on-line stuff than most things. But for some reason this article really resonated with readers and it beat out Andes, Armitage and Dirr. It was printed in the fall of 20008 in Mountain Xpress newspaper, www.mountainxpress.org

Like my garden, if I don’t go dormant every now and then, I may one day grind to a halt and quit. In Botany for Gardeners, Brian Capon explains what dormancy is, and I love the definition so much, I occasionally paraphrase it for my husband, saying: “I am currently dormant. My physiological activities are now reduced to the minimal level needed for the family’s survival only.”

Garden time-out: At season’s end, I hang this sign at my garden’s entrance, signaling the winter break. 

This doesn’t please my evergreen-minded husband. Like other plants, evergreens do slow down in winter, but they maintain some level of photosynthesis year round. In other words, my husband contends that you should never come to a stop, or you’ll probably never get started again. And in our ever-busy world, I usually follow his reasoning.

But I’m not an evergreen. And as I prepare for winter, I study Capon’s Botany and reflect.

Capon observes that while botanists don’t fully understand what happens during dormancy, they do know that plants take cues from their environment. At the proper time, they enter a “restful state.” Botanists also know that plants can measure the passage of time, recognizing when days are getting shorter, and nights longer. Plants seem to sense that it’s growing colder and that any reproductive activity that needs to get done had best occur before first frost. Before they can end their dormancy and send forth new shoots and flowers, plants require a “chilling period” that entails a certain amount of darkness. But it’s still a process that botanists don’t completely understand — and I like that.

Plants have not yet given up all their secrets, and neither have I. My own dormancy — a very private and quiet time — coincides with my garden’s winter season. While my plants and I lie dormant, botanists and others who are searching for answers can find something else to do. We are not to be bothered: We are resting. Beginning Nov. 1, there’s a “Do Not Disturb” sign on my garden gate.

I take my cues from my perennials dying back and from the sassafras turning red, orange and yellow. I make it my goal to have my garden cleaned up, covered up, mulched up and closed up by Oct. 31. By then, new bulbs should be in the ground, new shrubs or trees planted to replace the dead and or dying ones, and the garden gate shut tight. After that, both my plants and I do our secret business in the quiet of our dormancy.

I’m sure a physician could tell me what my body is doing metabolically when I spend the winter months napping by the wood stove or sitting by my favorite window, watching the day drift by. But I’m not sure anyone could explain what my spirit is doing. While my garden’s newly planted seeds nourish embryos through the still winter months, I’m nurturing new life, too — even when it appears that nothing’s happening.

I spend my time reading garden catalogs and books, and I study the bones of my garden, made visible by winter. I make copious notes about what worked that year and what didn’t. My garden journal is as much the story of my life as any autobiography would be. I take stock, I dream, and I get inspired — not by the activity of gardening, but by the quiet of dormancy, of rest. I can never say how long I must be dormant; I can only say I’ll know when it’s time to get active again. It’s an organic process not to be tampered with. If anything’s going to happen come spring, my plants and I both require this mysterious, silent time.

And then, just as my crocuses will pop up in February when one least expects them to, so do I.

In my visions, my garden outstrips both the budget and our property 2-to-1. My husband reminds me that Martha Stewart doesn’t do it all herself: She hires gardeners. But in our garden, if weeds are to be pulled, we’ll be pulling them. If new borders are designed, we’ll be the ones mowing around them.

“Well then, what do you think of Xeriscaping?” I counter. “More gravel, less grass?”

My husband shakes his head. He doesn’t want to rake gravel any more than he wants to mow grass. I don’t mind; the dreaming is as refreshing to my soul as a long winter’s nap. It gets creative juices flowing, even if I never do the things I dream up.

I make plant lists, lots of them. Then I total up the cost. Could those $2 seed packs really add up to hundreds of dollars? I refigure, recalculate and, finally, delete.

Deleting is a wonderful thing. It forces you to look at what you already have, to dig through old piles of rocks or steppingstones and ask yourself, can I do something with these? Old scraps of wood are nailed together for cold boxes, compost is turned, and rich, new soil is carried out to the garden for layering. Seeds are planted in Dixie cups and placed in front of every available window. Reference books are stacked by the bed so I can check plant zones.

When spring is close, activity revs up in the Milner/Bagwell household and garden. My plants and I begin stirring around, thinking about waking up — but not till the dormancy has finished its work, and plants and gardener alike are fully rested and ready for spring again.