Sunday, October 28, 2018

Crazy Happy: Digging Dahlias and Saving Zinnia Seeds

Five years ago, I vowed not to buy flowers from a florist or grocery.  I've pretty much stuck to that promise. In addition to walking out into our fields and harvesting wildflowers to my heart's content, it seems I have stumbled into growing a cutting garden of dahlias and zinnias. It takes remarkably little effort and returns an immense amount of pleasure. It makes me crazy happy.

This is the first year that I have grown dahlias, encouraged by my niece Laura who sent me three tubers back in the spring that she shared from her collection. I also ordered three tubers from Floret, a family-run farm located in Washington's Skagit Valley. This handful of tubers grew into massively producing plants, yielding more than 100 beautiful blooms each. 

Every morning from mid-July until mid-October, I could walk out to the raised bed in front of the guest cottage and harvest a dozen dahlias – each one more beautiful than the next. I'd "arrange" them in a canning jar and give them away as thinking-of-you presents. (They were very well received!)

Because they cannot survive our freezing winters, Ed and I dug up the dahlia tubers this weekend. I wasn't sure what I would find when Ed stuck his pitchfork in. In the place of the single tuber that I planted back in May, we pulled up tangles of tubers, at least 50 in total. I've washed the dirt off of the clumps and are leaving them to dry out for a day or two before preparing them for winter storage in our dark and cold basement. If you are interested, Erin of Floret has a terrific video about how to dig, separate and store dahlias. You can find a link here.

Now let's talk zinnias. They were out of control this summer and I loved it. I had saved seeds from last year's flowers and planted them rather thickly in front of my garden gate. Because they were growing so densely, I gently uprooted several dozen stems when they were about a foot tall and transplanted them into the cottage garden. They flourished.

I suspect that my original seeds were not open-pollinated varieties; that they were hybrids. So my individual flowers did not necessarily grow true to the originals. But what they lacked in perfection, they make up for in profusion – attracting a plentitude of pollinators. (Try saying that three times!)

When we got back from our recent trip, I harvested a hundred or so zinnia flower heads. They are now drying on a tray in the laundry room. 

Once totally dry, I'll gently pull the seeds from the heads and save them for next spring. 

Let me know if you want some dahlia tubers or some zinnia seeds. Then you too can be crazy happy!

Friday, October 26, 2018

Journey along the back roads of Appalachia

Imagine a map of the southeastern United States. Focus your mind's eye to where Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina nearly intersect. It's a most beautiful area, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an old region of windy roads, small towns, high ridges, deep hollers, rocky streams, friendly people and very little cell service. That's where Ed and I recently spent 10 days driving, hiking, fishing, camping and cabining.

Our trip started in mid-October, just when we thought the leaves would surely be changing color. Ed and I loaded up the Subaru with tent and sleeping bags, hiking poles and binoculars, soft pillows from home and clip-on reading lights, Triple Good Treats* and Peanut M&M's – and headed east toward Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, the first great gateway to the west through the Appalachian Mountains. From there we made our way further eastward, spending the night in Bristol, where half the town is in Virginia and the other half is in Tennessee. 

The next morning we drove north to Tazewell, VA, detouring to drive around the high, green valley of Burke's Garden aka God's Thumbprint

Our final destination that night was Hungry Mother State Park, VA, where we had rented a rustic cabin for two nights. No phone. No TV. No internet. No restaurant. It was perfect. (I did insist that we hike to the visitors' center once a day to check our messages to make sure that Maggie had not gone into early labor.)

We camped one night at Grayson Highlands State Park, VA and then spent two nights in a cabin at Roan Mountain State Park, TN

Our last destination was a three-night stay outside of Bakersville, NC, where we stayed in a cabin high up a mountain with a brook running just outside our bedroom window and the best-tasting spring water direct from the tap.

Along the way, we hiked through spruce forests and along mountain streams, explored all-but-forgotten towns, picnic-ed, fly fished for rainbow trout, and checked out the Wooly Worm Festival in Elk Banner, NC. 

Oh, and we read; we read a lot and I was reminded of how much I love getting lost in a book for long stretches of time. 

Not everyone would think this trip was as terrific as we did. We weren't on any tight time frame and so we took our time getting from place to place, stopping whenever we saw something that could be interesting. We wanted to camp at least once, just to remind ourselves of how much we love pitching our tiny tent and cooking dinner over a camp fire. 

And most importantly, we celebrated 33 years of marriage, confirming how glad we are to be traveling this road together. 


Triple Good Treats

These were a favorite treat around our house, especially for those weekends when Ed would go to Indian Guides or Indian Princesses with Maggie, Jack and Mary when they were little. I hadn't made them for years. Ed requested them for our anniversary trip...


2 cups raisins
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2-1/2 cups Quaker Oats (old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt


Heat oven to  375 degrees. Grease 9"x13" baking pan. In medium saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat; cool slightly; set aside.

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients; blend until evenly mixed and crumbly. Reserve 2 cups. Press remaining mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Spread raisin mixture to within 1/2 inch of edge. Sprinkle with remaining oat mixture; pat lightly.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into 1"x2" bars.

Makes 18 bars.