Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Roots and Wings

While we're "waiting for the miracle" of rain, the additional plants we've put in the back yard, plus the "use what you've got" birdbaths and the hummingbird feeders, mean that for entertainment, often all we need to do for entertainment is stand at the kitchen window! I haven't been able to get a good picture of the hummingbirds that visit the feeders, but other birds like it as well, it seems.

 This female oriole's mate has visited as well, but I wasn't fast enough to get his picture. I'll keep trying. Now I keep the camera on the counter by the window!

A couple of these tiny finches - young goldfinches, maybe? - like to hang out there, and although hummingbirds will chase other hummers away, they'll feed right alongside these little guys.

 This large glazed plant saucer on a currently unused plant stand makes a fine birdbath. The lesser goldfinches (I wonder if that name hurts their feelings?) like it very much, as do all the other birds that hang out in our yard. In this heat it's good to provide water for the wildlife, so we have a few of these around the yard.

Lots of lizards this year, like this one perched on the rocks of one of the wonderful terraces Joe built on our hillside. The rocks of the terraces give them places to hide and the plants, like these new salvia Greggii, provide cooling shade.

Quite a lot of lizard love going on lately too. These two chase each other up and down this mesquite tree and crawl all over each other - I feel like such a voyeur watching them, but it's so much fun. That tree is a bit of a miracle itself: ten or eleven years ago, when it was much smaller, a windstorm pulled it up by the roots. We dug out the hole some more, put it back in place with a pole to prop it up and rocks around the base to hold it down, and it's been just fine (and is much bigger now). The same thing happened in a neighbor's front yard but they didn't try to save their tree - they just left it there and a few months later cut it up for firewood. Probably they didn't realize how simple it would have been. I read, probably 15 years or so ago, that every mature tree adds, on average, $10,000 to the value of a property, and even without that incentive, in the desert we need all the trees, all the shade we can get.
     So, having moved from birds to lizards to the roots of trees, we'll move to the roots I had in mind when I chose this title, parsnips.

Parsnips are among the less commonly grown and eaten vegetables in the U.S., at least it seems so to me. I only remember having them a couple of times growing up, and I liked them very much. They look like white carrots, and are indeed such close relatives that in Roman times they were called by the same name, pastinaca. Interestingly, in those days carrots were white and/or purple, not the orange we know. Today parsnips are much more expensive at the market than carrots, which may be one reason they don't get used much. They're also much sweeter than carrots, with a taste that's been described as rather like honey, butterscotch, or cardamom (I think nutmeg might belong in that list) - some folks might not like that in a vegetable, but we love them. In addition, they're rather slow growers and require good, fairly loose, deep soil. I've read of people growing them in long concrete drain pipes filled with potting soil to provide the depth they need. I didn't do that, but I did plant them in a half wine barrel, where they did well, though they never got as big as the ones in the market - or else I wasn't patient enough to wait that long. We didn't have a huge crop, just enough for three or four meals, the last of which was this soup, which began looking like this in the pot:

 and looked like this for lunch half an hour or so later (mostly unattended, very easy, very tasty).

Here's the recipe, from Recipes from the Night Kitchen by Sally Nirenberg, a wonderful cookbook of just soups (with a few chili and stew recipes). Don't be put off if the ingredients in the title sound strange - it's absolutely delicious.

1 T. butter
1 Spanish (brown) onion, coarsely chopped
1 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced (I didn't peel, just scrubbed well with the vegetable brush)
5 cups chicken stock
1/2 - 3/4 tsp. Dijon mustard (be bold, use the 3/4)
1/2 cup sour cream (I used nonfat and it was just fine)
Sour cream or plain yogurt for garnish (optional)

Melt butter over medium heat in a heavy bottomed soup pot or large saucepan. Add onion and cook, covered, until golden, about 10 minutes (turn heat down if it seems to be browning too quickly).
    Add parsnips, chicken stock, and mustard and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until parsnips are very soft, about 20-25 minutes.
    Remove solids with a slotted spoon and place in a food processor or blender (add some liquid if using a blender, and be sure to take out the clear center thing from the lid and hold a folded towel over it, to avoid explosions). Process until very smooth, gradually adding the sour cream and more broth. Pour it all back into the pan to stir in whatever broth remains there.
    Garnish each serving with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, if you like. As you can see, I forgot that part and didn't miss it at all.
Yield: 7 cups

Now how easy is that? I may not grow parsnips again, but I will definitely buy them, and I definitely will make this soup again!

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Bit of This and That

I was listening to Leonard Cohen the other day - always a good way to set one's head straight, in my opinion - and the song "Waiting for the Miracle" came around. That's how a lot of us feel here in Tucson, right now, waiting for the miracle of the monsoon. We've had a couple of teaser trailers, the best one about a week and a half ago, which I missed because I was indoors at a museum with a friend and her granddaughter. We caught the tail end as we came out, and it was a good one. I had never seen water running like this is the washes near our house and I had to pull the car over to document it. My friend's 6 1/2 year-old granddaughter thought the adults were really strange, but then, she lives in Portland, Oregon, where rain is not such a rare and precious thing.
Greasewood Road at Ironwood

Greasewood at Speedway

Nameless wash by our house where we walk most days. I've been trying to get Joe to relocate that big green rock to our yard, but he says no, and he has a point; it must weigh over 400 pounds (bigger than it looks in the picture).

We've had a good deal of sunshine since then, with temperatures in the mid-100s, so whatever we do in the yard and garden gets done in the early morning. I even got ambitious inside the house, at least a little. I cleaned and organized the linen closet, which had become a rather scary place, and in the process made some happy discoveries, like finding out all the extra pillowcases hadn't run away together to Mexico.
It won't compare to Martha Stewart's but now I know where everything is and I have a nice full box to take to Goodwill.
I've also had time to do more knitting, etc., though this isn't mine. I received these two potholders as part of a knitting swap and they are so pretty, so big, and so thick that they're currently living on the table, ready to protect it from hot dishes.

I'd been going to give away this little shelf, but instead I hung it over the bookcase between the living room and kitchen, and got the egg cups out of the cupboard so I could enjoy looking at them.
 The green glass owl on the upper left (holding incense sticks and a woodpecker feather) belonged to my grandmother - it's actually a toothpick holder - and most of the rest I've found at antique shops and thrift stores. The tiny pomegranates on the upper shelf hardened before they could get any bigger, but I couldn't throw them away. And the glass cup on the top right holds a cardinal's feather and butterfly wings I found in the garden. Someday I'll find just the right way to use them in some kind of art piece.
 This little shelf I found for a dollar or two at a yard sale. I know I want to paint it, but haven't decided on a color, so I hung it up where I could see it, to help me make up my mind.

Both sets of chicken salt and peppers (more thrift store finds) have the pouring holes in the front, which seems very silly. Apparently they weren't intended for use!

This little pitcher and cup belonged to my grandmother, who would be 118 if she were still with us, so they're quite old. I don't have too many family heirlooms, but those I have, I treasure. These are what's left of a children's tea set and I just love them.

And now it's time for a cup of tea (in a bigger cup) and since the weather forecast does give us a chance of rain (though much more in a couple of days, in time to wash out 4th of July barbecues and picnics) I'll go back to optimistically "waiting for the miracle."