The heat is too much for the lettuce, and I'm down to one pot near the back door. You'd think its proximity to the house would keep it safe but yesterday morning we caught the lettuce theif in the act!
Cute, but looking as guilty as sin. This is what happens when you plant a native garden in your front yard to attract the wildlife.
The showy milkweed is indeed living up to its name.
The buckeye produced its first ever blossom.
And the Chaparral Clematis is bursting out in delicate little blossoms, smaller that those I've seen in the wild around here but pretty nonetheless.
The birds have voted a show of confidence in the native garden by returning to nest here. You can just see the tail of a bird peeking out on the left-hand side of the nest.
Meanwhile, at the back doorstep the birds are loving the solar fountain. There are about 4 different kinds of birds using this on a daily basis. But they can all read our mind.As soon as we reach for the camera they scarper...except for this little guy.
And of course the ever present lizards - this fence lizard was out getting his early morning warm up!
Not only are animals appearing in our garden, so are plants that I don't remember planting. This three inch lavender seeded itself. I found it when it was only two leaves big and put it in this pot thinking it would never make it. I'm glad to be wrong about that.
These lobelia seeded themselves very conveniently in the pot. The little green spec is a watermelon I planted. Or is it a pumpkin...oops, should have kept up with the labeling. I'll know when they fruit...the suspense is half the fun!
Lobelia has a tendency to pop up everywhere. Even in places were it gets no water or TLC.
I love it when flowers seed themselves. Like these hollyhocks...
And the foxgloves...
Even better when you can eat the plant - like this volunteer tomato plant which is now presenting the first tomato of the year.
I didn't think I'd have to wait such a short space of time between orange season and tomato season - this year they are actually overlapping. The tree still has some juicy oranges.
And when there's no oranges nor tomatoes, there's always lemons from the neighbors yard. You know what they say, "When life hands you lemons..."
We have a wonderful Washington Navel Orange tree in your yard. In fact the oranges are so good that I am ruined for shop-bought oranges. Once these oranges are gone I probably won't eat another orange until next January. But that's okay. I'll fill the void with tomatoes and then pomegranates. In the mean time, we literally have baskets of oranges.
Also beautiful at this time of the year is the lavender blossom. It makes quite the companion to oranges in recipes.
There are many different varieties of lavender and not all of them are ideal for eating. I did read that all are edible though some are less palatable than others. The best one for cooking is the Provence lavender. The link has a good picture of Provence lavender along with exciting recipes for using it.
I have several varieties in my garden. It took me a while to figure out which was which, but I think I have it figured out.
Provence Lavender Flower
The flower buds are more spread out along the stem than the French or the Spanish lavenders.
I did use the French lavender in an early experimental recipe by mistake. Neither I nor my guinea-pig friends died, but the flavor had a camphor edge to it. The Provence tasted much better.
Below is a picture of the most gorgeous of the lavenders, in my opinion. It's the Spanish Lavender and the bees seemed to think it tasted fine to them.
All the lavenders look and smell beautiful. If anything, the Provence is the least showy, more straggly variety and better placed in a herb garden than in a flower bed...oh well, I live and learn!
So, I adapted three recipes to include lavender, inspired by my friend Anne who is fellow writer as well as a Martha Stewart clone (but in only the ways you'd want her to be - i.e. much prettier, wittier and not an ex-con!) Anne made me Meyer Lemon and lavender marmalade once and it was so yummy I had to ban it from the house!
The abundance of oranges, coupled with my new Kitchen Ninja blender/processor system, led to the conclusion that I needed to make orange sorbet. I wanted it to be dairy free, and easy, so I amalgamated a couple of recipes until I got the sorbet right. Then I experimented with the lavender, and here's what I came up with....
Orange and Lavender Sorbet
Makes: 2 Servings Ingredients:
1 cup freshly squeezed orange
2 frozen navel oranges (peeled and separated before you freeze them overnight)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon of lavender flowers (for plain orange sorbet just leave this out)
Method: 1. Add all ingredients to the blender jar.
2. Pulse to begin the blending, then blend until you get the consistency you like.
3. Eat immediately, or freeze to create a harder consistency.
I tried to get snazzy at this stage and saved some of the orange-halves and filled them with sorbet before popping them in the freezer. Once in the freezer, the tray must have shifted and before the sorbet had time to set it oozed out of the cups then it froze. The result looked very "art installation" to me.
Still tasted great!
After all at cold food there's nothing better that a nice cup of tea. And of course some Shortbread. I adapted the recipe from The Everything Lavender website and turned it into...
1/2 cup of porridge oats (not the microwave or easy cook ones, but the real ones your Mammy used)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons of orange zest
1-2 tablespoons of lavender
3-3.5 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1. Preheat the oven to 450o F.2. In a big bowl, sift the dry ingredients together making sure the bicarbonate of soda is evenly mixed.3. If you have herb grinder or blender, finely chop the orange zest and lavender flowers before adding them to the mix. I used a smoothie bullet.
4. Quickly add the orange juice and stir to get a
soft, raggy looking dough. Don't spend too long mixing as speed is
important here. As soon as the bicarbonate of soda gets wet, the
chemical reaction begins that causes the dough to rise, so you don't
have to knead this bread at all. In fact, more than a few seconds will
cause the loaf to be tough, so the good news is - less is best. 5. Turn the dough out on a baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with flour. 6. Shape it into a slightly domed circle about 6-8 inches in diameter. 7. Use a sharp knife to cut a cross right across the loaf to about half the depth of the loaf. 8. Gently (sudden jarring may disturb the developing carbon dioxide bubbles that help it rise) set the baking sheet into the oven and bake at 450o F for 10 minutes. 9. Then, turn the oven down to 400o F for 35 minutes. 10. Tap the bottom of the loaf - a hollow sound means it's done. 11. Put on a rack to cool. 12. Serve with butter (ideally melting and dripping of the bread), honey and a big mug of Yogi's Honey Lavender tea.
Lavender is great for a multitude of ailments. I use lavender oil to sooth allergy attacks. I just rub a couple of drops in the palm of my hand and hold it close to my nose. It is a wonderful stress reliever and what with this weeks news events - explosions in Boston, Baghdad and Texas, to name (unfortunately) only a few of the news stories that upset me this week - it's good to chill and be grateful for the good things in our lives. This post is dedicated to all the victims of violence on our planet.♥
This week I dug out my lettuce soup recipe. I usually do this about a week or two before I dig out the entire lettuce crop (or at least those plants that I'm not seed saving from.) And why, you might ask, would I do either thing?
Well, since it is now the start of April, it is getting too hot for the lettuce that I planted in the main bed during winter. The leaves become bitter and leathery and not very palatable. I can still find some shady patches where a new batch of lettuce might grow during the blistering summer months. The truth is that my salad days are nearly over for this year - at least my salad leaf days... next phase is the tomato salads, sauces and soups.
The tomato nursery on the back patio.
So as the the Irish get drenched in April showers, the East Coast shivers in the last (hopefully) snowstorms of winter and the Mid-west is torn asunder by tornadoes, we here in California are soaking in the sun in this perfect of all climates. And that's exactly where the guilt trip comes in. I've discussed this with my friends here and they feel the same. We rarely comment on the weather directly in our facebook posts afraid of being unfriended by those less fortunate than us. Though there's not much we can do about posting pictures of ourselves with the sun shining in the background on our tee shirted bodies. Sorry!
But hey if it makes you feel any better we did have a big wind storm on Sunday night. It blew over a lawn chair in my yard, and we were awakened by the pomegranate branches battering off the metal shed that butts up against the outside of our bedroom wall. It was a trial!
What? Still no sympathy - well, I don't blame you.
I pruned that tree. The next night was so warm we slept with the window open... all night. That's just how we roll here on this edge of the continent!
It's full on orange season here. (Slightly different timing to that back home!)
I've been playing about with recipes and substituting orange juice for milk in scone recipes. That works really well.
Since the cilantro has grown two feet tall I'm also making orange and cilantro salsa.
And a fennel and lentil soup may be on the menu at some point. I love the fennel bulb caramelized with chicken or fish...yummy!
And the summer scents from the garden! The smell of sweetpea just makes me miss my sister so much - it reminds me of her.
And the smell of lavender reminds me of my mum.
I just discovered yesterday that lavender oil is great for calming down an allergy induced sneezing attack. It's not hard to understand just why there's all that sneezing when you consider the pollen being produced in my front yard alone!
It's that perfect time for plants here. Still some life in the plants after winters rain but with daily blasts of sun and warmth to really get things growing. The native garden is bursting with color.
The Chinese houses reseeded themselves from last year. (above)
The monkey flower is just starting out - it is a long distance runner in the blooming race.
Even the shade garden is enjoying a flash of brightness as the Coral Island Bells shine.
I never usually rate the blooms on succulents, favoring them more for their foliage but this little flower is very pretty.
Overall, I'm pleased at how the succulent garden has filled in.
So, as I go out now to do my daily fifteen minutes of weeding in the sun, I will wallow in guilt, knowing how blessed I am to be living in Paradise. Mind you all that guilt does evaporate quickly when I consider that we do constantly live under the shadow of the next big earthquake...
We traveled from Taipei to Hualien by train. The journey was spectacular with the ocean on one side and cliffs and vistas on the other.
We were staying at the Silks Palace in Taroko Gorge and had arranged for them to pick us up at the train station in Hualien. The drive through the gorge to the hotel took our breath away. We just couldn't believe how beautiful the gorge was.
The hotel sat at the confluence of two rivers.
In this photo you can see the different colored waters converge.
Our room overlooked one of the rivers and the sound of the water lulled us to sleep at night.
It was easily the best hotel I'd ever stayed in - it had luxury, service and location...and restaurants were fabulous. The breakfast buffet could take you all day to sample everything. At night you had a choice of a Western buffet - all you could eat provided you had room left over from breakfast - or a ten course Chinese banquet.
There were a selection of hot tubs on the roof that offered a variety of temperatures. From here you could soak in the hot water and soak in the view at the same time.
Across the river from the hotel sat a monastery.
We were able to go explore it on our first afternoon.
We could go into the tower and climb up to the top.
The tower gave us great views of the Gorge and the little village beside us - Tienhsiang.
The best ways to enjoy the gorge are hiking and biking. As we passed through the village on our way to our first hike, we were joined by the local friendly dogs. One of them had only three legs, but was keen to come for a walk nevertheless.
The other dog liked to run ahead and show us the way. We thought it really cute when he stopped at the trail head to wait for us. Obviously he's done this before, and he knows where the tourists like to go!
I was glad they were with us as we walked in the dark through the first of many tunnels. Tunnels and bridges were the flavor of the week, and you could see why when you looked at how the river had carved up the landscape.
There were many warnings about the dangers of hiking in this area.
But is was so beautiful we felt it worth the risk.
Water thundered everywhere.
Even on our heads as we walked through one of the tunnels. As if being in a dark tunnel wasn't scary enough - this one had a water fall in it!
And with a different setting on the camera, you can see the stepping stones alongside the river.
It was particularly sweet that there was a supply of raincoats provided to get us through the tunnel.
The tunnels came in all shapes and sizes. The noise in this one was horrible when a truck or a bus would pass
Some came with reassurances that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel - nice touch!
Others were just a hole in the mountainside, and I'd clutch my husband's hand tight as we walked through.
Perhaps being in a tunnel was better than being in a half tunnel - thank goodness for the railings.
This sign was not very comforting!
And we soon learned that in Taroko Gorge not all bridges were created equal.
I like this one - nice sturdy concrete.
But this one I refused to cross - too high, too long, too narrow, too ropee, too swayee...
and too broken!
After that I needed a nice cuppa by the river.
Cycling was great - even the up, up, up hill!
The view at the end was so worth it.
Taroko Gorge was probably where the word "gorgeous" comes from. It was simply that gorgeous!
We had a beautiful time in each others company, having adventures and reveling in more of the wonders our planet has to offer us.
Okay - enough wandering for now...back to the garden next time!