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December 22, and I can’t believe I was out in my PA garden again this year!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2017/12/22

Last year, I reported on mowing my lawn on December 27. This year, predictions are that we will have snow on the ground for Christmas, with highs in the high 20s (Fahrenheit) and lows in the mid teens then and into the rest of that week.

But yesterday, December 21 (aka Winter Solstice), the temperature reached around 50. Today it headed well into the mid 50s. Even warmer than last year! I’d planned to go into my studio but couldn’t resist the urge to spend both afternoons in the back yard, wearing just sweatshirt, jeans, and boots. And very heavy suede gardening gloves.

I had some black raspberry bushes that I’ve been wanting to take out. I do love the berries—when I can salvage some that the birds leave me—but keeping them from spreading everywhere had just ended up being far more work than the berries were worth to me. I’ve been saying for few years that they had to go, that I’d dig them out in the fall. Then I’d get busy, not get to them beyond maybe a bit of pruning, and the next year it’d be, “Well, the bushes are there. I might as well enjoy another year’s harvest, and take them out this fall.” I’d spend some time during the summer trying to stop new runners, and promising myself they’d all come out after I was done harvesting. And then I’d go into busy-season and….

So, this week with warm temperatures and soft, moist ground, it was time for berry-bush-removal! I wasn’t counting, but I think I took out about 15, and cut them into small enough pieces that city-trash will take them. Half were picked up this morning; the ones from today are bagged up and will get put out for next week’s collection. There are two left that I didn’t get to before dark (though sunset has already started getting later, I just didn’t have quite enough daylight to finish those). But the ones I chose to leave are, deliberately, those in the least-convenient locations, so I hope that will convince me to complete the removal at my next opportunity! I’m almost there, though those last two may just stay where the are until spring…. Now what I have to do is to decide what I’ll put into the spaces where the (overcrowded!) berries used to be.

(Oh, and to compare this to last year, I didn’t feel the need to mow the lawn again this December. But I did spend an hour after sunset, after I’d had enough with the berries, both yesterday and today, raking up the last round of sweetgum leaves by street- and holiday-lights, and dumping those in my “browns” compost bin. Once again, though, no after-dark photos of any of this.)

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December 27, and I was mowing my lawn?!!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2016/12/27

And now, a little diversion from art into practical issues of life.

Six weeks ago, I thought I’d put my lawn mower away for the winter. The last leaf pick-up the city offered was on November 10, which is later than it’s been in other recent years. By then, I’d gradually trimmed the grass down for its last mowing, cleaned up the mower for the winter, and tucked it away.

I knew, however, that I wasn’t done. My trees still had leaves! I’d cleaned up those that had fallen from the apple tree and other shrubs along the sides and in the back, and I was willing to let any remaining ones that fell just be for a while. I leave stray apples down in the back yard too: deer from the park can come and find them during the winter! Then I do the final clean-up there in the spring. But I try to keep the front tidier.

By Thanksgiving weekend, the sweetgum tree in front had dropped no more than 100 leaves: the many, many thousands it bears usually fall over the course of that whole month. At the end of November this year, I just shoveled up those first few and dumped them in the compost. And then the busy-season started: shows and events and last minute requests plus gatherings and baking and decorating and visitors and whatnot. The first week of December, only a few more leaves dropped. Then, suddenly, a week before Christmas (during my last Trunk Show of the season), there was the first real deep-freeze, followed by a quick warm-up with heavy rain, and they all dumped straight down in a day or two, piled up in a soggy mess. I guess that’s better than dry and blowing all over the neighborhood! But these were clumped together inches deep on the eastern-third of my front yard under the tree. Every now and then I’d find a few spare daylight hours when I’d think I could try to work on that, but those just never happened on dry-enough days.

Still, despite a lot of rain, it rarely went below freezing. The grass kept growing. And with short days, it seemed to do the thing plants do during their “growing season” when there’s not enough light: it shot up another six inches or more!

I thought maybe I’d try to deal with all this yesterday, with temperatures in the 60s (SW Pennsylvania the last week of December, and temps in the 60s?!!). But it rained all day. I did, at least, take down the “window boxes” full of flowers that I hang from the porch railings. I could, of course, do that from the shelter of the porch.

Today it only reached into the 40s, but it was clear. I didn’t have as much free time today, but I did manage almost four hours out there! I raked up about 80% of the leaves and sucked those through my mulching leaf vacuum. (I wouldn’t have had to rake if they’d been dry. But wet, they stick together and clog up the machine’s nozzle unless I “fluff” them up.) The rest just got mulched in with the grass when I mowed the lawn.

Since we’re just past the solstice, the days are short: so my last hour out there was after sunset! A few days shy of the new moon, there was no helpful light from that, but streetlights and holiday lights did offer some aid. By the time I’d finished collecting leaves and mowing, however, the mower, leaf vacuum, rake and shovel all went straight back into the garage. And the thing I’m debating tonight is whether to take time in the morning to clean them up again for winter storage, especially the mower, or just figure I may need it again in a few weeks.

I can’t believe I’m having that thought! I also can’t believe that it wasn’t until well after dark before I said to myself, “I really should have thought to take a photo while there was still some light!” Oh well. I hope you enjoy the story!

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Love & Commitment

Posted by C Scheftic on 2015/09/05

Back in 2012, I wrote about how much I enjoyed making my first bracelet in the Domes & Coils series. I really liked that bracelet: never even considered putting it up for sale, wore it regularly, but somehow (?!) lost it at the last-ever conference sponsored by the now-defunct PMC Guild. Sigh.

Then in 2014, I wrote about another bracelet in that series, one I called Friends & Lovers, that I made to fit the theme of a bracelet-making challenge with a “Romantic” theme. My cousin Debby liked it, dealt with all sorts of technical issues (some hers, some the site where the contest was being hosted) in order to vote for it (didn’t win; I think it came in second but there was just one award) and when, a year later, she found out I had not sold it, said she wanted to buy it to wear later in the year when her son Adam would be marrying Megan. Great! I was glad for her to have it! (And, assuming the marriage lasts, to have it eventually pass on to Megan.)

I knew it would need some minor adjustments to fit her wrist, so I didn’t sent id to her right away. Figured I’d see her at a shower for that wedding, or at one of several other family-events over the summer. But when she said she wanted it was right before I was going to have a show in my studio, so I carefully set it aside for safe-keeping. Now that I had a buyer for it, I sure didn’t want anyone else going for it. Makes sense, right?

Except, then I couldn’t find where I’d put it! I wasn’t worried: as I tidied up all sorts of nooks & crannies in my studio gradually over the summer, I knew I’d find it. Except, I didn’t.

Sooooo, I finally just made another one! Finished it 12 hours before the wedding! The first Domes & Coils just had coiled wire coiled within its domes; Friends & Lovers had beads coiled within its domes; this one has wire coils or beaded coils, alternately, within its domes. I’m making it to the size she said she wanted, but I think it’s going to be a bit small, so I made a couple extra domed-hearts with the nested coils, and I’m going to take those, jump rings, and tools in case I need to do any on the spot adjustments!

I call this one Love & Commitment. Why? Well, I’m telling Debby this: I love you and I made a commitment to have this for you for the wedding, on top of the meaning of the event at which you’ll first wear it. So it just seemed an appropriate name. I sure hope she’ll like it in person as much as the one she only ever saw in a photograph.

Postscript: I’m glad I took the tools: with a bit of fiddling, we got a fit she calls perfect! I was sure I’d taken a photo of her wearing it and grinning ear to ear (over the wedding, I’m sure, not just the bracelet, though she did seem happy with it). But now, I don’t see one of those. Instead, here’s a shot of the happy couple at the “you may now kiss” moment (along with yet another cousin, the priest who married them!), sent with lots of best wishes!

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Edible Flowers Food Fest: The Lucky-13th

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/07/30

I’ve been trying to find time to write this since the third Thursday of July, when it was once again time for me to take a break from metal clays and mention the Edible Flowers Food Fest. The event was begun by Denise Schreiber (Mrs. Know It All on radio and Facebook) and is sponsored by the the Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Parks Department and the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County. Oh, and it’s on a Thursday so that the various helpers have most of the week to prepare everything!

This year, the 13th time this event was held, the menu included:

  • Appetizer Crackers with:
    • Edible Flower Cream Cheese Spread, as well as
    • Rose Geranium Jelly, Lemon Verbena Jelly, Peach Lavender Jelly
  • Soup:
    • Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Nasturtiums
  • Entrees:
    • Beef with Cherry-Plum-Rose Chutney
    • Chicken with Lavender Honey
    • Shrimp with Orange Ginger Sauce plus Parsley Leaves and Monarda Petals
  • Salads:
    • Spring Greens Salad with Mixed Edible Flowers and Lavender Blueberry Vinegar Dressing
    • Oriental Broccoli Salad
    • Orange Rosemary Pasta Salad
    • Seasonal Fruit Salad with Lemon Verbena and Lime Dressing
  • Beverages:
    • Basil Lemonade
    • Strawberry Lavender Lemonade
  • Desserts:
    • Almond Shortbread Cookies with Rose-Cinnamon Dusting
    • Dark Chocolate Bark with Lavender, Pretzels, Caramel, and Sea Salt
    • Russian Tea Cakes with Lavender and, of course, the
    • Rose Petal Ice Cream (shown) that started it all….

While I helped with several of the dishes, the assignments I enjoyed the most this year involved the shrimp and its sauce. That was such a treat because it was my favorite item on this year’s menu! (Though a very close second was the cherry and plum chutney, with fresh rose petals mixed in just before it was served with the roast beef….) Back to the shrimp. I was put in charge of the sauce: saute shallots in butter, deglaze that with white wine, then simmer it with ginger and orange juice until it becomes syrup-y. Once that was ready, Denise’s brother and I flash-fried the shrimp (enough for about 200 people this year!), keeping the cooked ones warm soaking in the syrup and, just before serving, tossing it all with fresh parsley leaves and dried monarda (bee balm) petals. (In that last step, you could use any edible flowers, herbs, or even sprouts you might like: we used parsley and monarda because that’s what we had on hand to use. The menu each year is determined by starting with recipes we’d like to make, and modifying both the final list and the details of each item by what Mother Nature happens to have made available for us to use once the actual date rolls around!)

I helped fellow Master-Gardeners with several other items too. Susan, Joan, and I assembled 50 pitchers of lemonade (two different flavors). For no obvious reason, I wasn’t involved with the fruit salad: others had that under control. But I mention it because real treat with that was the big “serving basket” that George had carved out of one of the watermelons whose flesh went into that dish. Anyone with a spare moment would go over to the table where Lyn and Gerri were cleaning and preparing donated flowers for all the different dishes and put in some time there. I took care of the violas that Martha has brought, and several varieties of roses (I’m not sure who-all had brought those). And by preparing I mean handling each flower individually, removing all the stamens and pistils plus trimming off, as needed, any of the white (bitter) part at the base of each individual flower petal.

Although I love all the food itself, one of my favorite things about helping out with the EFFF involves the number of gardening conversations is initiates. Not just at the event, but throughout the year: whenever I mention it, I can pretty much count on an interesting discussion to follow. Vegetable gardeners may talk about companion-planting flowers with their usual crops; landscape gardeners who may not be interested in expanding into vegetables will still ask about which of their current color-accents may or may not be edible; people who enjoy cooking regardless of their experience with actual gardening can still talk about the color, texture, and flavor contributions of various edible flowers.

So I’m going to have a rough time, knowing that the EFFF will not be happening in July 2014. Denise will be too busy hosting the 66th annual Garden Writer Association Symposium. But we are told that the EFFF will return again in 2015. Here’s hoping!

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Daylilies are Edible!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/07/22

Day Lilies and Water Lilies at Tomahawk CampThe mid-July pause in my blog has happened, once again, because 13th annual Edible Flowers Food Fest was offered last Thursday and I helped to make that happen. As ever, I thought it was great, and I’ll report on it shortly: I still need to find time to plow through my photos from that and pick one or two to use here (along with some interesting details about the menu and more), and I’m just too far behind on other tasks to do that. Since my thoughts are still filled with edible flowers, however, my mind keeps going back to something I did a week before that, for which I do have a delightful image. (Both events involved the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County.)

The thing is (and maybe I simply missed this in my rushing around) I just don’t see a way to make WordPress and GigaPan talk to each other directly… You are just going to have to click on the tiny, blurry image of water- and day-lilies to open a new window with the image I really want you to see, a 360° panorama of a National Historic Registry property owned by Nancy Marshall. (Oh, and use the navigation buttons on that page to zoom in and move around and really explore the entire image!) We did not impose on Nancy’s hospitality (two weeks ago) to beg her for flowers to use during the Edible Flowers Food Fest (this past week), but one of my thoughts while setting up the equipment to take this 360° panorama was that, while most lilies are NOT edible, daylily buds sure are…. Yum!

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Forty-Five Days!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2013/02/02

This post is a small diversion from my art jewelry theme, but I figured I should say a little something about my recent absence here…..

When I was thinking about moving back to PA from CA, I went house-hunting as part of my investigation into whether I could make the move work out. I found this place, located very near a large city park: a two-story, brick home from the late-1940s, to which the then-owners had attached a one-story addition in the mid-1990s. (This first photo was just a quick shot taken during the pre-purchase home inspection.) The inside of the addition was great, but I never liked the look of it from the outside, just stuck down next to the original house with no architectural-design tie-ins. Besides thinking the flat-roof was one of several rather unattractive elements, after moving in I discovered that it also leaked on both sides of the corner shown here. Yuck! Plus, though I loved the idea of circulation (both air and human) facilitated by the two sets of french doors added during that construction, I wasn’t thrilled with all the wildlife (both large and small) those large openings seemed to invite. Something had to give.

And this is what I have recently given up a lot of time and money to achieve:

Over 45 days (including much of this past holiday season…) this has involved: repairs to the old flat roof to improve its structural integrity; a pitched roof built on top of that; changes to some windows (around the corner, not shown here) to accommodate the pitched roof; gutters re-hung to drain into a rain barrel (also around the corner, where it can serve a garden bed at the front); a whole range of repairs inside where the flat roof had leaked; removal of the (extremely-solid!) basketball hoop; and enclosing the entire large concrete patio into a screen-porch with ceiling fans inside, intended both to provide a great protected “outside” area and to try to visually tie everything together (at least a bit, given what I had to start with…).

Clearly, mid-winter, this project is nowhere near complete. In addition to all the inside-tasks that remain (two examples: I’ve done some clean up, but have not yet finished all of that yet because I’ve been so wiped out; and there’s lots of furniture to be moved back where it belongs), outside I had also deferred all sorts of landscaping because I knew this project would tear up yard area, which it certainly did. But, at last, in a few months I can move on to that. (And, dare I say it, at some point to remodeling the kitchen next …. which was my other big pre-purchase dream!)

Assuming I can get myself healthy, and somewhat caught up in the jewelry-realm, by then. I’m still trying simply to achieve those…..

I sure hope I can get to feeling better soon!!! I was thinking of health and long-life today, in particular, reminiscing about my paternal grandparents because this day, February 2, was the date on which they celebrated their wedding anniversary. It was always easy to remember that one: perhaps I should note that they were married near Punxsutawney, PA … and all sorts of people (in the colder parts of this country at least, plus some fans of certain US films) celebrate another Punxsutawney-related event on February 2, don’t they?! I do hope groundhog-Phil’s prediction of an early end to winter this year is accurate!

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Catching up, or at least trying to….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/11/19

I love autumn! Love, love, love it!

I love the “crispness” of the air, between the melting-heat of summer and the freezing-cold of winter. I am happy to get outside and do things, without feeling like I’m going to melt if I take another step (yes, I am very sensitive to the heat!), and without the encumbrances of frost-protective gear.

I love the colors of the sky in the fall, with the sun at that lovely mid-way angle. And I love the changing colors of so much of the vegetation, as the chlorophyl production stops pushing all the green colors and the other hues that have been hiding in the plants get a chance to shine on their own.

I come out of my shell then too, happy and eager to catch up on everything that needs to get done.

And then it hits me: there is no way to catch up. No way….

How can this be? It’s not even necessarily that I’ve let things slide, myself. A few things, sure, but much of the time, things just seem to pile up despite my best efforts. And, for once, I have a simple pictorial illustration of what I mean.

I opened this post with a photo (above, right) of a few leaves that were in my yard on the 9th of November this year. They fell from the sweetgum tree in my front yard. I am sure of the date because that Saturday, the 10th, was the day that my city had designated for its one and only pass through to collect household leaves for their composting program.

The second photo with this post (left) shows the sweetgum tree in the yard of my next-door neighbors on that very same day. With just a few leaves left on their tree at that point, I am sure that they were very happy to have this public service offer.

Now, if you’re not familiar with sweetgums, these leaves are big. The smallest ones are the size of my hand: palm, fingers, thumb, maybe a bit of wrist too … everything. And the largest ones can be much, much larger. And there are lots of them. During and after the falling of the sweetgum leaves themselves, there is another phase of clean-up to do too, involving raking and collecting all the sweetgum-balls that will eventually fall. (Kind of reminds me of the balls on the tree that Lois etched onto copper, which I showed a few posts back, except there are many orders of magnitude more balls all over the sweetgum trees. If you enlarge the photo of the nearly-bare tree next door, you may be able to get a glimpse of them. Everywhere.)

When I last lived in California, I had a pair of sycamore trees in my front yard. Those dropped balls too, pretty much all in one quick load in the fall. They did take a bit of work to clean up, but I could do most of it in one shot, and then just finish with a couple quick follow-ups involving a few stragglers. Moving to Pennsylvania, I had no clue how different these sweetgum balls would be! You get a few of them with the leaves in the fall. Then more come down with each snowstorm, so you’re shoveling those around as you try to clear walks and driveways of snow and ice. Once that melts, you can really clean those up; but now you’ve moved them twice! Then more come down as you’re trying to prepare beds in the spring. And a few will hold on just so they can fall and try to twist your ankle during summer lawn-mowings or as neighbors stroll the street. My sycamores in CA had other problems (as many gardeners there would say, “when you have a sycamore tree, you have a sick tree….”), but their balls were not an issue.

So, having said all that, let me show you what MY sweetgum tree looked like, a whole week AFTER the city’s one and only leaf collection day. Clearly, in addition to having to deal with all the balls that will drop all year long, I will have to deal with all those leaves on my own too.

Now, this is not a crisis. I get to look at the lovely colored leaves outside front windows for several weeks longer than anyone else on my street. And I have a tool that’s a reverse-leaf-blower: that is instead of just using energy and making lots of noise to push leaves around, this one actually sucks them up and shoots them through a chopper mechanism into a bag. One bag from that is the equivalent of 4 to 5 regular “leaf bags” full of leaves, and I can just dump it into a composter. All of that is very good! (If you know about composing: I’ll dump that into my “browns” bin and, all year long, as I add “greens” to my “active” bin, I’ll scoop “browns” out of that bin to mix with the “greens” to help keep the “balance” right. I only compost leaves that have fallen onto my yard: ones that go onto the street, with the extra pollutants that can collect there, will get raked into “leaf bags” and put out with my trash. Sigh.)

But, whether I vacuum up and compost my leaves, or rake them up to add to the trash, the point is that I am taking time to do all of it (and, um, yes, I admit it, then to blog about the episode too…). But I’m not doing what the majority of my neighbors are doing, and simply raking leaves out for the city to collect. No, the tree in my yard simply won’t let me just say, OK, this year I’m way too far behind on too many fronts, let the city compost them them.

I have no idea why. But it’s one example in a very loooooong list of things that I really am trying to catch up on. And I wrote this because I needed to take a few minutes’ break from metal-clay work in the final sprint of preparations for various holiday-sales events. I’ll be posting information about those next. As I make all these great new pieces, I am stacking up ideas in my head (and in draft-reminders online) for some posts about working with metal clay and other jewelry elements: those should be coming along again right after all that.

I don’t even need to get caught up completely, just caught up enough! Do you know what I mean by that? Whether you feel caught up or not, I do hope everyone reading this is having a great autumn season too.

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Garden Picnic

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/10/02

Which do you think is yummier: the look of that garden or the fact that it’s a cake?!

I’ve mentioned before that I’m also a member of the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County.

One of our many projects is to maintain several Demonstration Gardens. These showcase flowering plants and herbs that perform well in our climate and soils with minimal maintenance. The gardens include display beds of over 125 varieties of annuals. At the end of each season, the plants are evaluated based on their performance in the garden: the best ones are brought back in subsequent years, while poor performers go on a watch list and will be discontinued if they continue that pattern over several cycles. A separate evaluation is performed regarding the number of pollinators that are periodically recorded in certain specific beds.

For people interested in joining the program, there is an initial interview to ensure that candidates understand their role in utilizing research-based information to educate the public on best practices in consumer horticulture and environmental stewardship, followed by a terrific (and intense!) year-long training program. Since this is sponsored by Penn State, our calendar follows their academic year: interviews happen in August, the training starts in September, and the training year concludes the following August. Then, in September each year we have a harvest-time picnic in or near one of our demo gardens (we rotate around the different sites) to acknowledge our newly graduated members as well as the ongoing efforts of all our long-time participants.

This year the picnic was held at the South Park Demo Garden. The cake shown above is not a replica of the garden itself, but I thought I’d share it because I think it represents the delight of the gardens! And that delight is why floral themes so often appear in my artwork, one way or another….

I wonder if/how that may change next year: we just got approval to open up a new demo garden — on an urban lot! — that will feature edible plants and flowers? I’m really looking forward to working on that project, since those are the kinds of things I most love to grow myself. And I am definitely an urban gardener these days!

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Edible Flowers: the twelfth Fest, in 2012

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/07/20

This week included the third Thursday of July which, to me, meant it was once again time for the twelfth annual Edible Flowers Food Festival. Again, it was sponsored by the Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Parks Department and the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County.

I try to contribute both edible flowers and time to help make this wonderful event a success. In past years, I’ve crawled around on the ground harvesting violets to save until mid-July. This year, the winter was so mild and early spring so warm that they came out several weeks early. I had thousands of buds just ready to open when a more-typical mid-spring freeze struck. The plants themselves came through that just fine, in the long run, but the flowers for this year did not.

Now, my garden was not the only one to suffer from that early-bloom killer-frost phenomenon. All the contributors to this event faced that, followed by severe heat and drought conditions this summer. So there was a good bit of menu-shuffling needed to make the dinner a success this year…. Luckily, my Rose of Sharon (shown) was in full bloom a bit early. Actually, it was already a bit past its bloom-peak: the photo shows how it looked on Thursday morning as I went out to harvest. Earlier in the week, there were probably three times as many blooms on it! Still, I managed to get around 200 good flowers which, at five petals per flower, meant that (after separating, cleaning, and selecting) I chipped in about a thousand petals for the salad dish. The second photo with this post shows a colander filled with well over 50 fresh blooms.

Just to be clear here: some flowers are edible, but many are not. Do check out any that you consider using! In fact, Rose of Sharon can be a tricky one, because that “common name” is actually used to identify several entirely different plants. What I have is the one most often referred to as Rose of Sharon in the USA: hibiscus syriacus. It is a member of the Genus Hibiscus, although it is misnamed in that it apparently does not come from Syria. Go figure. (Hibiscus is part of the Mallow (Malva) Family, which also contains plants as diverse as cacao, cotton, kola nuts, and okra.)

Though I’ve been interested in edible flowers for a long time, it’s only relatively recently that I found out my Rose of Sharon had petals that are edible. Apparently, various forms of hibiscus syriacus come in a range of both colors and mild flavors: I would not say mine have much flavor at all; but they are gorgeous and offer a satisfying bit of crunch, so they’re great when mixed, in small quantities, with other greens and flowers. The last photo with this post shows our vinegar-makers in the process of filling the small dressing-containers and adding them to the colorful salad bowls.

Before I sign off on this post, I thought you might be interested in the entire menu for the evening:

  • Lavender Lemonade
  • Rosey Zinger Iced Tea
  • Elder Flower Presse
  • Snack crackers with:
    • Edible Flowers Cream Cheese Spread
    • Tofu Spread with Nasturtiums
    • Lemon Verbena Jelly, Peach-Lavender Jam, and Rose Geranium Jelly
  • Green Gazpacho with Garlic Scapes, Roasted Red Pepper Puree, and Herbed Croutons
  • Spring Greens with Mixed Edible Flowers and Strawberry Rosemary Vinegar Dressing
  • Rice Paper Rolls of Nasturtiums & Vegetables with an Asian Dipping Sauce
  • Egg Salad with Redbud Flowers on Herbes de Provence Bread
  • Potato Salad with Dill Leaves and Flowers
  • Anise Hyssop Pizza with Mushrooms, Roasted Yellow Peppers, and Cheeses
  • Baked Fish with Lemon Thyme and Monarda Sauce
  • Roast Beef with Roses et Poivre
  • Chicken Mole with Rose Hips
  • Oven Roasted Green Beans with Onion Buds
  • Seasonal Fruit Salad with Lemon Verbena Lime Dressing
  • Chocolate Bark with Lavender, Pretzels, Caramel, and Sea Salt
  • Pound Cake with Monarda Glaze
  • And, of course, the Rose Petal Ice Cream that led to the Fest in the first place!!!

But now I guess I should get back to making (and writing about) small metal adornments….

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Well, it’s been one of those months….

Posted by C Scheftic on 2012/03/31

No crises, just one extra thing after another. Computer problems, car problems, dental problems plus more than the usual number of aches & pains elsewhere, friends & family needing help, looming deadlines, and more! No time left for writing here. Hopefully, eventually, I’ll manage to report here some of the metal-clay accomplishments buried in there. For the moment, however, here’s something I did last weekend: the return of Spring brings the return of Orienteering season too.

Orienteering is a sport where entrants gather at a specific site (usually, but not always, a public park) and receive a map with a series of “control” locations along with a score-card. You head out in search of the controls and, as you reach each one, you mark the scorecard appropriately to verify that you’ve been there. (This differs from searching for geocaches, where folks use latitude and longitude with GPS devices. Orienteering uses actual maps and compasses….) There are several basic types of meets: in one, your goal is to find all the controls and the results are ranked by how quickly you do so; in another, your goal is to return to the base within a specific time and the results are ranked by how many control-points you are able to earn in that time. (There can be all sorts of other variations: courses or controls ranked by difficulty, penalties for various things (like returning late or for missing or mis-recording a control), but I’m not trying to write a complete description here.)

Although the obvious question for the first photo here is, “What IS Alexis wearing?!” (and, since he’d set the course for this event, that should have been a clue of what we were about to be in for!) (plus, it’s a shame that Jim’s paper is hiding his nice orienteering club sweatshirt), the reason I include this photo is to illustrate what a “control” looks like: Note the White & Orange “flag” with its dangling red “punch.” That is what one is trying to find!

The first event for this year was a “score” event, and was limited to 150 participants. Two friends and I went out as a team in the 3-hour version, to see how many controls we could find. There was a 6-hour option too, but we decided against that one. We are part of a variable group (different ones of us manage to make different meets) who attend these for fun, as pleasant exercise. We try to keep up a reasonable pace, but we are not among those who “race” the course. If someone wants to stop and take a photo, that’s fine. If someone needs to stop and rest a bit, that’s OK too. For us, it’s more important to enjoy the day in the country than it is to win the meet. Local meets are fairly inexpensive: the entry fee covers the cost of the map and a bit towards maintenance of the necessary supplies. Rarely are there any actual awards other than the personal satisfaction of seeing where you ranked.

This course had 50 controls, 10 each worth 10, 20, 30, 40, or 50 points, spread across a park that covers around 7,500 acres. We set ourselves a route that included a handful of 10 and 20 point controls that we thought we could complete in the 3-hour slot: we could see that they were relatively close to the base, and we figured they wouldn’t require too much scrambling to reach.

All I can say is: Control #5 should have been worth more than 10 points!!! Yeah, it wasn’t that far from the “base” site, but it was a challenge to even spot and, once identified, a real scramble to get to. We reached 20-point controls that were far, far easier!

The second (small) photo shows a crossed pair of trees on the side of a path, and a hillside that’s farther off. It shows NONE of: the drop-off beyond those crossed trees, the stream, nor opposite bank one had to cross before starting up the hill. It DOES show Joan punching our scorecard at this control. You say you can’t see either her or it?

That’s my point!

For a clue where they are, I include a slightly larger image on which I’ve added an orange arrow pointing to the orange and white control flag, and a blue arrow pointing to Joan who was wearing a blue jacket and purple pants. Still can’t see either it or her?

Yes, that’s my point! (You can click on the photo for a slightly larger version, but even that won’t help much. They are _just barely_ visible on my high-res original photo, which I used to add the arrows … because I knew exactly where to look for them, but they almost disappear on web-resolution ones.)

Control #5 should have been worth more than 10 points!!! The 20-point controls we did find, ones that were only slightly farther from the base, were far easier than this to simply see, let alone to reach… We found out that many other entrants either gave up looking for this one or, having seen it, figured they’d still do better by just moving on to another control. Since we weren’t that concerned about points, however, we decided to take it as a challenge: could we get those particular ten measly points. Despite my having pulled a hamstring ligament simply trying to find this one (which led to all sorts of complications the following week, though at last it seems to be on the mend), and with a big THANKS to our youngest member, Joan, we did! (Technically, only one team member has to actually reach the control and punch the score-card. Since Joan’s age pulled us down into a younger category, she was kind enough to volunteer to punch this one while we kept an eye on her for safety.) Every one we spoke with who did find that one agreed it was far and away the most challenging of those in its category. Since we didn’t even try to reach all of the 20-pointers, I can’t compare it to those with any authority; but, compared to the ones we did reach, I’d say this one should have been worth 30! Changing that point-value would not have changed our team’s ranking, so I’m arguing its value on principle only.

We did manage to come in second in our category! This last photo shows our prize!! I note it because it’s the very first actual prize I ever got in this sport!!!

And, yes, it’s “backwards” in this photograph. But there was only one ornament per category: Barbara got our “official” one, while Joan and I got ones that have the wrong label. But that’s OK…

We actually each got a prize! Silly as it is, I’m delighted. Now, it’s time to get back to claying and blogging and such. And, ummm, with knee on the mend, hopefully to my little, urban garden too.

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Edible Flowers, once again!

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/07/22

OK, I spoke too soon with my previous post: There was one other major event to consider!

Last night, once again, was the ever-wonderful, 11th annual, Edible Flowers Food Fest, sponsored by the Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Parks Department and the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County.

The speaker’s topic this year was how to establish an Edible Flower Container Garden. While the plants discussed and demonstrated could be use in either large or small spaces, the use of a container garden is one way to encourage others to get started with growing flowers to use in meals themselves, not only as decorations on the table.

My own major edible-flower contribution was having spent several days last May collecting violet blossoms from my (somewhat disastrous but healthily organic) yard and freezing them into several flower-dense ice rings (for the serving bowls) plus hundreds upon hundreds of individual ice cubes (for the drink glasses). Luckily, my friend Susan agreed to take several bags of my ice cubes to store in her freezer until the day of the event, thus lessening the amount of space I had to devote to them in the interim.

I was also one of several dozen Master Gardeners who, in addition to contributing flowers and other edibles, helped to prepare the food on one or more of the four days in advance of the event, served the goodies, and helped to clean everything up afterwards. A long but rewarding week!

A special highlight of this year’s event was the release of Denise Scheiber’s lovely new book, Eat Your Roses … Pansies, Lavender, and 49 other Delicious Edible Flowers. (It’s published by St. Lynns Press in Pittsburgh, PA.)

Of course, we call it “Eat Your Roses” for short. Denise is a horticulturist and greenhouse manager with the Allegheny County Parks, and is the person who initiated and continues to organize “our” great Edible Flowers event into a delightful fund-raiser. If you know anything about the history of the Edible Flowers Food Fest (or, if you don’t but buy the book), you’ll know why Denise chose roses to lead her parade of edible flowers! In short, her Rose Petal Ice Cream (which led to the whole EFFF event) is superb!

Along with some basic information on which flowers are and are not edible, on gathering flowers and saving or preparing them for use, plus some basic sources and resources (including the central number for the Poison Control Center just in case someone doesn’t heed all the appropriate advice), the book has one basic page for each of the 52 edible flower types Denise has selected. She doesn’t provide detailed information on growing them (that information is available plenty of other places for any plants that interest you), but she does include a photo, some important aspects of each plant’s nature and general appeal, information on their sensory impact, and a number of suggested uses. All of those give great clues as to which ones are likely be of most interest to you. She also provides about 30 pages of detailed recipes, some with extra variations, to get you started with ways to incorporate edible flowers into your cooking. Once you’ve tried those, you can go on to experiment with adding them to your own favorite recipes. Bon appetit!

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Trying to catch up.

Posted by C Scheftic on 2011/01/13

I’ve been trying to finish up a small collections of “Valentine Special” pieces. I’d like to get them photographed (with likely a few shots posted here) and off to be put up for sale.

But, once again today, I’m running behind. I just didn’t look out the front windows in the morning. I did look out back, saw snow on the ground, but there’s nothing new in that.

I didn’t hear any of my neighbors out shoveling or snow-blowing. I didn’t hear and plows or salt trucks go past.

I didn’t have to be anywhere particularly early, so I wasn’t listening to any morning news (i.e., no need for the morning commute-delay news). I just went about my morning routine, getting ready to face the day. I opened the door to leave. And I was shocked at the amount of new snow to be shoveled out.

I mean, had I known, I could have dawdled a tiny bit less, sped up the routine, and headed out a bit earlier. I just hadn’t thought there’d be reason to do so.

So then I spent close to an hour clearing my walkways, sidewalk, driveway, and while talking with one neighbor clearing about half on another neightbor’s sidewalk.

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Edible Flowers

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/07/29

OK, since I went off-topic a bit with the pollinator info and the Penn State Extension programs, I can’t resist adding a note about another great event last week. The reason I couldn’t stay any longer at Alice’s is that I wanted to get back in time to help out with the 10th Annual Edible Flowers Food Fest. Yummm!

It’s organized by Denise Schreiber, horticulturist with Allegheny County Parks in (well, surrounding and including) Pittsburgh, PA, and staffed by Denise’s family, friends, and members of the Penn State Master Gardeners of Allegheny County.

The photo is of me holding a tray of Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Nasturtium Leaves and Blossoms. I’m wearing an apron of mostly-edible flowers and a silver butterfly-pollinator pendant (made from metal clay, of course!).

Note: not all flowers are edible. Make sure you know they are safe before trying any particular ones. Also, please use only flowers that have been grown organically: even edible species grown for flower shops are often treated with chemicals that render them inedible. The link above, to the Food Fest, has some more information on this issue.

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Pollinator Gardens

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/07/26

When I stopped at Alice’s on Wednesday (see my last post), I followed her directions for parking in a different (and less expensive) parking lot than I’d used on previous visits.

She has commented that, although it’s a bit farther from her studio, the walk between car and studio involves a nice path next to the river. So, I was happily strolling along, noting the Gingko Tree that she’d also mentioned on her blog, past a couple buildings, and then, suddenly, I found myself looking at the next batch of landscaping and thinking, “This looks like it could be a Pollinator Garden.”

And when I reached the end of the walk, there were signs that this was a Pollinator Garden maintained by the Penn State Master Gardeners of Venango County!

If you are at all curious about Pollinator Gardens, here are a couple links:

The photo used above, of a key pollinator of Pepper, Strawberry, Tomato, Watermelon, is from Identification of Native Bees from Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

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How much snow is there?

Posted by C Scheftic on 2010/02/10

Maggie in Columbia, MD, reports that “There’s so much snow that kids are making snow angels … standing up!”

No snow angels in this shot, but here’s what it looks like in western Pennsylvania … now that the power that went out Friday night has been restored!

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