Jilly D.

Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Violets are a Girl’s Best Friend

In Time and seasons on April 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Violets Are A Girl’s Best Friend

THE FIRST SURE SIGN of spring is the Common Blue Violet, Viola papilionacea. Its heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges grow low to the ground. The five-petal purple flowers burst forth on separate stems. Violet is the name of a flower, a color, a slight aroma and a distinctive yet delicate taste. Tiny, delicate and bowed in bloom, the violet is a common flower that deserves to be elevated in a forager’s elegant diet.

The delicacy of the viola’s flavor matches its allegorical associations: ever since Diana turned Ia into a violet to hide her from Apollo’s unwanted ardor in Greek mythology, violets have symbolized modesty and shyness.

The Violet family is made up of 22 genera and more than 900 species throughout the world. Many species are cultivated for their attractive flowers (for example, pansies). This North American wild flower grows in damp woods, moist meadows and along roadsides. You can find them underfoot almost anywhere outdoors in springtime.

Violets are nature’s litmus: their blooms will turn red in the presence of acid and yellow in the presence of alkali. Their leaves are naturally high in vitamins A and C. They can be tossed into salads and served as a seasonal companion to the greens of dandelions. Violet leaves can also be steamed with a splash of vinegar and served sprinkled with toasted almonds.

The violet blooms can be made into candies and jellies. When a violet blooms, the first few days its petals are the richest dark purple. If I gather the violet petals for edible creations, I have learned to pick only the newest blossoms. The more intense the color, the more concentrated the flavor.

Taking a stroll along a wooded lane, I can quickly pick more than the two cups necessary for a batch of violet jelly. I avoid picking along the edge of the roadside and go for the blossoms with the vibrancy of life in the wild.

Violet jelly isn’t purple at all. The pungency of the pink color stands in stark contrast to its subtle flavor. The color and consistency of violet jelly reminds me of the hair gel, “Dippity Do,” which I used to smear on my wet locks before rolling my hair up into sponge curlers.

The jiggly hot pink jelly tastes so delicate and refined it is best served with shortbread, saltines or plain scones. It’s also delicious on buttered toast.

Another way to use beautiful violet blossoms is to sugar them and serve them as cake decorations or on frosted sugar cookies. I dip the blossom first in a blend of one tablespoon of water and one egg white. Then I dust it in white sugar before placing them on a cookie sheet and into the freezer for 20 minutes. Once solid, I put them into an air tight container in the freezer until I am ready to use them to decorate cookies or a special birthday cake.

My partner Sam once tasted my homemade version of violet jelly.

“Different,” is all he said.

I was so glad he didn’t really care about it. More for me. More for tea parties with the girls.

Violet Jelly

2 cups boiling water

2 cups violet petals

1 cup sugar

Cheesecloth (preferably unbleached)

1 pint jelly jar OR 2 half pints

Cut a piece of cheesecloth to fit over a large mixing bowl. Wet the cheesecloth with cold water. If you don’t wet the cloth first, all of the flower’s natural dyes will soak into the fibers and not into your jelly. Place the wet cheesecloth over mixing bowl and secure with a large rubber band.

Bring water to a boil. Add violet petals and return to a boil. Remove from heat.

Pour the violet petals and water through the cheesecloth and let it drip for at least an hour. Do not squeeze the petal pulp through the cheesecloth. Remove and dispose of the cheesecloth and petals in your compost pail.

While you are waiting for the steeped petals to drip through the cheesecloth, sterilize your jelly jars, lids and rings by boiling them in hot water for at least twenty minutes.

Bring violet water back to a boil. Add sugar and return to a boil, stirring constantly. Let it gently boil for about 6 minutes while you continue to stir. When the concoction begins to sheet off your spoon remove it from the heat and stir for one more minute.

Fill each jelly jar (one pint or two half pints) to ¼” from the top, put on a lid and tighten securely with a ring. Let set at room temperature to cool overnight. If the lids do not “pop” overnight I recommend turning the jelly jars upside down for up to two weeks.

Violets have natural pectin so the jelly should set eventually. If it doesn’t, you have made violet syrup instead. Same special taste; it just doesn’t have the same wiggle. Violet syrup can be used on pancakes, waffles, French toast, vanilla ice cream or in your green tea.

Violet Tea

2 c. fresh, vibrant violets; best picked after a rain in early spring. Remove all stems and green matter. Use only the petals.

2 c. boiling water

½ c. honey (you may substitute white sugar or a light maple syrup; but you do need a sweetener to bring out the unique taste of violets)

Boil 2 c. of water. Remove from flame. Add honey or sweetener and stir until dissolved. Add 2 c. petals and stir. Let steep for 5 minutes. Return to flame and bring to a boil. Let it steep another 5 min. Strain and serve with honey to taste.

[originally published on The Ithaca Post (www.theithacapost.com) on May 26, 2010]


Hawk by Mary Oliver

In Holidays, Mourning, Signs from beyond on April 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm


This morning

the hawk

rose up

out of the meadow’s brose

and swung over the lake —

it settled

on the small black dome

of a dead pine,

alert as an admiral,

its profile

distinguished with sideburns

the color of smoke,

and I said: remember

this is not something

of the red fire, this is

heaven’s fistful

of death and destruction,

and the hawk hooked

one exquisite foot

onto a last twig

to look deeper

into the yellow reeds

along the edges of the water

and I said: remember

the tree, the cave,

the white lilly of resurrection,

and that’s when it simply lifted

its golden feet and floated

into the wind, belly-first,

and then it cruised along the lake —

all the time its eyes fastened

harder than love on some

uninimportant rustling in the

yellow reeds — and then it

seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it

turned into a white blade, which fell.

Mary Oliver

pp. 34-35 in New and Selected Poems: Volume One (Beacon Press: Boston, 1992)

Stirred, shaken, crushed…but not broken

In Mourning, Time and seasons on April 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Weathering life’s storms is more than a test of endurance; it’s a bona fide obstacle course. Today’s winds provides an atmospheric turbulence to my reflections as I walk the dogs alone at dawn. 

Just a few years ago such winds determined whether we had any electricity or not. And in high wind storms, I worried Sam’s windmill tower would come down. He’d sit in front of the meters like a kid in a candystore; hearing and feeling wind turned into power.

This morning branches break overhead and drop to the floor of the woods.  Young saplings sway and bend; only rarely does one snap. The winds whip around my ankles and tangle with the hem of my coat. The air rushes down my collar and chills my neck and shoulders. The force of the air bites my face. The rushing sound of whipping wind inside my ears makes my head ring.

Stirred. Swayed. Bent, but not broken.

Stirred, shaken, crushed

In Mourning, Pictures and memories, Signs from beyond, The Farm, Time and seasons on April 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

The interior life of my middle life has so many reference points in the external world and yet at moments it slips into an abyss of alienation from all of that reality. To get grounded I’ve been taking the dogs on long walks back along the shores of Warren Pond. The snow is all gone, though it’s still too wet to plow the fields.

It’s good to see vehicles in front of the cabin and barns. Seeing guys working as I turned down into the field from the long curving lane made me take a breath and relax. Things are happening; improvements are being made.

The back addition, the ‘sun room’ where Sam had installed a panorama for his Lionel Train set is long gone. All the solar panels are off the roof and most all of the wood is being saved for reuse. The Andersons, who bought the farm last September, are moving forward with their own exciting plans to build sustainably. The millhouse came down yesterday afternoon.

The waterwheel, ten feet in diameter, made of steel, stood under the sky again. I remembered Sam building it; and I have photographs of it before the millhouse went up around it. I have no idea how they’re going to move that but these guys working are making progress fast. It’s spring. New beginnings.

Many fruit trees planted, chickens on their way, and a whole host of wonderful new adventures for the Andersons, Darryl and Suzanne and their four grown children. This afternoon the crew had stripped the front porch off.

Today the cabin is back to its original size: 14 X 20 feet; but there’s no kitchen lean-to left. You can see each and every stone Sam set for its foundation.  The outdoor furnace is completely gone.

The dogs and I walked the fields. Lucy splashed through every puddle and plopped along the edge of the pond enjoying the change in season. Scooby dashed through the open fields; stretching those long legs in heart- thumping gallops and jumping over hurdles.

Sitting on the western edge of the pond a very large turtle pushed off into the pond’s deep water; just in advance of the dancing Dalmatians. Heard it before I saw it. Big turtle.

Walked to the pavilion and kissed Sam’s gravestone.

Dreams of Shapeshifting

In Mourning, The Farm on April 9, 2011 at 2:39 am

The blue heron flew over my head today. It’s a sign. Not just of spring. The heron is a totem for my fisherman in the big lake above.

Back in the late 1990s dreams of shapeshifting into a white-tailed hawk haunted me. I slept under a skylight window in the middle of the countryside and certain mornings I awoke with full memory of flying.

In these dreams I was present on the land near Connecticut Hill on the Schuyler and Tompkins County line. I flew over the landscape; 11 acres I rented with the house that belonged to Bird and Annie. I flew into the future where developers were tearing up woods and putting up manufactured homes and trailers and shoddy shelters all along the countryside. Bulldozers and dump trucks and messing with the landscape. I flew low and close, but by dawn found my way home. Often exhausted and bummed out without having a rational explanation.

I had a hard time shaking these dreams. There wasn’t any development happening on Enfield Center Road. And yet I saw people searching the creek beds in a desperate way for fresh spring water while I had been flying dry as a hawk in the moonlight. I sought refuge in the woods where I heard the earth moaning.

The nights I spent flying in my dreams, I’d wake with sore muscles and tender points where my wings attached; bottom corners of my shoulder blades in back.

Hawk got closer and closer to where the rapacious destruction of habitat was happening by horrible wrecking machines and one ominous human face appeared; a pirate or a bald troll. I saw this man while wide awake when Sam introduced me to his friend. These became bad dreams and I didn’t like it anymore. I didn’t want to wake up thinking my soul shapeshifted into a hawk and that I could fly.

Rearranging the furniture helped. The bed wasn’t directly underneath the window. My soul couldn’t slip so easily into the night sky.

It grounded me to the sacred land there in a place I grew to call home. I still can’t leave its power over me. Love found me there.

On the edge…Sam used to say; “If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.” We lived in the “middle of nowhere” and my butt was on the edge of my seat every day. Farming that land with Sam was the biggest challenge of my life and provided the sweetest rewards.

One spring I made a kite and went running out in the fields for hours with it. Sam called his nephew and Jamie brought over his daughter Jadyn to play with the wind and a simple contraption of paper, balsa and string. Running and jumping and feeling the resistance of the wind against the stick holding the string is the exhilaration of simultaneously feeling the ground under your feet. Kite flying puts you on another edge.

There were many hot summer nights when I’d grab a pillow and a blanket and lay outside on the pond dyke to watch the stars in the sky. Living so far away from the artificial lights of high density living, I would stare into space and contemplate the wonder of it all. I felt so small; until I witnessed a falling star or a comet or meteor or satellitel. Then I’d crawl into bed cool as a cucumber and cuddle until my breathe became his.

There is something about the sunlight and the natural landscape there that casts a spell upon those who touch its soil. Land isn’t something you can own. It owns you. A sense of place is the architecture of the interior life. I don’t have to be on the land for it to invade my spirit and take hold of my wings.

But I do plan to take the dogs out for a good run there tomorrow. Lucy and Scooby and I need to visit the pond and have a conversation or two with a squirrel.

Squirrel Talk

In Mourning, Pictures and memories, Signs from beyond on April 8, 2011 at 2:18 am

On Monday I pulled into a parking spot in front of a tree. A squirrel ran halfway up the trunk and turned around to look at me. Leaning over the steering wheel and up under the rearview mirror, I looked harder at him. We stared at each other for a long meaningful glance. Squirrel shifted his weight back and forth on his cold feet and pushed its nose down into the air above the hood of my car, glaring at me. Then squirrel started talking at me, telling me in no uncertain terms I have no idea what. Stunned by the talking squirrel I listened and looked without moving. Once the squirrel had finished his lecture, he scurried up into the budding limbs of the tree.

Sam had a pet squirrel in the house for more than a year. He built him a very large cage across the inside of the front side of the house with floor to ceiling windows to watch the wildlife on Warren Pond. Rocky the squirrel and Sam played around for hours at a time. Sam would feed him by hand. Rocky would crawl all over Sam but mostly sat in the crook of his arm.

Sam had all kinds of critters. He had that Dr. Doolittle voo-doo animal-speak thing going on all the time. Raised a pair of baby skunks inside. I can’t tell you how many white tail fawns and baby goats spent months indoors instead of in the barn.

One hot day we were going to bale hay. Sam told me after coffee that morning he’d go hook up the baler and wagons and would come back in to get me. Took him forever. He walked in the door with a fieldmouse. He’d saved it from the baling machine where it would’ve gotten crushed if he’d turned it on. He said it was tangled in the twine; so it was a delicate operation getting his fingers in there to get the mouse out.

I have no idea what that squirrel said to me Monday morning but I can still hear inside my head what Sam would have said to me.

What happened to spring?

In Time and seasons, Uncategorized on April 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Tonight it’s pouring rain. Thundered this morning. Did you hear it? Wet, muddy, grey.

“I live where it’s grey,” is the lyric from a Horse Flies tune that aptly fits Ithaca, the band’s home town.

Lord, if you can’t deliver a spring, bring summer on instead. This often happens here around the shores of Cayuga. One day the last knolls of snow melt under the intense sun of late spring. Summer knocks on the door the next morning. Come on in. Bring the sun and heat on. Bring it on heavy.

Even as the night sky drips, the coyotes howl in yips wilder than a SWAT team descending on a meth house for a big bust. Tis the season for stealing the fertilizer to numb the skulls of those facing no future. But spring is late again this year. Snow buried the crocus and broke the necks of budding daffodils. Why must winter be so cruel in its longevity?

I hope tomorrow sunshine bursts through with the lightness of a change in season. I smell the earth awakening from its slumber.

Impatient every year to get seed in the ground, I would be as persistent as a puppy to get out there and dig around in the dirt.

“Too early,” Sam would say. “Besides, after I plow, I will take a couple weeks before I harrow. Then you can plant.”  I’d pester him every day about the weather conditions and the countdown to planting time.

The season of seedlings and new starts is suddenly here despite today’s weather conditions. Reminders everyday arrive by email as orders for my heirloom flower and culinary herb seeds arrive from LocalHarvest.org.

On Warren Pond Farm & Seed Company continues to send hand-harvested seeds to customers across the United States. Particularly popular is the Hopi Ceremonial Tobacco/Nicotiana. The pungent odor of jasmine from its blossoms on a moonlit night and its usefulness in the garden as a natural bug and pest repellent make it a plant front and center of any herbalist’s garden.

Sam wanted to grow it and we started it from Seeds of Change organic seed. His grandfather had given him a plastic baggie with a tobacco seed pod he’d saved for more years than I’d known him and his grandfather had died at least a decade before that. I threw those in with the seeds he carefully placed into potting soil trays and misted daily. That first year’s worth of tobacco was a field long row of six foot tall flowers competing for the corn and sunflower’s sun quotient.

This past weekend I spent time filling seed orders for calendula, dill, and cilantro with my fellow student in the art and science of herbology, Melissa Chipman. She and I have been wildcrafting and studying herbalism from Rosemary Gladstar the past year. Teas, tinctures, lotions and potions are herbal remedies I’ve learned about as natural ways to stay connected with this earth which owns a part of my soul so deep I can’t let go.