Friday, April 30, 2010

Here's where I've been

I haven't fallen off the face of the earth or anything. I'm just completely engrossed in this.

Oh my god, there's babies! (baby animals of any type are enough to reduce me to a puddle of warm goo.)

Well, just one right now, but 4 eggs left to hatch.

It's Arbor Day - go hug a tree. I'll be hugging a few of mine when I get home.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Maple Sugar Festival

Last month, GeekBoy and I ventured out into the world to attend the Maple Sugar Festival at the John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove. Turns out that Audubon, PA is kind of named after him, because he lived there. Who knew? And I grew up and spent the majority of my adult life in this area. Impressive, huh?

Back to the sweets.

Turns out, there are a bunch of Sugar Maple trees on the grounds of Mr. Audubon's estate. (his dad owned the place and sent the younger Mr. Audubon there to oversee it at age 18) They tap them once a year, when the weather is just about right - cool overnight and into the early morning, warming up through the mid morning and day. It gets the sap flowing, as it were.

We wandered around for a few hours and were quite pleasantly surprised by the place.

The main drive is lined with the Sugar Maple trees. Most of them had these galvanized steel buckets hanging from them, collecting the sap.

I tried to get a shot of the sap dripping off of the little spout in the tree. You can kind of see it.

We were allowed to stick our fingers under the spout and taste the sap as it came out - it's really not very sweet. Kind of like a sugar water.

Because you are dying to see in the bucket, I took a picture of that too. You're welcome.

There were a few working exhibits that demonstrated how maple sap was collected and used different times throughout history. At the Native American sugaring spot, it showed that they used wooden troughs and straws to collect the sap and then hot stones in the trough to evaporate out the water, leaving the maple sugar.

In the 18th century, they boiled the sap in big metal pots and moved it to higher or lower temperatures depending on at what point in the process it was.
Did you know that it takes 40 gallons of sap to make a gallon of maple syrup?
I didn't either, but I do now.

Moving right along.....
On our way to the big house, we passed this guy. He was taste testing real maple syrup against that 'pancake syrup' stuff. It was pretty easy to tell the difference, at least for me. Some people seemed to be having a bit of a hard time, I'm not sure if they really were confused, or if they were putting a show on for their kids. Because, yeah, kids love it when you act a fool for their benefit. So do I.

From the tasting station, we moseyed on down the path to see what was happening over that way.
There was another demonstration going on, this one more akin to the modern day making of maple syrup.
Seems there's really only one way to do it - evaporate out the water to leave the maple sugar.

The different grades of the syrup were also explained to us. It seems that the fancy syrup is the lightest. I had no idea. Learn something new every day.
The Center at Mill Grove also has CRITTERS! (owls, actually)

Look at him! Isn't he cute? And very well behaved. I want one.
The owls have their own building on the grounds where they are kept. Each one of them has been rescued and wouldn't make it out in the wild on their own. If I remember correctly, they all have vision problems.

One of the volunteers talked to the group of us that had been milling about around the owl house about them for a little while. She was going in to put one of the owls out into the screened enclosure so he could get some fresh air. Of course we had to go around to the enclosure to see.

Aw. Owlie. He's actually missing an eye, which sucks. What does not suck is that he gets to live at Mill Grove and is well looked after. That cord hanging down from his bottom is a tether that's tied to his leg. It was actually kind of funny to watch him try to get away from the caretaker while she held on to it, when she was putting him out. Poor guy.

The grounds of the Center are beautiful. I imagine that it was a wonderful place to live. There is something about having a body of water on your house property that I really like - I'm not sure why.

More owl pictures.

I couldn't get enough of these little guys. We have some owls in our woods, but we never see them, we just hear the hoot-owl once in a while.

We finally made it into the actual house. John James Audubon was REALLY into birds. On a bit of an esoteric level. I like them too - we have an assload of feeders set up and I'm forever whipping out my bird book to see what each one is. Sometimes I take pictures of them. Maybe I will show them to you at some point.

His house was filled with paintings and drawings of birds, his journals, and many different stuffed and mounted specimens. (is that right? it doesn't look right)

Here we have a display of duck-like birds that are native to the property. Mr. Audubon most likely wrung their little necks himself. I can't remember if it told us that or not. I'm making a guess.

The walls of the main hallway and up the stairs were covered in this kind of cool mural that depicted all sorts of winged things.

A bat! I LOVE bats - they eat bugs. We installed a bat house last year on the side of our house. No residents yet, but I keep checking. They say it can take a while for them to move in - something about the smell needing to wear off of the cedar. Whatever, all I know is that I want me some bat residents. Please.

More drawn and stuffed (and sculpted) birds.

We got to peek in his boudoir as well. Canopy bed and everything. With macrame trim.

And bird stuff. Everywhere.

The man himself. This room had a lot of kids in it so we left pretty much as quickly as we could.

Lots of stuffed birdies in this room.

I'm not familiar with what it feels like to have an all-consuming hobby or career, so the level of effort that Audubon put into this stuff is a bit foreign to me. I can't imagine what his days were like. Although, if I was being basically supported by his dad, who knows what kind of trouble I could get into with my Hostas.

My favorite - the bald eagle. They just look so freaking badass. And they're HUGE. You can't tell it from this picture, but trust me. Big bird.

That's it for the house. On our way to the all-you-can-eat pancake deal, we passed one of these birdhouses with the 'Bird Habitat' sign on it.

Turns out that you can register your property with the PA Audubon Society as a Bird Habitat, if you've got the right plants (which you can always install) and cover and food for them and available water and you're not using pesticides or anything else detrimental to the feathered folks. Well, shit. I think we might just qualify. Just in case though, I've got a spot out back that I plan to rip the ivy out of (removing invasive non-native plants - WIN!) and replant with native plants that birds and the insects that birds like, like. (vocabulary FAIL)

Then there's a test I have to take to see if we've got what it takes to get one of them there cool signs. I'll let you know how it goes.

Finally, we found our way to the pancakes. Yum. And they served them with the real maple syrup - which we then bought some of. Of course. And maple sugar candy. Mmmmmmm.

I just ate lunch, but now I'm hungry again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cocktail Hour - J. Lohr 7 Oaks Cabernet (Paso Robles 2007)

As a self-proclaimed wine weenie, I am forever on the hunt for reasonably priced everyday drinking wines. Once in a while, I find something worth buying a case of and shouting about from the rooftops. This wine is one of those somethings.

I first tasted it at Chima, a Brazilian steakhouse downtown, during Phila. Restaurant Week this past January. At $13/glass*, it was one of the most expensive, if not THE most expensive cabernet on their menu. I figured we would be eating a lot of red meat - I should get a big red wine to go with it. It was love at first sip. (and Chima ain't so bad, either)

The 7 Oaks is not a huge wine, but it is round and fruity and a little weighty. It's not terribly tannic, which makes it perfect for drinking right now (yay!), but according to J Lohr's website, it can be kept for up to 5 years. This is great. I am interested in trying this again, and again, and again to see how it's aging and progressing. Good thing that we bought a case of it. At $12.99/bottle, it's a freaking bargain.

Run, don't walk, to your closest wine emporium and ask for this stuff. I don't think you will be disappointed.


*A bit of wine geekery for you - generally the price charged per glass is the price that the restaurant paid for the entire bottle. That way, if they only sell one glass of it before it turns, they've at least made their money back. This is useful in determining if a particular wine is something that you might want to pick up a bottle or 3 of the next time you're at the local (or not so local) wine and spirits shop.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Everything's coming up.....Hostas and such

This is one of my most favorite times of the year around our yard. I'm always pleasantly surprised to see that my perennials return after winter. Not sure why they wouldn't, but it makes me feel like more of a real gardener when they do.

Validation - I gots it.

What's happening in my garden you ask?

Grape Hyacinths. For the most part, these were here when we bought the house. I've added a few, but I can't take credit for the majority of them. Around the other side of the tree, I'm trying to create a 'river' of them, but it's not coming about as quickly as I'd like. Not sure if these little guys naturalize or not - I think I'm just going to have to plant a whole bunch more and then over plant with some sweet woodruff (or as we call them - daisylooking plants), as grape hyacinths don't last for too long, in fact, their 'leaves' emerge full force in the Fall, get all shitty over the winter, then the flowers show up in the Spring. Then they die back. Such is the cycle of life.

Below are some Stars of Bethlehem. I love how they burst out of the leaves (see all the leaves? they're part of my weekend plans, yay me.). They'll get a bunch of little white star shaped flowers on them after a while. The flowers close up at night and open up again in the morning. These were already here too. We've got loads of them. A bunch of them are growing in the dirt patch between the front beds and the street. I'm slowly digging them up and moving them into the beds, so they don't get trampled.
More bursting. More leaves. Jesus, that's a lot of leaves. Luckily, they all sort of fuse together and peel up off the ground in these big leafy sheets. Which exposes all the worm poop below. Our earthworms are PROLIFIC. They have been hard at work over the winter, and they make the best dirt. Luckily, CrabbyC and Tex are coming over on Sunday and I'll have some help getting the leaves up. I'd love to leave them on the ground, but they are a tough barrier for a lot of plants to get through - it's sad to uncover anemic looking sprouts, and sometimes the leaves get caught around my tulips and create a kind of choke-hold on them.

Vicious bastards, those leaves. So, we have bursting and choking. FUN.

The hosta beds have been cleared out, but so far, not too much action going on in them. And I have to put my sign out.
This is our corner. It's another work in progress. I've got some hostas in here, along with a couple of ferns, a grassy plant, vinca, and a chrysanthemum. It gets a fair amount of morning light, so I may, at some point, try a few things that like a little AM sun out here - just to see how they do.
What absolutely loves this bed is the daisylooking plants. They spread out and create a lush groundcover that other plants poke up through. I highly recommend. All of my woodruff came from CrabbyC's garden. The stuff below was one or two stems that went in the ground 2-3 years ago. And this is March/April. I can't wait to see it in May.
Hostas are slowly starting to peek out of the ground. I'm a nut and spend at least 30 minutes after work, almost every day, wandering around our property, staring at the ground and futzing with the soil.
These are from the terraces.

Here we have Red October:

And Guacamole. I hate avacados though. But Guacamole hosta is pretty cool.
That's all from the terraces, because right after I took the picture of the guac, I stepped right on another emerging hosta and freaked out. So much for the up close and personal approach to the terraces. At least until these things come up a little further and I can spot them more easily. Easier? Whatever.

The success I've had with this guy (one of CrabbyC's legacy hostas) in a container has got me considering potting up some more this year. This one has come back for the last 2 years.
A source of frustration for me in our peninsula garden is that emerging lily-of-the-valley and hostas look damn near the same. Since I can't remember from year to year where I've planted what hostas, and the peninsula is completely filled with lily-of-the-valley, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to tell them apart.

This is a hosta.
These are lily-of-the-valley.

You see the problem.

Because of my addiction, I regularly scour the racks at our local nursery for new babies. I picked up a few items on our last trip. We went in for praying mantis egg-things and came out with more hostas, and no eggs. Story of my life.

This guy is 'So Sweet'. Aw.

And this is 'Regal Splendor'. I have this guy already - maybe even 2 of them. One isn't looking so good out back, so I may be doing some replacement work.

I take chances on sale items. This is 'Hosta Assorted' - so it's anybody's guess what's in the pot. He's got lots of noses popping, which is a good sign. For $2, I'll stick it in the ground (or maybe a container!) and see what comes up. I have another one of these guys on the deck from last Fall, waiting to be planted. I should start another bed and just plant it full of the $2 international hostas of mystery and see what I get.
It's supposed to be 80 today and close to 80 over the weekend. I plan to spend most of my time outside, cleaning up the gardens and getting a bike ride or 2 in. I've got to get some miles under my belt before the Cancer Ride in July. Especially if I'd like to shave another hour off my time and finish before they start dismantling the end point this year.

If I don't have a chance to post again before Sunday, everyone have a happy Easter or Passover or whatever you happen to celebrate.

I celebrate chocolate and champagne. And hostas.