Friday, February 19, 2010

Enter the Lion

We've had an odd mix of weather here in Western Washington these past few weeks. Torrential downpours interspersed with gorgeous sunshine and freezing overnight temperatures. Mother Nature's seasonal schizophrenia has tricked many a plant into popping up early, only to be zapped by frost. Of the nettles, daffodils, fiddleheads and dandelions, believe it or not, the one that I am most excited about this year is the much-maligned dandelion.

The dandelion, or Taraxacum Officinale, is so named because once upon a time, the raggedly-toothed leaves reminded someone of a lion's tooth or dent de lion. Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, I've hated them with the fire of a thousand suns for as long as I can remember. But if there's one way to change my tune about a plant, it's to tell me that it is not only edible but can be made into wine. Viola - instant dandelion fan!

Having been long-since sold on the sheer delightfulness of dandelion wine (described by many as "sunshine in a bottle"), I've been keeping a sharp eye out for the appearance of the first yellow menace. I found my first few just today. So far, they are only growing on the south side of the house which tells me that I caught them nice and early in the season - woohoo! And so, I pluck a few dozen flowers and sit down to the larger task of separating the petals from the greenery. This takes forever and a day, of course, and yields an amount so paltry that it won't even register on the scale. Hooboy I've got a lot of dandy-pickin' in my near future. I've already enlisted the kids to help me with the next batch of blooms. Wrangling my kids into helping me make wine - I've got the Mother of the Year award practically sewn up!

Fortunately for me, the recipe that I am using calls for a volume of petals (6 cups!), rather than a weight or I'd need to be picking weeds 'round the clock. As it is, I'm kind of eyeballing my neighbor's yards for dandelions. If I play my cards right, in addition to Mother of the Year, I can also be that-weird-lady-who-steals-weeds.

Right now I only have about a cup of petals, so it'll be at least a week before I can start my wine, but when I do, I'll be sure to post details & pics of the process.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Bird Girl of Oly-town

Today was the last day of this year's Great Backyard Bird Count. For those of you who don't know my family personally, we have, in the form of a sassy soon-to-be 10 year old girl, a self-described "bird nerd" in the house. She was a penguin this past Halloween, and a big yellow chicken the year before that. We have 7 critters in the house, 6 of whom are birds. She has literally memorized word for word every field guide in the house. The girl likes birds.

Therefore, this bird-centric day was practically Christmas part 2 for my sweet Olivia. She, her little sister and I joined my friend and her son for a leisurely walk through the woods to see and hear who and what was either living in or passing through our home turf. Here is the list of birds that we either saw/heard or both in the wetland meadow and woods near my home, as well as a few that we spotted in the back yard today.

Western Gull - 1
Downy Woodpecker - 1
Steller's Jay - 2
American/Northwestern Crow - 1
Black-capped Chickadee - 4
Chestnut-backed Chickadee - 4
Bewick's Wren - 1
American Robin - 2
Spotted Towhee (Pacific) - 2
Fox Sparrow - 1
Song Sparrow - 2
Dark-eyed Junco - 4
House Finch - 2

You think that all of that walking and watching would have been enough bird-filled action for my girl, but nooooo. She wanted to make the birds a snack to boot. Fortunately, I happened to have all of the necessary ingredients on hand to whip up a homemade suet cake. Here's what we used-

1 cup +/- rendered beef fat (from last night's dinner of short ribs)
1 tbsp organic peanut butter
1/4 cup +/- each of cornmeal, unbleached flour, unsalted sunflower seeds, cracked corn & roasted pumpkin seeds (leftover from Halloween)

We mixed the dry ingredients well, while the fat was melting.

Then we slowly added that melted fat & peanut butter to the dry mixture. After combining well, Miss Olivia patted it all firmly into a pie plate to harden.

After about an hour in the freezer, we popped out our "cake" and hung it up in the feeder (made by my darling husband especially for this project) in the cherry tree just outside our picture window.

And there you have a banner day for my little Miss bird nerd and her feathered friends.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Roses and Wine

Actually, it was roses in wine on this particular Valentines Day. We strained and racked the rose hip wine today. Here it is going into the bottle, in which it will continue to ferment and clear over the next three months -

The color was pretty surprising since I was expecting a pinkish-orange brew, rather than the o.j. color that we ended up with. It just goes to show you never know with chemistry...

But the thing that you're probably most interested to hear about is the taste, and I'm pleased to say that both the wine's taste and smell (or should I say bouquet?) are quite good, even at this very early stage. It has a light, sweet apple/pear flavor that reminds me of a very light version of a hard cider, but with - at this stage- a very yeasty kick. I'm always impatient when it comes to drinking my finished wine, but this one has me counting the days 'til we can pour a glass. :)