Cozy Tables

If you live in a chilly climate zone as I do, you may want to warm up your dining table on autumn nights with a cozy quilt. Yes, table, not bed.

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American designer Carolyne Roehm features several such cozy dining tables in one of her many books, At Home with Carolyne Roehm. Here, she combines browns and rust tones in earthenware and dahlias gathered from the garden just before the first frost hits. A few yards of paisley fabric pulls it all together.

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I like to add texture with a lap blanket of light weight wool plaid or a heavier woven burlap fabric. For stability I place round mats under my plates. Color-coordinated linen napkins, either simply folded or inserted into napkin rings, rest on top of the plate for a more formal appearance. If I’m using soup bowls placed on the plates, the napkins lie along the left side. Here is a brown-themed setting using brown woven mats over a plaid blanket.

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Of course, a bare table of polished wood is particularly charming and lends an American Colonial ambiance, one I prefer in my own dining room. Below is one of Carolyne Roehm’s designs in a personal library, always a cozy room choice.

As I have illustrated in these few examples, the rich color tones of the centerpiece, flanked by tall candles lit against the evening, add to the coziness of a family gathered around the dinner table, whether you are serving bowls of beef stew on a week night or a roast pork on Sunday.

Bon Appetit!




Roast Pork Shoulder Butt

Our brief “Indian summer” slipped away as another cold snap delivered REALLY chilly weather, with night temperatures down to the 20s, but only until early next week when “normal” temps return. Or whatever passes for normal in an abnormal year. In the meantime, what’s for dinner on a chilly October Sunday?

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Nothing quite does it like a pork roast, preferably a show-roasted shoulder butt. Here’s my version.

  1.  Sear pork on all sides in oven roaster on stove top, with olive oil.
  2.  Sauté chopped onions in separate pan, with butter.
  3.  Combine sautéed onion with bread crumbs, basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary,               freshly  ground black pepper, olive oil. Add just enough Merlot or other dark red    wine or apple cider to moisten mixture. NOTE: Recently, I have begun to work with Herbs de Provence, a mixture of the basic herbs.
  4.  Cover pork with this mixture and press into the meat with a cooking spoon.
  5.  Place uncovered roaster into pre-heated 300 degree F. for three hours until meat thermometer registers done; or, if bone-in, the hock can be wriggled. Meat should be “exceedingly” tender.
  6.  When done, lift roast pork onto service platter and cover with aluminum foil to rest prior to slicing; scape fondue from bottom of roaster, add a little soft butter and liquid (wine or cider); whisk to blend into a sauce.

Serve with pan-roasted sliced Brussels sprouts, carrots, and onions seasoned with thyme. Pour sauce over meat slices and vegetables. Bon Appetit from Josephine’s table!

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Indian Summer

Indian Summer

My favorite season of the year is October. Yes, I know that’s a month in the middle of Fall, but in many years October becomes its own season of Indian Summer with chilly nights and warm sunny days. An October afternoon in my garden, a book in my lap and a mug of tea in my hand, the sun spread over my shoulders and back like an orange plaid cape, is a highlight I anticipate, especially after the first frost.

Anywhere after late September rains to mid-November chill, the skies clear to a bright azure. Orange and red leaves blaze in sunny brilliance. Days warm up to the 70s, reaching the 80s or even the 90s, only to fall again to chilly nights.

But where did the term “Indian summer” originate?

According to my research, the term was first recorded in 1778 (American English), “perhaps so called because it was first noted in regions inhabited by Indians, or because the Indians first described it to the Europeans . . . It is the American version of British All-Hallows Summer, French ete de la Saint Martin (feast day November 11), et cetera. Also colloquial was St. Luke’s Summer (or little summer), period of warm weather occurring about St. Luke’s Day (October 18)” [].

This unseasonably warm mid-season is when the early Algonquian Native Americans began their hunting season, gathered beech nuts and acorns, and harvested squash and corn for winter storage, according to various other online sources. The Old Farmer’s Almanac (founded in 1792) lists two criteria for a true Indian Summer:

  • As well as being warm, the atmosphere during Indian summer is hazy or smoky, there is no wind, the barometer is standing high, and the nights are clear and chilly.
  • A moving, cool, shallow polar air mass is converting into a deep, warm, stagnant anticyclone (high pressure) system, which has the effect of causing the haze and large swing in temperature between day and night.


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During October, the farmers’ markets are in full swing. Orchards in Washington state already have sold out of peaches and are concentrating on apple and pear harvests. Blackberries and blueberries of summer are long gone–unless we’ve stocked our freezers for winter cobblers.

This is the time I begin to oven roast pork tenderloin with chopped apples and onions, pan roast potatoes, both Yukon gold and Sweet potatoes, seasoned with lemon pepper and thyme, stock up on Brussels sprouts and carrots to roast with the pork. A rustic pear pie with a glass of Late Harvest Riesling round out this Sunday afternoon feast.


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Bee Bombers

No one thinks to open the front gate and wander down the lane
to inquire around the rhododendron corner as to my possible presence there.
I’m safe for now, I think. No street noises. No disturbances. Until
loud buzzing invades the stillness.
A small plane overhead?
No, wasps.

Not the innocent little honey bees
among white alyssum exuding a sharp fragrance
of sweet honey on a hot June day.
Not the fat bumble bees drunk
with nectar from late peonies.
Not cinch-waists, not yellow jackets,
but wasps
searching for a chink left open in the kitchen window frames
or the patio door jams, frantic in their persistence.

I find them every morning
when I come out to the kitchen
and put the kettle on and let the cats out.
They don’t mind the cats nor the cats them.
I do.
I don’t know why.
None has ever stung me.
They merely threaten me
with bomber dives under my hat
when I carry my tea into the garden.

Do they remember last summer
when I zapped ’em with a zips
from a spray can? One fell,
hit the brick floor—thwack—
lay there in a puddle,
only to zip up and away.
He returned with reinforcements.

Today only one or two come to check out things.
Yep, that’s her down there.
Hiding under the straw hat.
Her with the bee zapper.
Best to leave her alone.
We’ll just give’er a scare now and then.
Let’er know who’s boss around here.

~ Jo Shafer

Climate Changes in Your Garden

These days the buzz word is climate change, and it’s getting louder. It’s not just “over there” or “down yonder” but right here at home, in our own gardens.  What can we do about it?

According to Gardening Know How [], plants try to adapt by flowering earlier and falling victim sooner to frosts. Or they may postpone flowering. Pollinators may arrive at the wrong time, signaling further problems for species that cross-pollinate.

On the other hand, shorter winters and earlier springs would mean earlier bulb displays and deciduous trees coming into leaf a few weeks early, while increased rainfall will be difficult for herbs and other Mediterranean species. But both bulbs and tubers dislike wet, soggy soil, especially in winters.

The first and probably most obvious signs of the current climate crisis is the changing weather patterns. Temperatures are higher in warm months, precipitation more unbalanced with too much rain — leading to severe levels of flooding and subsequent top-soil runoff — or hardly any at all — leading to parched soils cracking in the heat. Grapevines, pomegranates, loquats, citrus, apricots, nectarines and figs, along with a wider range of palm trees, however, will be able to survive in these dryer conditions.

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However, we home gardeners will have to learn to adapt, too. We do have a number of obvious ways to reduce our personal carbon print at home to help our plants adapt and survive. Already we are mulching the garden beds up to a couple of inches to conserve soil moisture. Drip irrigation is crucial to getting the water exactly where we need it without loosing it to evaporation. Rain barrels to catch rain water is a valuable old-fashioned method of saving water for later watering can application to potted plants, but these work only when there is rain.

Composting enriches the soil naturally, rather than commercial chemical fertilizers. Every fall for decades, for example, I have layered raked leaves in the rose and perennial beds to protect roots from deep freezes during the winters. Come spring, I no longer clean out the leaves but work them into the soil as soon as its pliable. They continue to compost and mulch as they conserve the moisture in the ground.

Here are several other suggestions from an online article, “Impact of Climate Change on Our Gardens” []:

  • Plant for the future, using trees, shrubs and hedges that are drought tolerant.
  • Planting  windbreaks will protect venerable plants from stormy weather, most of us living on the coast already do this.

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  • Prepare soil for better drainage by adding organic matter, gravel or grit or install drainage channels.
  • Save and store rainwater, ready for the next time the water companies panic and introduce hose pipe bans. Water shortage is likely to have most serious impact, with an increase in rainfall during winter, and summers likely to become drier.
  • Create wildlife gardens with ponds and water features for our wildlife in hot dry summers.

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  • On slopes, clear plants that cause erosion and encourage plants that help stop erosion.
  • Choose plants that suit your gardening environment, drought-tolerant or damp-loving plants, depending on the conditions.
  •  Consider raised beds for specific plant needs, especially for Mediterranean herbs, to help avoid wet feet.

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Gardening in a Changing Climate

With an increasingly erratic environment, find out what you can expect and what you can do on your little piece of the globe

Fine Gardening – Issue 176


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The Bee’s Knees

Reblogged from 30 August 2018

Every year about this time, my mother began sneezing almost non-stop. Ragweed! she’d snort. With no Zyrtec in those days to relieve her symptoms, only late September rains dampened the airborne pollen enough to keep it from spreading throughout the county, about a million grains per plant, per day, traveling hundreds of miles on the wind.

Common ragweed (Ambrosia spp.) grows in fields and pastures and country roadsides in Florida. The blossoms appear like small yellow-green daisies on relatively short bushy plants often covered in red clay dust. Not particularly pretty to look at.

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Jacob Ragweed (Jacobaea vulgaris, syn. Senecio jacobaea)

Other ragweed species, however, grow spikes of yellow-green clusters from frond-like leaves, sometimes confused with look-alike goldenrod, as both share blooming times and wild habitat.

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Ambrosia psilostachya

But goldenrod’s pollen is too heavy and sticky to become airborne; only bees and butterflies can spread it. In fact, goldenrod supports over a hundred caterpillar species and attract not only butterflies — such as American small copper, clouded Sulphur, and monarch — but also damselflies, lady bugs, and praying mantises.

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Damselfly in larger than life view

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is a North American herbaceous perennial blooming from late summer into fall. The most common of its many varieties is the “Canada” goldenrod (S. canadensis), the one that grew in the open pine woods and fields where I grew up in Northwest Florida.

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Solidago canadensis

The plant is an aggressive spreader via underground rhizomes as well as by reseeding. Plants grow knee-high, thus sometimes nicknamed “bees knees.” Imagine wading through a field of goldenrod buzzing with little honey bees, and you’ll see what I mean, although I’m being a bit far fetched.

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Little boy picking up pollen on his trouser knees in a field of goldenrod in Frederick, Maryland. Photo courtesy Shey Marin Photography

The  European variety, S. virgaurea, is cultivated as a garden flower and for medicinal purposes. In folk medicine, it’s traditionally used as an anti-inflammatory to treat wounds, along with sweet woodruff and yarrow, and thus often called “woundwort.”

Goldenrod’s many lookalike “cousins” can be toxic because they may contain a pyrrolizidine alkaloid which causes irreparable liver damage in both humans and livestock. Symptoms can be hard to detect, not manifesting for months. By the time that symptoms finally present, the damage has been done already.

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Groundsel in the United Kingdom

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Ragwort appears similar to ragweed pictured at top

To be sure, I advise keeping a respectful distance from goldenrod unless you know, with certainty, what’s out there in those late summer fields and along roadsides. Admire their golden fleece flowers, yes, but don’t touch. And don’t make a tincture of tea, either!

Now, you may ask, what’s the real origin of “bee’s knees“?

According to my online research, the term derives from American pop culture. Some sources state that the singular bee’s knee is from the late 18th century, meaning something small or insignificant, as in the phrase “big as a bee’s knee.” Others indicate it was one of the phrases popular in the 1920s, such as the the cat’s pyjamas, cat’s meow, gnat’s elbow, monkey’s eyebrows. It was flapper talk for a highly admired person or thing.

Another source unequivocally insists it was the name of a popular Prohibition Era cocktail made with gin, fresh lemon juice, and honey, then served shaken and chilled, often with a lemon twist.

Here’s another one, a bit more factual. As bees buzz from blossom to blossom, the nectar — the sweet stuff — sticks to their legs. Or, to their “knees.”

the bees knees

Yes, really.