Sow There! The gifts of the wide-open spaces 2-21-20

  • Flowers in San Francisco.

 

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Sow There! Small tasks and big rewards, Feb. 14, 2020

Small tasks and big rewards | Sow There!

February 14, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

Sometimes, but not always, the hard work we put into an outcome can greatly increase the resulting joy of our efforts. Other times, the waiting also brings magnified joy.

Gardening is an excellent real life example. We hoe and dig, plant and water — we also wait and wait. If you love gardening, each step is filled with anticipation. That’s why it’s such a bummer when you lose your young lettuce to frost or blossom end rot shrivels your squash.

Right now, my time for gardening is minimal, which means I’ll stick with the winners.

I can’t remember when I put hyacinth bulbs into my nifty bulb vases. However, at the time I was thinking clearly. One week I popped a single bulb into place. The next week another.

A hyacinth bulb placed in a vase bloomed after weeks of weeks waiting. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

For weeks and weeks, I watched the semi-translucent roots reach into the water. The bulbs began to show color, and I waited some more. One day I opened the door to the cubby-hole office I share with Terri McFarland, and the room was filled with sweet hyacinth scent, made more profound by the small quarters.

Evviva!

I’d need to do some soul-searching to decide which smell I savor the most – Daphne odoro outdoors or hyacinth trapped in a room. It’s been a while since I have sniffed fresh plumeria in bloom, but I’d wager this would add another contender to most-favored scented plant list.

Forcing bulbs in vases makes me feel almost-forward thinking, when the fact is I simply never got around to putting the bulbs in the ground.

This week I was fortunate to experience other delayed moments of joy. In early November I began working for the Office of International Training at Chico State.

I was thrilled to bump into people on campus, and to work in a place surrounded by trees. My coworkers work well (and laugh) together, and frankly I was really glad to have a paycheck.

Yet, every moment was not a joy. We planned and planned, pushed papers around in a circle and my brain was blurred by Excel spreadsheets. If I loved crunching numbers, I might have had an entirely different career path, one that involved numbers and possibly a bigger paycheck.

Let’s face it. I’m that “people person,” destined to be a reporter, teacher or Girl Scout leader.

For months and months, my new coworkers sat in our offices and talked and planned.

There was one particular week when I was cranky and frazzled. If I juggled one more task I was certain I would forget to brush my teeth or tie my shoes.

“Just wait,” my hallway companions said with knowing expectation. “As soon as the scholars arrived, it will all change. You’ll be on cloud nine.”

The scholars are here, as in Fulbright scholars, 22 of them from 22 countries. I’m floating. Who cares about sleep when there are 22 people to show around campus, and Chico, and Northern California. They’re interested in the crops we pass while riding in a Chico State bus to places beyond. They snap photos as we cruise by a field covered in sandhill cranes. They want to know my opinion about the best, reasonably-priced restaurants and aren’t shy about buying American-name brands at thrift stores. My 32 years of local knowledge now seems like a big deal.

Plus, they’re teachers. In all of the small ways I can be helpful, I’m helping them to learn new things that will help in classrooms throughout the world. Just as my coworkers had predicted, I can see clearly how all of those small tasks are adding up for some real good.

Having visitors is not the same as traveling the world. Yet, it does help to brighten the paths that we travel on a regular basis. I’ve been to Sacramento dozens of times. Yet, it’s all new when you’re with people walking down the steps of the Delta King for the first time, or hearing the clomp-clomp of horse hooves on cobblestone.

Delayed gratification has, indeed, become a gift.

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Sow There!, Stop and smell the Daphne, if you have time 2-7-2020

The Daphne odoro is blooming on the south side of Laxson Auditorium in Chico. This beauty loves winter and usually blooms around Valentine’s Day. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
February 7, 2020 at 

CHICO — Alternate adventures caused me to miss the Chico seed swap last month. When I wrote a column about the esteemed event, I knew I would not have time to attend. Instead, I made plans for a mother/daughter seeds swap, but Mom forgot.

I wrote about my disappointment in my column, partially because my mother has a great sense of humor, and realistically to light some fire under her credit card.

After the article was printed, my mom sent a text and said she had purchased some amazing organic seeds online. She was ready to share, she said with spring-like optimism.

Did she read my column, in which I made fun of her for forgetting? She said this was not the case.

However, my faith in the power of the pen has been renewed.

It would have been fine either way. I don’t really have time to plant seeds right now.

Life happens. You make a promise to yourself or someone else, and then you run out of time.

These past two weeks have been hectic but joy-filled. Forty-six travelers are in Chico from 23 different countries. My job is to be something of a mother hen – I help them get to the places they need to go and try to tell them interesting things along the way. I’m teaching conversational English, reserving classroom space, taking tours of Sacramento and San Francisco, and snapping a boatload of photographs. One day I’m helping to navigate American idioms, another minute we’re shopping for cell phones. The job has reminded me that when you’re busy/busy, and when the job is fun, it feels like the paycheck is just a bonus.

The downside is that I missed two weeks without writing a column. Thank you to the two readers who wondered why they had not spotted my name in print.

While I hate to neglect my two-person fan base, please understand that I also have not shaved my legs or paid my rent. I even had to decline a walk in the park with a handsome new friend. Other tasks undone include pruning my grapevines, checking for snails or managing the weeds that drop early seeds.

My great hope is that once the international travelers return home (and before more arrive), I’ll have time to drop my mother’s seeds into soil.

I did, however, stop to smell the Daphne.

This pink and white flower is from the Daphne odoro which, when blooming, makes for odiferous event. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Each time I proclaim a plant as my favorite, I happen upon a new attraction that provokes a new proclamation. On this particular day I had delivered 22 teachers of English to a bus stop for their return to a local hotel. As I walked what may have been the 37th mile for the week (officially logged on my pedometer), I reacted to an odiferous event.

It’s February. Of course the Daphne odoro is blooming. This beauty loves winter and usually blooms around Valentine’s Day. Workers have recently pruned the rose bushes at the Chico State campus, so I naturally stopped to smell the Daphne, which grows inconspicuously at the south end of Laxon Auditorium.

Now that I’m a teacher, I naturally want to share what I know with others. Soon after I was sniffing, a woman wandered by and stuck her nose in my business as well. We shared a brief moment, and I remembered there was a list in my head of other things to do.

Valentine’s Day advice

A splurge for a dozen red roses may be the traditional lover’s day gift. However, I seriously question the roots of this trend. Could it be that FTD and other florists did some math and decided that roses could fetch the biggest mark-up in price?

How dare I be cynical about a day dedicated to love!

Or maybe I just don’t love roses when they are so shamelessly contained. The delicate appeal of roses should be gathered and enjoyed one gentle flower at a time.

A better gift is a plant that is living, not snipped then shipped in environmentally-detrimental cold containers, only to begin a quick decline that results in brown petals on the coffee table. Giving a live plant means your token of love can literally grow.

It might be too late to track down a Daphne odoro plant (although kudos to any kind suitors who will try). Yet, you can easily find forced bulbs of fragrant freesia and sunny daffodils. Bulbs can be saved and planted again. Avoid tulips, which are really just a one-shot in our climate. Other favorites might include kalanchoe, a succulent that will live for years but likely never bloom again.

Better yet, I’ve spied huge bags of bulbs in the big-box stores, which are ready to plant now. Any guy intent on making a move could score points by showing up with a bag of bulbs, a trowel and a promise to get down and dirty.

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Sow There! Chico seed swap, Jan. 17, 2020

  • Seed catalogs galore! (Heather Hacking — contributed)
January 17, 2020 at 4:17 am

When you have too many things to remember, it’s fun to set yourself up for a surprise. Weeks ago, I mailed an order for some wacky selections from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. I did not check my P.O. box daily. When you order seeds in the middle of winter, there’s no hurry; you’re not going to plant them anytime soon.

When the manila envelope arrived, I had forgotten the late-night impulse buy and was pleasantly surprised.

The Baker Creek company is cool. If the company was a boy, and I was 12 years old, I would have a mad crush on “him.” Even the padded packaging has a certain “coolness factor,” with vintage adds on the envelope, as if the company’s image is suspended in a different time. In my romantic vision, the seeds had been shipped by train, packed by a grubby guy wearing overalls, and sent with postage stamps in the upper right-hand corner (the kind of stamps you had to lick).

In my infatuated state, the seed packets can do no wrong. One small envelope shows a photo of an outstretched hand holding purple beans, another shows swan-shaped crookneck squash. A bearded man looks whimsical as he poses with purple basil tucked behind his ear.

The images of the ground cherries remind me of water lilies emerging from dry land — the tawny fruit encased in papery leaves, others unfurling. It could only get cooler if I actually put the seeds in some soil.

And then the dilemma. I had talked about trading seeds with my mother. However, she never bought interesting seeds, and certainly not the totally cool seeds I now had in hand. Would I share with her anyway? Would she remember our pact?

My goodness! It’s my mother! What kind of seed-hoarding ingrate have I become?

Just about the time I was banishing bad thoughts, I was sent some very useful information from the kind gals who put on the annual seed swap.

The annual seed swap takes place from 12-2 p.m. Jan. 25, a Saturday, in the big room at Trinity Methodist Church at Fifth Street and Flume.

I love the seed swap. I’m not talking mere infatuation here. This is one of the many things that makes a person proud to live in Chico.

You can gather up all your seeds from last year and kindly share them with others. The really great part about it is you can also take a few seeds home.

Maybe I’ll invite my mother.

Seed tips

You certainly don’t want to be greedy, so bring your own envelopes or small pieces of paper within which to wrap just a few seeds. Bring a pen as well, to write down the names of your treasures.

You can also use your phone to take photographs of the important seed-planting tips.

When you bring plants or seeds to share, make sure you label carefully, so other people don’t need to guess.

The generous souls who have helped organize this event for the past 11 years include Sherri Scott.

Serious seed swapping

When I chatted with Sherri recently, she said serious seed-savers are invited to pop in early, for extra time for seed talk, starting at 11:30 a.m. This allows savers of seeds to chat in a more casual environment, before things get hectic.

Organizers are also hoping folks who lost gardens in the Camp Fire will also get there early. When people are rebuilding their yards, or a new yard, they’ll have more questions to ask.

Sherri did not mention how old is too old for seeds to share. However, remember that seeds do have a shelf life. The point of an event like this is to share joy, not to offload your mistreated and neglected seeds stash — only to cause garden disappointment.

You can also bring unwanted, but still functional garden tools to share.

Sherri said gardeners can share bulbs, seedlings or plant divisions. You can also bring in cuttings and scions. Scions are cuttings of new growth that can be grafted onto root stock, or the remains from trees that burned to the ground, to provide new top growth from a favored plant. Scions are used to make fruit cocktail trees, which will bear peaches on one branch, and other fruit on another. What fun!

If you’re kind-hearted, by all means, bring fruit from your trees or other garden-things you may think to bring, Sherri continued.

If you can’t make the event, you can learn more about Sherri and her group via the Chico Seed Lending Library’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ChicoSLL/.

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Sow There! Grapevine wreaths and ring tosses on cloudy days, 1-10-2020

Grapevine wreaths and ring tosses on cloudy days. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
January 10, 2020

Nope. I haven’t planted the bulbs. The bags of daffodils and freesia remain — sad and neglected — in a box near the ottoman. I won’t feel badly about myself as a gardener. I’ll get to it tomorrow, or next weekend.

While I admire a person who wants to avoid procrastination this year, I just don’t feel up to planting bulbs – yet.

If you’ve ever visited my house, you understand that I enjoy the process of gardening much more than the outcome. It makes me smile to buy a bag of bulbs. I hum the entire time I put bulbs in the ground.

I experience ecstasy when I see blooms from the daffodils I planted three years ago.

Last week, I wrote about dormant grapevines, which reminded me that it was time to prune. I was in the yard, wearing my cute gardening smock and holding the clippers … and I realized I had forgotten all of those textbook pruning techniques. Re-learning would take research, and my plan was simply to spend some time in the yard.

I clomped out to the mostly-dormant lawn and clipped away with careful uncertainty.

Amid the snips, I texted grapevine expert Mark Carlson to ask his advice for the next time I prune, possibly in February.

In the meantime, what I managed to wrangle was a worthy pile of vines. They were pliable and ever-so-long. The sky was soft, with just enough daylight to enjoy some time — just me, the vines, and the din of the traffic on the busy street nearby.

Once you get started making grapevine wreaths, it’s difficult to stop. When I wrapped the middle section of the prickled rope around my head, the two ends were easier to braid into circles. Rather than trim off the errant side branches, I twirled the lengths into a rustic mess, which met my unplanned intentions.

Bonus that the curtains were drawn at my neighbor D.’s house, so I had no known witnesses.

The weaving of the vines became semi-hypnotic, when I wasn’t fwapping myself in the face. I envisioned how people would naturally string vines into long chains, which would naturally lead to propelling one’s self from tall tree to tall tree, which would elicit cheerful cries that would echo through a forest.

By accident, I discovered that sometimes the skin of the vines begin to peel, and can be used like twine to tie the circle into place.

What unbridled, simple joy.

Of course, I have no plan for using the wreaths. That’s not the point. I was feeling the organic pull from the earth, the sky and the vines – pushed to creativity.

And otherwise bored.

After I proudly posted photos on social media, friends suggested I weave herbs into the frames, or attach dried flowers.

Maybe I’ll get to that — sometime in the spring.

I’m thinking the circles could also be used for a ring toss. Why not? They were crafted around my neck and will certainly fit over my head. If I stand silently, people could strategically toss them at me.

My third-graders last year would have paid money at our school carnival.

Later that day, because I do this sometimes, I searched the Internet to see how others have spent an idle evening near grapevines. One gal in a video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eXlu6uat_Y, noted that things tend to stay together when she tied the vines with thin wire. Maybe I’ll remember that next time.

I also wasted some time looking at incredibly well-done grapevine wreaths on Pinterest. This was a mistake and made me judge myself when compared to others. If I wanted a perfectly formed circle, with no jagged edges, I could buy one for $9.99 from Amazon. Would that be any fun?

As it was, I could have made circles well into the night, but daylight dimmed.

The good news is there are more vines intact for another slow day.

I’ll read the advice from Mark, if he gets around to sending it, and trim back the rest of the vines before its time to plant tomatoes.

In the meantime, I’ll gladly gather any photos readers may have of their vine-inspired creations. Maybe this topic will have legs, and we can talk about vines until Valentine’s Day.

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Sow There! The fine line that makes a good neighbor, 1-3-2020

These vines look fairly inobtrusive in their dormant state, but the can become a big tangle in mid-July. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
January 3, 2020
In this compact and complicated world, it’s difficult to move an inch without offending someone.

We drive slowly, dress scantily, speak loudly or hang signs in our yard that state our opinion.

When it comes to being neighborly, its usually easy to cut each other some slack, rather than holding a grudge that could last until someone’s children go away to college.

I’m really lucky to have great neighbors. We give each other cookies during the holidays, and watch a locked house when one of us is out of town.

Barking dogs, late-night engine repair and your backyard band — it’s all OK until someone calls for code enforcement.

Over time, I’ve become friends with my totally cool neighbor, “D,” who works on his truck for weeks on end, and is currently remodeling the interior of his workshop. He seems to appreciate when I show up uninvited. I bellow “knock-knock” through the open doorway to his man cave, and if I hear a murmur, I’ll walk through the corrugated metal threshold. During a brief but meaningful talk last month, he said I was a “ray of sunshine,” which I interpreted as an open invite to stop by his shop any time I needed more positive affirmation.

Fresh-grown grapes vs. good neighborliness? Tough choices. (Heather Hacking — contributed)

Sometimes I bring gifts from my yard, including tomatoes or blood oranges. He never fails to reciprocate with a tour of his current creative project or other wild inspiration.

Last summer, during what was otherwise amiable conversation, I learned that he was the culprit behind the disappearance of my poppy plants.

For years, I have placed poppy seeds in the cracks in the pavement along the alley. In the spring, even rows of orange flowers grow. Yet, D is new to the ‘hood, and he didn’t know any better.

He confessed that he mistook the poppies for weeds, and once he started scraping the pavement with a shovel, he couldn’t stop until all my poppies were dead.

I forgave him. He knew no better, and now he knows.

It was easy enough to buy more poppies from the giant pitcher of seeds at Northern Star Mills.

More recently, I was bragging about my grapevines, which sprawl across the cyclone fence we share. I saw his brow twitch, just a slight movement on what is otherwise a smooth forehead. I realized the unruly vines might disturb his sense of a well-kept aesthetic.

“Do the vines bug you?” I asked without thinking of the outcome.

“A little,” he said. I knew this was an understatement.

Of course, the highest of neighborliness would include a future that does not include vines growing into his side of the fence. However, who am I to keep a vine from doing what it does best? My neighbor is new. The vine is well established. I can’t (or, more honestly, won’t) move the entire plant, not now.

Plus, if I pretend like I don’t know it bothers him, he probably won’t complain. Let’s face facts: I didn’t make a fuss when he murdered my poppies.

D didn’t ask me to remove the vine. However, I do feel a tiny bit of guilt. I’ll give him raisins next fall. Maybe that can make up for my grapevine sprawl.

It could always be worse. I have friends who have built fences or elaborate tarp structures to obscure the view of broken-down washing machines or a travel trailer used for spare parts. A vine with a will of its own is far less obnoxious than a whirling windmill, well-stocked aviary or a Winnebago filled with beer-drinking relatives.

It’s time to prune the grape vines. I’ll see if there’s a thing or two I can do.

I can’t make promises. But when my treasures arrive from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, I’ll look for a sunny spot away from the cyclone fence where I can grow my dragon’s tongue purple beans and ground cherries.

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Sow There! A world of seeds at your fingertips 12-27-10

Ancient corn, you just don’t see that every day. (Heather Hacking — Contributed

December 27, 2019 at 4:34 am

For yet-to-be-understood reasons, a garden catalog appeared in my post office box. Normally, I’m peeved when I see junk in the box. This time, I was giddy to receive this unsolicited mass marketing.

Way back when, gardening catalogs were a source of needed joy on days when there is more darkness than light. I could sit on my cold floor in December, catalogs splayed out like a fan, and dream shop about the things I could try to grow.

In those days, (early to mid ’90s) I was convinced that once you ordered from one catalog, your name was immediately sold to numerous seed companies. Soon you had enough gardening catalogs to cover every wall of your apartment in glossy vegetable images.

And then things changed. My wild guess is that seed peddlers decided the dwindling response rate did not justify printing costs. Instead, companies began sending countless emails. This just wasn’t the same. These emails were lost in the sea of junk email coaxing me to click on Clinique.com or cheapjunk.com or chocolate.com.

When the barrage of electronic junk mail becomes unbearable, I abandoned the email account.

However, this brave seed company tracked me down. Thank you, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, https://www.rareseeds.com/. I had not realized how much I had missed you. You found me just at the right time. I was ripe and ready to look at shiny photos of flowers grown by experts, captured with perfect lighting at the exact moment of their highest beauty. I have free time right now to relish image of flowers so bizarre, they look like props on a “Star Trek” episode. Even if I don’t order seeds from South America, lovingly kept in cultivation by descendants of ancient peoples, I am glad to know they exist.

Thank you for giving me a reason, on a cold December night, to daydream about perfectly ripe crookneck squash and tomatoes with stripes like a zebra, melons that resemble decorated Easter eggs.

Yes. It was love at first sight. They had me at “Free shipping.”

I was so mesmerized, I sent them a check (yes, an old-fashioned check, the paper kind).

My guess is that my name will now be sold mercilessly and more catalogs will soon stuff my mailbox.

At Christmas, Mom and I spent quality time browsing through the Baker seeds.

We expressed sounds of admiration over winged beans, with edges that looked like feathers. Cauliflowers mottled with color, as if someone sprinkled the Cruciferae with purple paprika. Black nebula carrots – purple with yellow stars in the center — something Sasha Sagan might have nibbled in childhood. Strawberry popcorn with 2-3-inch burnt-orange ears. Black corn, purple corn, amber corn, country gentlemen corn. Who knew?

A good catalog includes facts that may or may not be useful, but provide entertainment and wonder. Maiz Morado corn, for example, was grown during the Incan Empire and is still used in South America to make a beverage, for use in dye and ground into flour, the Baker Seed editors chose to reveal in small print. Of course, you can also grow it in your backyard and eat it from the cob.

Glass gem corn: translucent kernels that “shine brilliantly like glass,” “decorative and delicious.”

Of course, I never grow corn. That’s not the point.

You just can’t get seeds like this on the racks at Walmart.

Some of the vegetables are simply dazzling and bizarre: tigger melon – the size of apples with vibrant yellow fruit and fire-red zigzag stripes on the outerside. These were so weird, they may also be manufactured by Mattel.

I left the seed catalog at Mom’s house. We made a pact that she would buy some packets, and the next time we meet, we’ll have a mom-and-daughter seed swap. This way, we did not need to argue over our choices. I’m trying to talk her into visiting the company’s brick-and-mortar store in Petaluma. I had planned to visit when I spent a weekend in Sebastopol the summer of 2018, but I was sidetracked by a free concert in a park.

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Sow There! Crazy cardboard confections with kids, Dec. 20, 2019

 

I brought home boxed gingerbread kits from a big box store for the children to dive into at a recent make-up Thanksgiving get-together. It was a hit. (Heather Hacking — contributed)
December 20, 2019 

I’m done. I usually hate shopping. When I shop during the holidays, I soon dislike people. I need to buy something for Dad, but he’s likely to get one of those gift cards sold near the checkout at Safeway.

Thank goodness we have one more farmers market before the big gift day. When I gift candy-covered almonds, I never worry about the right size or the right color.

The point of this time of year is to actually enjoy the holiday. If I ventured to consumer-land right now, I’d return home empty-handed with a sore jaw from grinding my teeth.

Yet, there is plenty of joy to be had writing Christmas cards. I’m so glad I bought a big box of them at Costco, well before Halloween.

Last year, I did not get around to sending cards. Just like everyone else, the fires blew out my sense of stability. People didn’t need cards last year to remind them of joy and love. They needed clean socks, a place to sleep and a kind soul to take in four stranded dogs.

This year, when I returned to my ritual of writing Christmas cards, I noticed there were many friends on my list for whom I have no address.

There were also a few people who are no longer on the planet. Two years ago, Auntie Georgie sent me what would be her last holiday card. We had been exchanging cards since I was 12, after our family visited her lakeside home in Eagan, Minnesota.

That summer, and a few others through my teens, I joined her for Jazzercise in the balmy basement of the house Uncle Don built. She showed me the black paper photo albums with pictures of the two as high school sweethearts. When he flew B-52s over Europe, he sent her photos he took from the air. In another photo, he was dashing in a bomber jacket. “I’ll fly back to you soon,” he wrote.

I feel honored Auntie Georgie took the time to write, even that final year of her life. She said she could hardly hear, did not see well, and it was hurting to hold the pen, but she was content to know she had good people around her and had lived a great life, she said.

I hope to be sending Christmas cards well into my 90s. However, by then, anyone who is 12 years old will probably look at you mystified if you say the words “postage stamps.”

(Wall o’ gift cards)

New traditions

The final weekend of November, my mom’s side of the family had “make-up Thanksgiving.” Nope, it wasn’t enough to gorge to the point of discomfort with Dad and family, we needed to do it again a few days later with Mom.

My niece has three children, ages 13, 12 and 9.

Typically, our get-togethers go like this:

  • Hugs, hugs, share the joy of being together.
  • Pizza, genuine conversation, dessert.
  • Kids slip into the guest room to play video games or watch a movie.
  • My sister, Mom and I talk, giggle and recall embarrassing times from our past. Mom’s beau consistently cannot get a word in edgewise.

At some point, the night is done and I realize the kids have been gone for hours and I didn’t have a chance to ask them embarrassing questions.

Candy crafts

A few days before my food journeys, I spotted a tower of boxed gingerbread kits at a big box store.

That looked fun – icing and colorful candies, all on a gingerbread cracker that probably tasted like cardboard. This was the kind of thing my mother would have never bought during my granola-based childhood.

“Do you think the kids would like this?” I asked when I sent a photo via text.

“Who cares,” she replied. “I’d have fun making it.”

At make-up Thanksgiving, I brought out the box and pretended I didn’t care if the children joined us.

“Look, Sunrise,” I said to my older sister. “I brought this great candy thing we can make.”

These kids are like cats. They act like you’re invisible, until they’re interested in something you are doing.

A few minutes after my sister started licking frosting from her fingers, the kids saw the gum drops in fashion colors and postponed their slink to the video game room.

Now we’re talking — a family sitting at the amazingly large dining room table, a silver baking tray at each seat to catch the gooey, nearly inedible icing.

Even if no one else said it out loud, I am the best auntie ever! I even brought extra tubes of icing so no one would fight over who was hogging the tube of red frosting.

We did not follow directions. We ate half the candy before it became artwork. No one ate their gingerbread, but no one cared.

When we noticed the children had left the room, the adults brainstormed some ideas for next time. Maybe we could decorate sugar cookies, or work on a puzzle, make origami swan mobiles or track down a Lite Brite.

The last I heard, my mom saw a gingerbread house kit, and we’ll be in the candy art business Christmas Eve.

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Sow There! Green tomatoes, chapter 4, 12-13-2019

If this photo looks familiar, it is because we’ve been talking a lot about green tomatoes, which are now officially in season. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

December 13, 2019 at 4:27 am

“What are you going to write about this week?” a friend asked while we were shuffling from side-to-side and grooving to one of my favorite bands, the Yule Logs*, at a Chico State Christmas party.

“Green tomatoes,” I shouted.

“Again?” she said, now yelling as Marty Parker began to croon.

Harumph.

Yes, I’m writing about green tomatoes — again. Maybe I’ll write about green tomatoes until Valentine’s Day. I have a mind to start a blog dedicated solely to green tomatoes. Forget about teaching or working with international programs at Chico State, maybe my future fortune will be made selling green tomato Christmas ornaments and lime-green plush toys.

My future assistants at the Green Tomato Empire will publish a cookbook that will fold into the pocket of green tomato aprons. For the holidays, we’ll sell calendars, with each month dedicated to the varying stages of tomato growth, including helpful and humorous cultivation tips and recipes.

I do believe there is a partially untapped market among green tomato fans, including those who reached out in earnest after my previous, and misinformed, disdainful writing about the unripe fruit.

I won’t quite call myself a convert. However, I discovered that green tomatoes are exceedingly excellent when toasted at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

On the warm side

Recently, my friend Thor was en route for a visit, and my house was so cold, I was wearing my jacket and beanie cap.

When you live in a small, old house, there’s little need to turn on the wall furnace. You can bake dinner and heat up the house with one simple turn of the knob. My oven is conveniently located about 8 feet from the edge of my couch.

The baking sheet was covered with cauliflower and I decided to throw in some green tomatoes that might otherwise rot in the colander on the cold kitchen counter.

Double yum. Sweet and chewy, and even better with a bit of Tapatio sauce … I regret deeply that I gave away so many green tomatoes to a coworker and my totally cool neighbor, Del.

Baked green tomatoes: the new comfort food.

I also found some tips online about using a melon-baller to make a half circle on top of the green fruit, then sliding in some slivered garlic and a dollop of oil. That sounds nice, but more work than necessary.

The Spruce Eats, https://bit.ly/2E8mNnH, also recommends:

  • Using green tomatoes as a bread-free base for eggs Benedict.
  • Serving slices of green fruit with soft mozzarella and (out-of-season) basil and balsamic vinegar — green Caprese.

Scott, who owns the long-loved Brooklyn Bridge Bagel shop downtown, https://brooklynbridgebagel.com/, sent a note to suggest spicy pickled tomatoes. I’m thinking I’ll buy a jar of pickled cauliflower and carrots, eat them, then save the juice for sliced green tomatoes. Three weeks in the fridge should do the trick.

Maybe Scott will be inspired to start a new menu item, with a bagel, pickled green tomatoes and cream cheese, red tomato slices when in season. Of course, I’ll want credit but will forgo royalties.

Michael shared a childhood memory of sharing good times with grammy while making green tomato relish. If he sends the recipe, I will gladly revisit this topic.

Another kind couple wrote that they make green sauce, substituting green tomatoes when the recipe calls for tomatillos.

That’s enough for now about green tomatoes. I need to save some material for next week.

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Sow There! Long live those green tomatoes, 12-6-19

A late, unwanted, yet beautiful harvest was had one cold morning. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
December 6, 2019 at 3:46 am

Tomatoes can be a perennial plant in tropical South America. Yet, around here, they turn to slimy mush when you leave town on a cold day.

Before leaving town for a visit with Dad, I snatched three red, ripe cherry tomatoes, which would turn out to be the last for the year.

When I returned from my family holiday feast, 3 pounds heavier, I knew the time was overdue for tackling the tangle of tomatoes.

Looking over plants that were once mighty is a source of sadness. My tomatoes had a triumphant run. I grew large, cherry tomatoes, planted as seeds in January by my third-grade students. In mid-winter, I helped the garden gurus keep the plants cozy in our school greenhouse. When the weather suddenly turned warm, I drove to the school on weekends to offer them water.

They grew and grew until we proudly sold them at our school’s harvest festival.

When the web of life get tangled, it’s time to yank those sad tomato plants. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)

Over the summer, the plants produced so well in my yard, I was inspired to dry not one but two full loads in my dehydrator. My guess is that I’ll have dried tomatoes on hand from now until 2021, even if I share a few with select friends.

Yet, even heroic tomato plants can take a quick dive to death’s door. By the time the snow and rain swept through the valley, my tomatoes were so wearied, they looked like Jon Snow after battling the white walkers.

When I returned from the weekend of ice cream and Edward’s key lime pie, I had only one hour of daylight remaining in my weekend.

I snipped off the gnarled leaves of the once-stellar tomato plants and discovered an overabundance of green goodness. Green tomatoes. So many green tomatoes it seemed like a waste to toss them in the compost pile. Of course, I had no intention of eating them.

I had learned my lesson years ago. Once, I had been filled with curiosity, and had more time on my hands. I sleuthed out seldom-used green tomato recipes. I tried frying them, and made some type of green tomato fritters. I even made a small, experimental green tomato pie.

However, when you can buy chocolate, ice cream and French fries easily, these vintage Southern recipes for green tomatoes lose their appeal.

I concluded those quaint recipes stemmed from hunger. If you had a farmhouse filled with growing children, you’d find a way to eat every last twig grown in the garden.

Maybe some sort of nostalgia for a better time came over me. I decided those green tomatoes were too beautiful to waste.

I decided to pick the fruit and at least give folks a chance to eat them. It didn’t take long to gift them to a coworker and my really cool neighbor, Del.

I kept a few and will decide this week if my palette has changed. I could eat just about anything that is drenched in batter and deep fried, perhaps even cardboard.

Some recipes seem fairly straightforward: About four green tomatoes, salt and pepper, oil, 1 cup cornmeal, 2 large eggs.

Slice the tomatoes ¼ inch thick, season and pat dry. Dip the slices in beaten eggs and drag through the cornmeal. Fry and dip in your favorite dressing. One friend suggested adding Cajun spices.

I’ve had trouble with fruit flies recently. However, I’ll try to ripen a few of my green goblins indoors.

I found a video online, https://bit.ly/2Le3MEk, which suggests wrapping each tomato in newspaper, then placing the batch in a cardboard box. Adding some apples will help speed up the process. The trick is to check them once a week and see if there’s anything that needs to be tossed. Choose a cold closet or garage, because temperatures need to be 50-70 degrees. Or you can add a bit of apple and stuff the green tomatoes in a paper bag.

Undoubtedly, the tomatoes will taste like those mealy, pinkish-white tomatoes we find in the grocery store this time of year, but hey, they probably still contain high amounts of Vitamin C.

A few more notes

If you want to torture yourself with other tomato possibilities, I found some information about starting new tomato plants with suckers, found between the tomato’s main stem and a leaf branch, www.agardenlife.com/long-tomato-plants-live-need-know/. This video is worth watching, simply to listen to the guy’s Southern accent.

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