Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Things With Wings

Gathering fresh vegetables and herbs from my little kitchen garden is intensely satisfying. They seem brighter, bolder, and zestier than what I retrieve from the produce section of Wal Mart, as if the produce there was a wax facsimile of the real thing.

I especially love my tomato plants.

Every part of the plant seems positively infused with tomato scent, which attaches to your skin and clothing as you work. Burt's Bees has been able to replicate this scent in one of their facial soaps, which gets me through the cold, tomato-less days of winter.

I gathered these tomatoes and basil leaves last week. They were sliced, tossed with mushrooms, onions, and cheese, and folded into a rustic wheat tart. Julia Child is a genius!

I stopped short on my way into the house after one of my gathering sessions. Surely my cosmos had only been in bloom for a few weeks, but the spiky brown spheres were unmistakable: my cosmos are going to seed.

Looking around the garden, I realized that they weren't alone. My Queen Anne's Lace was beginning to fold in on itself and develop unique barbed spikes.

My blackberry lilies, which were speckled spots of bright sunshine only last week, now sported leathery green pods. The small black seeds that give this plant its name are now forming inside. Once mature, they make a beautiful addition to dried flower arrangements.

My yarrow, too, has lost its ruby-tinged top and is producing feathery slivers that catch the breeze and waft away. I let yarrow grow wherever it likes in the spring, because of its beautiful flowers and fern-like leaves.

My dill, which took so long to grow, has really taken off. However, I spotted several brown and dropping stalks. I'm drying some seedheads now; soon I will use a few to make dill pickles for the winter.

I've started the gathering process. I always bag up as many seeds as I can, to save for next year's garden and to give to friends. A ziplock bag is the sophisticated equipment I use for seed storage.

I've had a bonanza of "things with wings" in the garden lately. I've had so many hummingbirds that I've taken to examining my lilac bushes for nests. I don't have a feeder up, but they have plenty of flowers to gather nectar from. They are much too clever and quick for me to catch with my camera.

Everything is rushing, rushing to prepare for fall. Butterflies have been gathering nectar in droves. I've never seen so many, and they're absolutely fearless.

This common buckeye uses its natural coloring to frighten predators.

A stately monarch butterfly sips nectar from this zinnia. I never realized that their bodies are speckled, too!

Limenitis arthemis astyanax pauses on this hydrangea leaf.

The Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is one of the more common butterflies in my region. His body, like that of the monarch, mimics the pattern of his wings.

This butterfly's brilliant orange wings are only matched by the flower he chose to feed from.

Cabbage butterflies (Pieris rapae) are notoriously skittish. It's difficult to catch them in repose, but my patience was rewarded when this fellow lighted nervously on a leaf, paused long enough for a photo, and then fluttered away.

I'm entranced by this small butterfly, the field skipper (Atalopedes campestris). His coloring is a bit plain, but he has four undulating wing sections that work in conjunction, smoothly and effortlessly, to deliver him to where he wants to go. He's a bit skittish, too, but I get close when I can and watch him feed.

Not everyone is feverishly gathering food. This carpenter bee naps quietly in the gentle curve of this flower.

A bug-eyed leafhopper watches passively while the garden hums around him.

A grasshopper, camouflaged so well that I nearly missed him, sleeps the day away in this pile of pebbles. I was reminded of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. This fellow certainly brings it to life!

A dragonfly snoozes on a plant stalk.

This fat squirrel is one of many that watches me work. She nibbled lazily at a walnut, stretched, and then ambled away.

I didn't get much knitting done this week, but I have a good excuse: it was my second anniversary! My husband is very dear to me and I wanted to make it a special day for him. First, I ordered a rubber stamp of a tree trunk that had our initials, J + T, carved on it. I made "leaves" for the tree by cutting small slits in the paper, curling green ribbon, and threading the ribbon ends through the slits. I secured them with tape on the other side.

I ordered the "Message in a Cookie" set from Williams-Sonoma. The kit comes with three cookie cutters - a heart, a rectangle, and a star - and three sets of the alphabet, cut into individual letters. These letters, pushed through grooves in the cookie cutters, form whatever message you'd like to spell. I wanted my husband to know that I loved him and never took him for granted, so I decided to spell out some of his attributes on sugar cookies.

It wasn't entirely successful. Despite careful dipping in flour, letters like "E" and "G" became quickly gummed up with dough. I had to pry it out with a fine-tipped knitting needle, but still came up with results like this:


I cut my cuticles on the sharp edges of the grooves, and three band-aids later, I had to admit defeat. I couldn't complete the entire batch, but completed enough to get the message across. I do recommend this kit, although you need lots of patience and lots of time to get the desired result. For me, it was a labor of love. Happy Anniversary, Todd!

The best sugar cookie recipe I know comes from Food.com. The dough is easy to work with, and the cookies are awfully good.

Best Ever Sugar Cookies
Makes 60 cookies


1 3/4 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups butter, softened (no substitutes)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

Frosting (optional)

1 3/4 cups powdered sugar
3 1/4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Cream sugar and butter. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well. In a separate container, stir together dry ingredients, and then gradually add to the creamed mixture until completely blended. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut cookies, transfer to an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks.


I may have to take a one-week blogging break due to an unusually busy schedule next week, but I'll be back in two weeks with another update!


  1. Great pictures, especially the butterflies. I think your carpenter bee is actually a bumble bee, carpenters have shiny abdomens. I've been collecting seeds from my garden too!

  2. Thanks, Alison! You're absolutely right about the bee. I'm so used to carpenter bees that this guy caught me off guard! :)

  3. Love all the great pics. And I'll have to try that sugar cookie recipe :)

  4. Thanks! They have have been my last sugar hurrah...I'm trying to live a little healthier by kicking sugar!