Making the most of these last days of 2017

I know this is totally cliche, but what a year!  2017 has been an interesting year, to say the least.  I had a good year for the most part.  Urban Farmgal is gaining some traction, my cooking videos are improving, I got to go backpacking in the Beartooth Mountains (I need to write a blog post on that soon.  New Year’s Resolution: write that blog post!), I taught myself some sewing techniques (ZIPPERS! And…I turned a denim jumper into a really cute denim skirt–more on that soon), I’ve been baking a lot of holiday goodies, and I’ve been skiing like crazy the past few weeks with MaeBelle and the Hubs, in large part to work off all those holiday calories!  But I’m ready to say goodbye to 2017.  I need a fresh start in 2018, just like every year.

A few highlights from the home front recently:

1.) Everybody needs a pineapple pillow case!  And flannel, too.  When I saw this fabric, I knew Stepdaughter #2 needed it in her life.  I didn’t know what form it would take when I purchased the fabric–I knew I’d figure it out later. I picked up the other fabric at the same time, not knowing I’d use the two together.  But I needed a little extra length and the pattern looks like sea shells, so why not combine it with pineapples?  This is probably the easiest Christmas gift I have ever made.  When you need something clever and quick, a quirky pillowcase can do the trick!

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2) Getting outside to enjoy the snow.  I have a new pair of skis.  They are short and fat and act like sliding snowshoes.  They are from Altai Skis and they are called Hoks (pronounced Hawks).  They have built in skins, so you can climb up hills but they will also slide & glide like cross country skis.  If you get on a steep enough slope, you can even turn them like downhill skis.  They are so much fun!  MaeBelle took me on an adventure with them last week and we climbed up on the trails south of town:

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3) A friend helped me out of a bit of a pickle last week.  What better way to repay her kindness than with a knitted hat?  I love the colors of this hat and I’m quite pleased with the outcome.  I hope my friend loves it.  This photo doesn’t even do it justice.

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4) Skiing!  Hubs, MaeBelle, and I went for a ski tour up at Stemple Pass this afternoon.  It was a glorious way to spend the last day of the year.  It was cold in town (-14 degrees F when we got up this morning and still below 0 when we left the house at noon) but it was 18 degrees up at the pass.  It was a bit windy, but we followed some other skiers who broke trail for us and stayed in the trees protected from the wind.  What a great way to get a workout!

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5) Snow science!  Hubs and I dug a snow pit on our ski tour today and he showed me how to examine the snow to look for weak layers that could fail and lead to an avalanche.  We actually found some weak snow, which means avalanche danger is fairly high right now.  We knew the snow was a little sketchy because we’ve gotten a ton of snow the past couple of days.  Just after we left the truck, on a fairly flat section, I felt my skis “wumphf” beneath me, which is a tell-tale sign of weak snow layers.  We also took our avalanche beacons and wore them just to practice using them.  Don’t worry, mom!  We were not in any danger, I promise!

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6) Here are my Hoks.  They are only 125 cm long, which means my poles are longer than my skis!  They truly are just a ball of fun.  And they climbed up some pretty steep snow today, which impressed both Hubs and me. Unfortunately, this year’s stock, including my skis, have a problem with the skins delaminating and so they have to be replaced or repaired.  At least they are under warranty, but I may have to ship my skis back while I wait for my new ones to arrive.  That means I may not have a chance to hop on these babies again for a few weeks…

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7) Full moon rising.  We saw the moon rising as we were driving home and it was a glorious sight!  A full moon on the last day of the year seems a fitting way to bring 2017 to a close.

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Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2018 brings you much health, happiness, and prosperity.

More wonders in the garden

Today I noticed a second, astonishing wonder in my garden this year.  The first wonder I noticed several weeks ago–I had a globe artichoke overwinter.  If you are not familiar with the ways of the globe artichoke, allow me to elaborate briefly.  Where I live in Montana, we are a Zone 4.  That means, on average, our lowest winter temperature drops no lower than -30 degrees F.  This year we bottomed out our thermometer at -21.8 degrees F, so I have no idea how cold it really got this year (I think I saw -26 reported for the airport, which is a few hundred feel lower than where I sit).  However, despite the bitter cold (and we had a lot of it this year), we also had a really good snow year.  For about 3 continuous months we had snow on the ground, and a lot of it.  Snow is an excellent insulator, so things that would normally die in the cold can be protected enough with a snow blanket to coax them through a long, bitterly cold winter.  Enter the globe artichoke.  Last fall I dug up several plants, potted them, and tucked them in a corner in the basement.  By overwintering my little babies, I wouldn’t have to start seed in January in order to plant them out in early spring to ‘trick’ them into thinking they had lived through a winter and thus flower (i.e., produce those luscious artichokes) during their first year of life.  For the record, artichokes are perennial plants in warm climates (no colder than Zone 7, which is about 0 degrees F as the average coldest winter temperatures) and they usually do not flower until their second year.  Well, I missed digging up a plant last fall and earlier this spring while removing mulch from the garden beds, I noticed a queer-looking little leaf sticking out of the soil.  “That’s weird,” I thought, “it looks like an artichoke.  Maybe it’s a thistle?”  But it sure didn’t look like a thistle, it looked like an artichoke.  And it was in the bed I had planted artichokes in last year.  Hmmmm……

I watched the strange leaf for a week or so and when new leaves began to appear, it became obvious to me that this was, in fact, an artichoke that survived a bitter cold Montana winter.  HOW COOL IS THAT?!  I yelled to everyone who would listen.  Other garden nerds thought that, indeed, it was pretty cool.  I thought this was the coolest thing in my garden…until today.

Today I was weeding a bed with a bunch of spinach and garlic and I saw this:

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What the…could those really be…?

Now I’m no mushroom expert, but my first thought was, “Those look like morels.”  And then, “That’s crazy talk.”  Fortunately my neighbors, who I know are wild mushroom hunters, were outside in their garden.  I walked across the street.

Me: Hey guys, do you know your mushrooms pretty well?

Neighbor: Well, we know a few edible ones that we hunt for, and a few that you shouldn’t eat.

Me: I have some mushrooms popping up in my garden box and [I was almost too embarrassed to say this] they sort of look like morels.

Neighbor: Well…probably not, but we’ll come take a look.

At this point I am 1) curious as hell to know what these mushrooms are and 2) a little embarrassed to think that I might actually have morels in my garden box.  I mean, c’mon!  I think of them growing in the forest–particularly forests that have recently burned.  Not in a cultivated garden box that housed tomato plants last summer.  Did I confuse them with another mushroom?  Was I a complete and total idiot?  We arrive at the garden box.

Me: See all these coming up around my spinach?

Neighbor: Well I’ll be darned, those are morels!

He plucks a mushroom and turns it over.

Neighbor: There’s another mushroom that looks similar, but that one is detached here at the base (he points to the stem).  These are definitely morels.  Wow!  Where did you get your mulch?

Me: Someone at the gym had some pine needles he was going to set out by the curb and I just happened to overhear him talking about them with another person at the gym.  I asked him if I could have them to use for mulch in the garden.

Neighbor: Wow!  That’s pretty unusual.  Amazing!

Me: Schew!  I thought I was crazy for thinking that they were morels.  Please take as many as you want!

Neighbor: Wow!  Thanks! What an unexpected surprise!  You probably shouldn’t tell any mushroom hunters about these…

Me: Yeah, no kidding!  Some people search high and low for these gems!

My neighbor came back over a few minutes later with a paper bag and cut some mushrooms.  She showed me which ones were the prime ones for eating and which ones were probably too dried out and past their prime.  I am sooooo grateful for them!  I learned something new today about mushrooms!  These neighbors have shared their hard-sought Chanterelles with me in the past, they share garden plants, and garden mulch/compost/soil.  I provide them with eggs, garlic, and now, morels!  We have a pretty nice arrangement, but I always feel like I get the better end of the deal.  I know I shouldn’t feel that way–it’s just farmgal kindness between garden nerds–and gardeners love to share (especially that zucchini)!

I’m not 100% sure the pine needles were the source of the morels.  I have other boxes with the pine mulch and they do not appear to have any mushrooms in them.  I don’t think it was the soil, which is a sheep manure-compost mix I get from a local garden shop.  I don’t think it was the soil the tomatoes were grown in last year–though I should ask the gifter where they got their potting soil, just to be sure.  The pine needles seem the most likely source.  Many of the mushrooms were past their prime, but that means they have already set spores–so I am hoping for more morels to show up next spring!

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Pile of morels

I can’t help but think over and over how special my garden is.  Nature is a wonderful, mysterious force, that’s for sure.  What a neat gift to have these much sought-after mushrooms appear in my garden!!  Secret: I have never eaten morels.  Which makes this all the more special.  I am beyond giddy for tonight’s dinner:  morels and fresh asparagus.  I’ve got plenty of spinach in the garden and eggs, so I’m sure I’ll be able to find a scrumptious way to prepare these ingredients.  I’m going to eat like a queen!