Unearthing the Garden

It hasn’t snowed for a whole day, so I hereby declare the gardening season begun. Spent the day raking leaves off my flowerbeds. Every fall, I pile leaves on, in part to give some extra winter protection and partially in hope that they’ll miraculously rot over the winter and enrich the sandy, acidic, and starved soil. A vain hope. They’re mostly Norway Maple, and those do not break down at any great rate. What they mostly do is keep the sheep-sorrel and slugs and evil scarlet lily beetles cosy. (Note that these are not my Norway Maples, except one. There’s what I shall call a copse of the plague-tree south of Next Door and me, and thus our adjoining backyards are mostly within what he calls the Moss Line. We foregather in the gardens — our boundaries blur a bit, though we know where they are — to contemplate things that are supposed to grow in shade, and then we conclude that most ‘shade garden’ books mean elegant, daintily-dappled shade. Not the northern edge of a g.d. greedy-rooted Norway Maple forest. Technically, I think about a quarter of my garden is what is called a blanket-bog — a skin of sphagnum over sand.)

Winter Aconite

Winter Aconite – Eranthis hyemalis

But that’s a rant for another day. (I don’t object to shade gardens, or blanket-bogs. I would just like more room for my roses and peonies and fruit.)

Snowdrops in snow

Snowdrops

I have just written on my calendar for October, “Do not pile so many leaves on the flowerbeds.” The crocuses, obeying some inner clock, always come up beneath them and end up rather squiggly and unhappy, which is a waste of a good crocus. The only thing I have that really needs covered is a Bassimo rose, which is borderline hardy here in Zone 5a. Any part of it above the snow dies — which means it would have died this year, if I hadn’t covered it. But really, that’s all that needs the leaf-heaping.

Crocus siebarii 'Tricolour'

Crocus siebarii ‘Tricolour’

Removing leaves, removing the anti-girdling-by-mice white wraps from the apples and pears, is also a time to take inventory. Alas, my new Goldbusch rose seems to have perished, but it was very sickly all summer, too. It’s hardy to 4b, so it wasn’t the winter that got it. I bought it at Cornhill and they’re generally good about replacing things that die for no good reason, so if it doesn’t send up a shoot — it’s on its own roots — I’ll have to mention it to them. On the positive side, it looks to my inexpert eye as though all five apples look as though they have fruiting buds this year. (Five or more if you count the fact that the two I grafted myself have branches of the rootstock left intact.) It will be really interesting to see what Pippin’s Pippin, a seedling named in honour of my late dog, the real Pippin of “Pippin and Mabel” fame, turns out like.

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Mr Wicked’s Leap Day Adventure

So, Leap Day … I’m all for leaping, especially if the humans let me run free, free, free … which they don’t very often because I’m an EvilWickedHusky and also full of German Shepherd brains, which means I think about things. Like, yes, you want me to come back but I want to sniff this thing over here and maybe eat it, so first I’ll sniff and maybe snack. Then I’ll come back. You just be patient and wait. (You shouldn’t have taught me the concept of “first … then …” if you didn’t want me to apply it. Oh. Do I have to stay on my rope the whole time?)

White down in a brown field, with blue sky and some red dogwood.

This is me, and I am outstanding in my field. Aren’t I handsome? (I certainly am, and I know it. )

But yesterday it was like Spring, even though it was Winter, and we went for an Adventure to the place we get to go in Summer. We drove and we drove and we drove … and there was the ferry. You don’t drive on ferries. You sit and say “Grr” out the window at the ferry-guy, because he’s walking up and down the ferry in a Suspicious Manner. He’s up to something. Why do the humans always roll my window up?

So here we are, on the Evandale Ferry.

The Evandale ferry on a balmy Leap Day.

The Evandale ferry on a balmy Leap Day.

And then we drove some more. Some people call it the bog road. I’m not sure why. But we have a Jeep!

The road was a bit exciting, but we kept all four paws on the ground.

The road was a bit exciting, but we kept all four paws on the ground.

And we had a picnic. Picnics are good. The humans did not take pictures of me eating ham sandwich crusts, but I did. I had to. The humans forgot to pack any dog biscuits. Foolish humans! But I got to have tea, too, so that was okay. And I like to sit in the sun and look at things and smell the wind.

Dog with river in background.

At the lookout.

Here is the River.

St. John River, February 29, 2016.

St. John River, February 29, 2016.

At this time of year it is supposed to be all ice, the humans say. It isn’t. Look at the ice floating by. It might be cat-ice, strong enough to hold a cat. It was not strong enough to hold a dog. I tried to stand on some and it sank. No leaping across ice-floes like my arctic ancestors. (Maybe that’s why the humans kept me on my rope?)

River landscape, with ice.

The St. John River again. The human accidentally set her phone to sepia.


The river, with ice in foreground.

Isn’t this almost the same view? And why aren’t I in this picture?

Look, it’s Leap Day and I’m leaping! Leap! Leap! Leap!

Dog and log.

The approach …


dog and log

The take-off …


dog jumping log

And the leap!

(Do you know how many times I had to do that before the humans got a photo that had more than my tail in it? But that’s okay. I like jumping over things.)

I went downriver to visit the Terrors, Bonnie & Macintosh. They’re my friends. But their humans weren’t home and when they barked out the window I suddenly remembered that sometimes they look after a Truly Evil dog who is scary and I had a panic attack and tried to run away. I know the Truly Evil dog is about the size of my head, but he’s still Truly Evil and Scary. (The human says, Mr Wicked, you’re supposed to be a great tracker, can’t you tell from the widdle that Evil Dog isn’t here? But how does she expect me to apply logic when I’m having a panic attack?)

[The human thought she took a picture of Bonnie and Macintosh through their window, but the truth is, the human can’t see what she’s doing with her phone without her reading glasses, which she does not normally wear when Adventuring, and apparently she didn’t. Which is too bad, because they looked very cute with their wee Scotch noses pressed up to the window and their little tails waggling.]

We went to look at the River again to soothe my nerves.

Dog by river.

Recovering my nerve after inciting a barking frenzy in my Westie friends. I like to play with them, actually. I just have delicate nerves.

We couldn’t go home on the Gagetown ferry. The government cancelled it again and this time they’ve really made sure it’s cancelled. Look at those big posts in the road. I widdled on them. Now the guys who watch the security camera that watches the sign in case of vandalism have something to look at. (Widdling on signs is not vandalism; it’s just being a dog.) Look, that’s Scovil’s Landing over there. I like the road from Scovil’s Landing. It has trees and osprey and wild sunflowers and more osprey, and turtles and milkweed and horses and mules to bark out the window at … going over the big bridge is boring and so is the highway. There’s no ferry guy to bark at on the highway. And what about the birds? This ferry had a bird-house and tree-swallows on it. What happens when the swallows come back and their ferry is gone? Humans should think more about these things.

barrier blocking access to ferry landing

No more Gagetown ferry. No more nautical tree swallows.


Flood gauge post.

Flood gauge at Gagetown landing. No flood so far this spring.

Well, no ferry to Scovil’s. So we drove and we drove and we drove, and we came home and had supper. I was very tired from all the excitement. And that was my adventure. At least I didn’t have to have a bath. All my mud fell off in the car.

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A lower-than-most-in-saturated-fats, allegedly-Irish Fruitcake

This has nothing to do with writing, nor with the books in the Blackdog world. If you’ve come across it while looking for slightly-healthier cake recipes, I hope you enjoy it. If you’re also a reader of fantasy, you might want to look around the site a bit more while the cake bakes …

Why this fruitcake is Irish I do not know. There’s no whiskey in it, not matter how many letters you use to spell whiskey. No potatoes. No Guinness. Nonetheless, that is its name in my mother’s handwritten cookbook, and since it’s in that cookbook, she probably got it from her mother, who could at least claim an Irish great-grandfather — but I doubt the recipe is that old.

The reason it is lower in saturated fat than many fruitcakes is that I’ve had to adapt my baking to be so. This one is not so low in fat and/or cholesterol as my usual cakes, since fruitcake does need some structural integrity and that means a few eggs, though not as many as the original recipe. (Yes, I know there are saturated fats in olive oil … but it’s better than butter.)

I change this recipe every time I make it. (The fate of most cake recipes in my kitchen.) This year it turned out the best fruitcake I’ve ever had, so here is this year’s version, as best I can remember. It’s an odd fruitcake — no spices at all in the original, and this year I added none, only a little lemon extract because I had a nearly-empty bottle. I think in the past I have used mace alone as a spice in it, which is also good.

Herewith the recipe: Irish Fruitcake, highly modified into pretty much an entirely new recipe …

Preheat oven to 300 F. Grease and flour two large loaf pans (or one largish tube pan).

3 1/2 cups of dried and/or candied fruit
(This year’s choices: chopped dried apricots, raisins, currants, candied peel, dried cranberries, halved maraschino cherries. Broken hazelnuts or slivered almonds would taste good in this as well.)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. olive oil
3/4 c. canola oil (all canola will work too but it won’t be quite so rich-tasting)
1 1/2 c. white sugar
*7 eggs — or 4 eggs and 3 tbsp. ground flax seed made into egg substitute, see below.
Optional: 1 or 2 tsp. lemon extract (I just dumped in what was left in the bottle …. Almond would be nice. The original recipe doesn’t even call for vanilla, so you can leave it out.)
4 c. pastry flour
scant 1/2 tsp. salt

Toss the fruit with the 1/4 c. all-purpose flour in a bowl.

* Make flax seed egg-substitute for 3 eggs (or however many you decide to replace), because you want it to sit and become good and gloopy. For each egg you’re replacing, grind finely 1 tbsp. flax seed and whisk it in a cup with 3 tbsp. water. Let sit to thicken. A coffee grinder works well to grind flax. If you’re making something like muffins, you don’t even have to wipe out the coffee first. (Usually when I’m making a cake or muffins, I substitute all the eggs, but that does make cake a bit more fragile — also more moist, which I like. I figured a fruit cake needed more structural integrity, though. If you decide to substitute flax for all seven eggs, I would suggest letting the cake cool in the pan for longer than usual before trying to turn it out.)

In a larger bowl, beat the oils and sugar together, adding extract if using. Add the eggs one at a time along with a heaping tbsp. of the pastry flour for each, beating well after each addition. (If using the flax, just add it in egg-sized dollops, adding a spoonful of flour each time as with real eggs.)

Sift remaining flour and salt into the egg-sugar-oil mixture and beat. Add the fruits and nuts and mix thoroughly.

Yes, there is no leavening in this cake beyond whatever eggs you are using.

Pour into pans.

Cover pans with foil.

Bake one hour at 300 F. Then reduce heat to 275. Remove foil lids, bake another hour. Check. Bake another hour. Check. Bake half an hour. Check for doneness. It should be light golden on top and a wooden skewer or whatever you use should come out clean when plunged into the middle of the cake.

So, that’s one hour at 300, followed by two and a half at 275. This will vary depending on your oven, your pans, the alignment of the planets, etc. etc. etc. The tube pan will probably take longer. If the tops seem to be getting too dark, put the foil lids back on. (The original recipe calls for 1 hour at 300 and then 4 at 250!)

Let the finished cakes rest a little in their pans before turning them out to finish cooling. Wrap tightly in foil and keep in a cool place — or eat right away.

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New Book, Autumn 2016! Gods of Nabban

I can finally announce this! Gods of Nabban will be coming out from Pyr SF in the autumn of 2016. Gods of Nabban is the fourth novel (and fifth story) set in the world of Blackdog and the Marakand duology of The Leopard and The Lady. It begins not very long after the events at the end of The Lady, and follows Ahjvar and Ghu, soul-wounded assassin and fugitive slave, as Ghu returns to Nabban, the homeland he fled as a boy. Although much in the characters is shaped by what happened to them in Marakand, the story itself moves to the empire of Nabban at the end of the caravan road, and is driven by powers and politics, divine and human, there. Ivah — wizard, scribe, scholar, and now a caravan-mercenary, is in it, and the devil Yeh-Lin, who was, long before, the empress and tyrant of Nabban (and had more recently found gainful employment as a history tutor …)

And Moth gets a look-in too.
#sfwapro

Posted in Blackdog, Dispatches from the desk, Gods of Nabban, Marakand, News, The Lady, The Leopard, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kew: Third and Final Gallery

Here is another installment in my series of photos from Kew, taken on a day I went up the river from LonCon3 to immerse myself in botany.

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