Friday, August 29, 2014

Black-eyed Susan and Sweet WIlliam

 As summer winds down in Maine, my garden starts to look a little ragtag. The daylilies are just brown straws with fading foliage, peonies are long gone and asters yet to come. One bright flower marches straight through from jUly, however: Black-eyed Susan. 

It can be hard to get this plant to "take," it has shallow roots and will die after transplant unless you get a good rootball and water it frequently. Once established, however, it will thrive, even in poor soil. I got to wondering about the name. The Black-Eyed" part is pretty obvious, but is there any special reason why Susan and not Anne or Jennifer or Inez? 
Susan, it turns out, all black-eyed from crying, is the star of an eighteenth century ballard by John Gay, co-starring Sweet William, a popular name for lovelorn fellows in ballards; the famous Barbara Allen scorned her own Sweet William, to her regret. The John Gay ballard begins: 

 ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’

Another beloved garden flower is named for him: Sweet William the plant blooms about the same time as Black-eyed Susan.  There's only one Sweet William in this house, however:

Here's the whole thing:

Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan
ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
  The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard;
  ‘O! where shall I my true-love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’
William, who high upon the yard
  Rock’d with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard
  He sigh’d, and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning on the deck he stands.
So the sweet lark, high poised in air,
  Shuts close his pinions to his breast
If chance his mate’s shrill call he hear,
  And drops at once into her nest:—
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William’s lip those kisses sweet.
‘O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
  My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear;
  We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.
‘Believe not what the landmen say
  Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
They’ll tell thee, sailors, when away,
  In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For Thou art present wheresoe’er I go.
‘If to fair India’s coast we sail,
  Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Afric’s spicy gale,
  Thy skin is ivory so white.
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.
‘Though battle call me from thy arms
  Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms
  William shall to his Dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan’s eye:
The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
  The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard;
  They kiss’d, she sigh’d, he hung his head.
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land;
  ‘Adieu!’ she cries; and waved her lily hand.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Toddy Song

A real Maine song. Lyrics NSFW!

The denizens of Central Maine are, among other things, an earthy lot. Or maybe salty is the better word. I first heard this song a couple of years ago at a party at disc golf course in Sidney, when a stranger picked up my husband's acoustic guitar and just sat down and started playing. I couldn't quit laughing, because it's so much like so many stories I have heard here, in language and detail. It stuck with me, so finally I went searching YouTube for it. I thought it was hopeless, but everything is on YouTube these days. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bon Appetit Recognizes Central Provisions

The foodie mag Bon Appetit has named Portland eatery Central Provisions as one of the top ten restaurants in the country. Coming in at #6,  the very new Central Provisions - which opened only six months ago at 414 Fore Street - was particularly commended for its crudo, a raw fish dish with sweet and tangy seasoning.

Portland has an ever-growing reputation as a foodie town, having more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States. Central Provisions is a welcome addition to the mix. Despite my low-rent predilection for diners and pubs, might have to give them a try.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Check Out Quench!!

Belfast, Maine is an adorable little town. Many unusual stores, restaurants, and pubs, and right on the water. It's a great destination for a day trip, and it just got a tiny bit better. Jeweler Jennifer Lisa, of Quench Metalworks, has opened a retail space of fine and unusual handmade wares. Let's check it out!
We found it! Quench is at 9 Beaver Street, in Belfast.
Peeking in the window...

...And lots more! Worth a visit to see for yourself.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What to do with all those CUKES!
When they come, they come by the dozens! Cucumbers are in season in Maine. Even if you don't have a garden, chances are someone is trying to give you cucumbers. Take them! Great for salads and sandwiches, and now salsa! try this one.

Crisp Cucumber Salsa:

2 cups finely chopped seeded peeled cucumber
1/2 cup finely chopped seeded tomato
... 1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped
4-1/2 tsp minced fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 c reduced-fat sour cream
1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
1-1/2 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp seasoned salt
Tortilla chips

In a small bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In another bowl, combine the sour cream, lemon juice, lime juice, cumin and seasoned salt. Pour over cucumber mixture and toss gently to coat. Serve immediately with chips.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tomatoes and Zucchini, Made for Each Other

Pretty sure it's a sign from God that all of these things are in season at the same time.

1 Medium Tomato
1 Medium Zucchini
1 Medium Summer Squash
1 T snipped garlic greens
1 T snipped chives
3 T olive oil
Parmesan cheese

I chop all the vegetables into 1 to 2 inch chunks, toss everything together, and then place it on some foil. I use enough foil that I can crumple the sides into a makeshift bowl which will then go on the grill. I cover the top with more foil to hold the moisture in, and let the lot steam in its own juice.

I admit, unfashionable as it may be, I like my grilled vegetables cooked; hot-raw just doesn't do it for me. So I put them over a medium-high flame for about 12 -15 minutes. So fresh! I want to take a mental sanpshot of the taste and remember it in January.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Fireworks Over Augusta

It rained in Maine on Independence Day this year. Because it landed on a Friday, most municipalities rescheduled their fireworks for Saturday, but not Augusta. Ours was rescheduled for Augusta 2 - today.

Fireworks displays are sort of like small-town parades - or parades of any kind, actually - if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. This year they were  little more fun, because I got out the camera and started trying to click the shutter at the instant that would catch the explosion. If I waited until I could see the explosion, that was too late, and the shape would be disintegrating. Click too early and I'd just get empty sky.

This little game would not have been possible - not for me, anyway - prior to digital photography. Hooray for technology. And Independence, too, of course.

A Tale of Two Coneflowers

Echinacea purpurea
I once thought I'd try to have a garden strictly of native plants. Yeah, I once thought a lot of things. I found it far too limiting given the vast variety of beauty available to the gardener, but one plant that has stayed with me from that period is Purple Coneflower. Funnily enough, I was mistaken; coneflower is native to North America, but not to Maine, where it migrated from the midwestern states.

Echinacea pallida
Did I say one plant? I meant two. Coneflower comes in two varieties. Echinacea pallida is a paler purple, and a taller, leggier plant; echinacea purpurea is a deeper pink-purple color, and more compact.

Both are bee-friendly plants, but let me suggest that you get your coneflowers from a neighbor who's dividing, or from a small garden center like Longfellow's. A recent study (.pdf) found that more than 50% of perennials sold at the large retailers like Lowe's and Home Depot had been treated with pesticides called neonicotinoids that make plants poisonous to bees! It's important to note that it was a small sample, and more study is needed; however, I err on the side of caution, since the bees are having a rough go as it is. If you transplant, get a good root ball, and get it in the ground - full sun if possible - as soon as you can.

Echinacea is thought by some to have medicinal properties, including boosting the immune system; this has yet to be proven, and collection of the roots for this purpose, along with habitat loss, has put echinacea on the endangered list in some states.

Coneflowers attract butterflies, and after the flowers pass, goldfinches will perch on the dried seedheads to feed. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blueberry Banana Smoothie

I spent great chunks of my childhood summers in Cherryfield, Maine, the blueberry capital of the world. My grandparents had some blueberry barrens; in their high school years, my mother and her cousin worked at the Wyman's factory, picking the sticks and bugs out of the harvested fruit. My mother was even the Maine Blueberry Queen of 1950!

Wyman's is still there, and they process all sorts of fruit - dried, canned, or frozen. That's great for winter, but in August, there's no shortage of fresh blueberries anywhere in Maine. Fresh berries make everything better! Think of pancakes; and then think of blueberry pancakes. See what I mean?

In the summer heat, there's no better way to enjoy blueberries than a cold smoothie. Banana makes it thick and creamy, ice makes it frosty-cool.

Fresh Maine Blueberry Smoothie

1 cup blueberries
1 banana, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup orange juice
2 ice cubes

Place all in blender and pulse-blend until smooth. Enjoy immediately, Makes enough for two.
Want to pick your own? Check out picking farms here.