Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Okay, look -- I know that's some really lousy weaving. I can only tell you (a) it was my first time, (b) I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing and, (c) Ralph insisted on helping as the ends of the strips kept flipping his way.

It's supposed to be a flower. (cough cough) Although it doesn't show in the photo, there are actually three layers of weaving, spiraling up from the largest bottom layer. I didn't really take too much care with turning even corners and keeping strands snugged up, which is why I wouldn't ordinarily care to display the results. Mainly I've decided to expose my ineptitude because I just wanted you to see how really neat the grain of the strips is. If you click on the photo, you can see a larger version. Just wish you could smell this stuff. It's very much like freshly cut grass, which is logical since, in a way, that's what it is.

Yuppers. Grass. Of the wide and long persuasion. Of the infamous mystery monster that has been the subject of previous posts and comments. By the way, for those who might not have checked back for guesses, I did add a second photo to the last post that showed the leaves at a closer range. You can scroll down and check it out now. I'll wait. Okay? Okay. Now let me tell you what I did.

Had to wait until this morning because 101 Plants is closed on Mondays. Don't know why I didn't think to call earlier because Pat and Jeff are veritable founts of botanical knowledge. So Jeff answered the phone and I described the mystery monster. It wasn't a problem. "Oh," he said, "that's a New Zealand flax. It's real name is Phormium but everyone calls it New Zealand flax."

Bill, your guess about agave was closer than I thought. Apparently Phormium has been placed in the agave family in the past (and still is by many sources) but has since been moved to a different family entirely. Be that as it may, with a bit of Googling you'll find this is a most fascinating and remarkable plant, in all its many varieties. The Maori cultivated lots of different kinds and managed to use them for everything from medicine to cloth to rope and fish nets -- as well as all manner of useful things in between.

New Zealand flax grows all over the world and comes in a broad range of sizes, from something that you can keep in a pot to the likes of my monster. It also comes in various colors but cheerfully lends itself to dye should you happen to want something different when you're working with it. Because that's what really drew my interest -- what you can DO with the beast.

Absolutely the best site I've found so far is maintained by the hugely talented New Zealander, Ali Brown. She not only tells you all about this magical plant, she provides instructions on everything from harvesting and preparing leaves to various weaving projects, complete with excellent photos giving you a step-by-step feel for what is otherwise (to me, anyway) hopelessly complicated. Be sure to click the link to her blog because there are more projects demonstrated there.

I did my best to follow her instructions to make the funny-looking "flower" pictured above. Right off the git-go, I didn't get the strips particularly even in size. That didn't really bother me because I wasn't planning on entering the result in any competition. I just wanted to see how it worked. I can tell you this -- when you're weaving away, manipulating all those strips, it's alarmingly easy to misplace one of the skinnier ones and have to go back and reweave a row or two. I'm just saying.

Actually, I think one could spend a significant part of one's lifetime learning about all the properties of the phantastic phormium. Check out the University of Auckland page listing just some of the uses for the plant. From another source, I learned the seeds can serve as a substitute coffee. And the pulp can be fermented for silly juice. (Also known as adult beverage.)

Just think of it: From one plant (including its variants) you can get clothing, medicine, food and the means for catching more food (fish nets). You can weave practically all your kitchen ware and wrap your food and decorate your home and person. You can even make paper with it and, for all I know, maybe you can get dye out of it to make ink so you can write on the paper. On top of everything else, it's pretty and it smells good.

Don't see how you could do better than that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Curiosity Gland Alert

Okay. Here's the shot of the Mystery Monster we discussed the other day. Good thang I remembered to haul the camera along yesterday so I could get this pic while the sun was shining. Today, by contrast, is foggy-misty-WET and I can't think of a single reason to wander out in it.

So. Anyhoo. Does the sight of MM, in all its glory, ring any recognition bells with any of you Coffee Mates? I hope so. Now that I know it's not what I thought it was, I'm slightly crazy to find out what it really is. The world will not end if I never find out. Of course it won't. But it won't end if I DO find out, either, so it's okay to tell me. Really. Go ahead. Feel free.

If you're still nervous, I'll see what I can do about getting you in the Witness Protection Program.

Or we could discuss the worth of bribes consisting of chocolate in one degree or another of quality and quantity. I figure if I'm going to allow myself to be corrupted, it's best to insist on the highest possible value. I could probably better attain that goal if I had more practice. Corruption is a double-edged sword, you know. For me to be the corruptee, there must be a corruptor. Or two or three. So you people have to do your part. Your reward would be in the satisfaction you get from doing a quality job.

And I'd share the chocolate.


Hmmm ... I should have done this earlier. Put in the closeup, I mean. Don't know if it will help but maybe it will give you a better idea about the leaves of the beast. Definitely not agave, Bill. Wolfie, I think you're close but not quite on the button. Bonnie, this climate is only "too cold" for folks in Texas. (grin) We have all kinds of southwestern species thriving here, including palm trees and the ubiquitous ice plant. John, you may be right -- and sexing penguins is probably easier than naming the mystery monster. At least there are only two choices, there.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Those April Showers

Okay, I'm putting up with the nearly constant overcast and showers because all this gorgeous spring growth is busting out all over. Found this little clump of bluebells yesterday -- which happened to be one of our rare full-sunshine days this month so I was out and about, enjoying it to the fullest. Today we're back with the overcast and only occasional peekaboos from El Sol so I'm snuggled inside with Ralph.

The maple tree is still almost entirely green blossoms but, as you can see, the leaves are just beginning to unfurl.

By the way, you see that big ol' green plant in the background? It's a monster, easily eight or ten feet across and that much -- or more -- in height. I've been thinking it was a Spanish Dagger all this time but when I Googled it, I found out Spanish Daggers (and the slightly different Spanish Bayonets) are a different breed of cat entirely. Well. Maybe not entirely. I'm thinking it's some variety of Yucca but, good grief, Charlie Brown, there are a gazillion different kinds of Yucca. Does any clever Coffee Mate have a clue what this might be? I should point out, it does NOT have a trunk but is, rather, a huge bush.


As in the 800-pound gorilla that can do anything it wants.

I haven't been posting much this month, partly because my dial-up has been, off and on, extremely wonky lately. Beast. It gets so frustrating at times, I spend some days with little more than a quick (I use the word with a sense of hysteria) dip in and out to check my mail and then ignore the wunnerful world wide web the rest of the day.

Which is not to say I haven't been busy. When the weather is less than inviting outside, there are always fun projects to be about in the kitchen. I found, for instance, an interesting recipe for making cream cheese from a fellow in South America. I got a quart of cheese from a gallon of milk so I was making use of the abundance like a crazy woman. Great fun.

One of the happy results was a baked sandwich of sorts. The dough was rolled out as for cinnamon rolls, then slathered liberally with the cheese. Then sprinkled with dried minced onion, then layered with thinly sliced ham and shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkled with Mrs. Dash chipotle seasoning. Rolled up in one long loaf with scissor snips along its length for steam vents and then baked at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Most satisfactory, yes indeedy.

Much of the cream cheese has been utilized for experiments with making mini-cheesecakes. I have more tweaking to do before sharing recipes but I'm plugging away at it. So far, I can't say I'm terribly happy with the results. But it keeps me from playing in traffic so I guess there is some virtue to be found in the effort. Besides, I can always enjoy the spring finery of the maple tree when I'm tired of contemplating culinary flops.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Whatsit Birds

There must be more to the process of nest building than we realize, if the behavior of this little guy is any indication. There he sat, firmly perched on a branch of one of the birch trees out my kitchen window, his building supplies clutched abeak, for a good ten minutes. I don't know why he needed that long pause in the construction of this year's love nest. Maybe he was just tired of all those trips, lugging one strand of grass after another. Maybe he was debating on the best placement of this particular component, weighing in his little bird brain the avian version of feng shui. Whatever his reason, it gave me ample opportunity to haul out the digicam and record the work break -- and be grateful all over again for the magic of zoom.

His meditation must have been intense because a lightning-fast flyby by a pair of courting swallows didn't even raise a blink of his little eyes. The swallows are, in my opinion, the feathered equivalent of the Blue Angels, with their spectacular aerial acrobatics. In this instance, demonstrating their mastery of precision flying, they darted in tandem, threading their way in and out of branches and around our studious nest builder as though they were laying down invisible embroidery in the air.

Perhaps one of you knowledgeable Coffee Mates can answer my burning question: what kind of bird do this little guy be? I was thinking some kind of sparrow but I can't find a single picture that matches his appearance -- and I've pored over dozens. Nary a one with the distinctive black throat patch and the reddish-brown strips flaring out from the eyes. It's a puzzle.

If someone doesn't come up with an answer, I'm just going to have to pass him off as one of those Whatsit birds. Doesn't hardly seem polite.