The garden is dark and cold, time to move the harvest into the studio.
Coates willow charcoal on panel, 24 x 18.
The garden is dark and cold, time to move the harvest into the studio.
Coates willow charcoal on panel, 24 x 18.
The days are just packed, as Calvin used to say to Hobbs. I have posts nearly ready to go about the Island-wide story slam, a recipe for arroz con/sin pollo in the wood oven, and a lecture on waffle gardening that I gave to the Castine Scientific Society last Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’ve been working my way through the first complete iteration of my “still life in situ” project with this painting of a honeysuckle vine framed by purple Matronalis.
This planting is in the dooryard, and I see it every morning as I leave the house in all kinds of weather and times of day. I want my paintings to represent something familiar and well known: plants that I’ve tended, pruned, picked for bouquets and appreciated in place. The time of day and season has become increasingly important to me. I felt my previous still life compositions with vases and drapery had very little atmosphere. The morning light here provides context, and the blooms and foliage represent a particular stage of their growth and decay, which has long been a prime characteristic of still life painting.
Honeysuckle and Dame’s Rocket, 36 x 24, oil on panel
And a detail, now with hummingbird!
On day last October I meandered down the coast and finally settled on a view across the harbor to the Town of Stonington in the late day sun. It was cool and clear and I managed to dodge the group of photographers with HUGE lenses who were also hunting for the perfect light; that trophy view of little white structures gamely climbing the hill above the ocean.
Many thanks to the Stonington Free Library for providing shelter and a place to check my email. The librarian was endlessly patient with folks who couldn’t remember the last name of the author (Wilder) or the title of that series about Merlin (which turned out to be the Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart). It was a wonderful day.
Little White Town I, Stonington, 18″ x 36″, oil on panel
Melon pan is both a delicious Japanese treat and a bilingual loan word and you don’t get that sort of quality linguistic experience every day. These are little dessert buns made with cookie dough rolled out and wrapped around a nugget of bread dough. The “pan” is Portuguese for bread and the “melon” is for how the little globes bake into a furrowed skin that looks like melon rind. They are sometimes made with butterscotch or green macha cookie dough to point up the resemblance even further.
Any type of bread and cookie dough is fair game in any combination. For my first attempt I made plain white bread with maple sugar cookies. The buns had more lumps and ridges than the Wikipedia illustrations (more closely resembling pumpkins than melons) but they were delicious.
I started with a batch of classic white sandwich bread dough from King Arthur Flour. I also chose King Arthur Flour’s recipe for the maple cookie layer, but it was very soft and difficult to roll out without a great deal of flour and mess. Next time I’ll use a butter cookie dough that is firm enough to roll out easily. My tiny kitchen covered in flour:
Take the bread dough recipe through to the second rise, and at that point make a roll and cut it into about 25 pieces. Roll the pieces into balls using the heel of your hand on an unfloured surface. Space the balls on two greased cookie sheets (or use parchment or a Silpat), cover, and allow to rise again while you make the cookie layer.
Follow your cookie recipe and spread the finished dough onto a piece of plastic wrap. Form into a roll – or make two rolls if that fits better into your fridge – and chill for 20 minutes. Remove from fridge, unwrap, and slice the roll into about 25 discs. In a nice example of synchronicity, these two recipes made almost exactly the same amount of dough – very easy to divide equally.
On a floured surface, roll out each disc just enough to fold around a lump of bread dough. Don’t try to wrap it tightly, just lay the cookie dough circle down on top and curve your hand around it gently to tuck the edges over. This part is difficult to explain but there are multiple videos out there highlighting various techniques. I found that the cookie dough spread across the bottom of the melon pan into a continuous layer during baking without me trying to fold it underneath.
Cover the buns again and allow to rise for 20 minutes while you preheat the oven. They won’t become appreciably larger but the cookie layer “settles” around the bread dough.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes at 375 F, until the cookie dough has browned lightly and the inner bread layer has cooked through. Baking time will vary depending on the size of the bun and the cookie dough you’ve selected. Remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack right away. When completely cool you might consider piping in some filling. I used creme Anglais but found we really didn’t need it; S. and I enjoyed some this morning with spicy ginger jam and that was even better.
Combinations that come to mind: dark rye bread with a molasses cookie layer and piped with raspberry preserves; raisin challah with butter cookies; ginger pumpkin bread with lemon shortbread cookie dough and lemon curd; or cranberry orange brioche with chocolate sugar cookies.
In 2010 I bought a Dawn Redwood tree (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) from Fedco Trees. Fedco specializes in small, very well-rooted specimens that are easy to ship and plant. True to form, what I unpacked from that shipment was the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree of redwoods: 2′ tall with a twiggy trunk and sparse, irregular foliage. I picked a likely spot in our swamp for a tree that would/might eventually reach 100′ and left it to fend for itself (which is my favorite philosophy for growing trees). It worked!
Yesterday I went out to visit what has become my favorite tree in the garden. The soft, deciduous foliage is turning bronze – equally as beautiful as the luminescent green color in spring. The trunk caliper has increased to 11″, showing off the striated golden-orange bark that will only become deeper and more colorful with age.
R. complimented me on picking a good spot. This is about 15′ from our driveway, which means that if it does get to 100′ (not likely in Maine) the buttressed trunk will probably not interfere with our carpark. Probably.
Might have room for a giant, prehistoric tree in your yard? Fedco has them in this year’s catalog:
Dawn Redwood 100′ One of the most spectacular of the ornamental trees. The wide irregular trunk looks like something out of a fairy tale with its iridescent golden-orange bark that becomes deeply grooved, hollowed and fluted with age. The bright green deciduous needles turn orange in the fall. Grows quickly, up to 50′ in 15–20 years, with many small-diameter horizontal branches and a uniform conical habit. Give it lots of space to grow! Highly adaptable, easy to transplant. Prefers moist deep well-drained slightly acid soil in full sun. Will tolerate wet or dry sites. Pollution resistant; good specimen or street tree, rarely needs pruning. Fossils dating back 50 million years have been found in Japan. Thought to be extinct until it was “rediscovered” in central China in 1941. Resembles California redwoods only vaguely. Metasequoia glyptostroboides Native to China and Japan. Z4. ME Grown. (1-3′ bare-root trees)
525A: 1 for $15.00
My mother turned 87 on Friday, and in the past I’ve posted a photo in her honor. While looking through the archives for something suitable this year I turned up a set of ledgers from the 1800’s. She loved reading the lists and prices of tasks and addresses from the past in their elegant copperplate. The label on this 1858 volume indicates that it belonged to Augustus Whiton and was loaned by my grandfather, Raymond Harrison Barnard, probably for an exhibit at the town’s historical society.
Ancestry.com helpfully informs me that Augustus is related to me as “father-in-law of a great grand Aunt”. (Seriously, that’s very helpful – it would have taken me hours to figure that out on paper.) He was born in Ashford (Windham), Connecticut in 1808 and died in Bloomfield, where his carriage business was located, on July 1, 1885. His accounts from 1858 are a wonderful collection of names that now adorn streets and plaques: Filley, Gillette, Miller from a time when it cost six cents to shoe a horse and twenty-three cents to repair a tire. This is Dr. Nathan Miller’s page.
And one from William Gillette, a big spender at $87.42. Reading down the list makes a sort of historical poem out of the information: shoe horse, shoe horse, shoe oxen, repair whiffletree, shoe horse(s), fix buggy, reset tire, sharpen crowbar, shoe horse, shoe horse. . . .
Other books in the collection include the ledgers for my grandfather’s dairy deliveries. This one, labeled “The Hill Route” still has receipts from the Ice Delivery Company dated 1926.
This page lists the Whiton family on a delivery route:
This will be my first winter using an in-hive warmer and, as usual, I’m posting both to share the information and keep a history going for myself. I installed the Warmbees product in August during my last full hive inspection. (Note that Warmbees has changed the configuration on their heater from the one I purchased – the new model looks more compact and can be re-oriented for use in a top bar hive.)
Installation couldn’t be easier: select the temperature range (mine is set to low to maintain a temperature of about 40 degrees F), drape the wire ribbon with LED signal light and the cord over the edge of the hive box, and plug it in to an extension cord. Naturally, this requires the colony to be within cord distance of an electrical outlet. I haven’t quite figured out a battery/solar configuration yet. There’s no assembly required and you don’t need to know anything about wiring. The tiny LED makes a reassuring glow in the front yard:
I used an Imirie shim installed with the opening toward the back of the hive to run the cord and ribbon through, and blocked the extra space with dry grass. When I wrap the hive with insulation for winter in November I’ll tape over the hole as the bees should be used to it by then. When I replaced the quart mason jar of sugar syrup for fall feeding today (they’ve been going through a quart every three days) I noticed that they’ve built beautiful, regular comb over the wires running on top of the frame.
The beauty of this device is that it is controlled by the internal temperature of the hive box. Other products that wrap around the outside of the equipment doesn’t sense the heat generated by the cluster of bees and by overheating them can convince them to fly in freezing weather. We had a frost last night but with a good sized cluster generating its own warmth the heater hasn’t needed to go on to keep the internal temp at around 40. I have high hopes that this product will help an otherwise healthy colony last through the long, cold Maine winter and the cold, wet spring that follows.
The garden in late September after the first frost:
Ecaustic paint is a mixture of pigment and beeswax, tempered with damar varnish and kept molten on a hot plate or griddle. Now that the temperature is dropping and snow is piling up on the studio stairs the thought of a cold November day spent leaning over warm dishes of fragrant wax is very tempting. My set-up consists of an electric pancake griddle, metal condiment dishes purchased in bulk from a restaurant supply store, and hog bristle brushes.
I use a 1:10 part mix of bagged damar crystals melted into plain, unfiltered beeswax. The damar is available from most art supply stores – don’t use damar varnish because it contains solvents. Filtered, bleached, and cleaned beeswax is also available. I use wax from my beehives and it’s VERY unfiltered so I do pick bees, sticks, and flower parts out of it occasionally.
You can purchase special encaustic painting surfaces but any sturdy, stable surface will do. Canvas and other fabric mounts will crack and peel when the wax hardens. This is an ancient technique and extremely durable when the surface is stable. Special paint and brushes are available, but honestly oil pigment (not more than 1:20) and regular bristle brushes work just as well. Make a place to rest your brushes on the heat source to melt the wax coating. Keep your fingers away from the metal ferrules – they will be very hot!
There are many detailed tutorials on the web on encaustic media. Most are very good on the basic steps but I’ve been disappointed in the imagery. Don’t assume that the wax somehow demands soft colors and undefined contours! This is the first in a series of bouquet paintings from Thuya Lodge, part of the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve on Mount Desert island. This piece will be available at their auction in 2015: Nasturtium in a Brown Vase, 16 x 12, encaustic media.
It’s November, and the garden is gray and cold so it’s time to finish up all those paintings I started of roses back in July and August! This one is Königin von Danemark (Queen of Denmark), a Portland rose introduced in 1826. It blooms all season – in fact it would probably be blooming right now except that the deer got to it a few nights ago. Very sad, but stay tuned for updates on an improved electric fence mapping project.
Roses in a Green Glass, 24 x 18, oil on panel.
Today we have stairs to the second story! This is the view from the alpine garden looking east.
Looking down the stairs to the driveway and our gravel road, just as the crew from John Atkinson Builders is leaving. . .