Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daffodil Dreams

                                                                                                                  

“I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
 
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
 
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
 
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
 
William Wordsworth, 
“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”


After the dark nights and sparkling lights of December, a slender green head pokes its nose through white snow and cold earth. Pushing quickly through the fallen leaves of autumn, a daffodil emerges to reveal its modest beauty and attest to the coming spring.
Beloved by poets from Shakespeare to Wordsworth, daffodils have long been a traditional harbinger of warm weather, a symbol of rebirth and a promise of better times to come.
Appearing as early as January in warm climates, simple yellow daffodils are a small but reliable miracle of Mother Nature, a welcome sight after a long, cold winter and one of my first and most favorite signs of spring.

                                            

            Native to northern Europe, daffodils were beloved along with all flowers in Victorian times, when each bud carried a meaning, and a bouquet of blossoms sent a secret message from a young woman to her beau. In the language of flowers, daffodils stood for “regard.” 
Like Wordsworth, I have a high regard for daffodils. I remember as a young girl visiting an old white, wooden farmhouse in the country to marvel at massed daffodils still blooming wild in the dooryard, hardy after years of neglect.
No primadonnas, daffodils are inexpensive, are easy to grow and naturalize readily. They are beautiful as cut flowers in a clear glass vase. Their butter-yellow blooms are especially beautiful when planted with purple grape hyacinths.
In recent times, modern growers have experimented with daffodils to create dozens of new varieties now available for purchase in shades of orange, pink and white.
Re-emerging year after year with very little care, daffodils are one of the easiest bulbs for beginning gardeners to grow. They demand no special treatment and give years of pleasure to children and adults alike. Daffodils are hardy in quite cold climates, and burrowing rodents find them much less tasty than tulip bulbs.
To plant daffodils, dig holes in the autumn 3 to 6 inches deep in partial to full sun. They will grow up to 18 inches tall, blooming in late winter or early spring. They need no summer watering and will reward your planting efforts again and again.
All daffodils and jonquils are members of the Narcissus family, so named after the mythic Greek youth Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and was punished for his egotism by being transformed into a papery white flower. Daffodils themselves, however, are neither showy nor vain, offering us their innocent beauty as a simple gift of spring and a testament to joy.
The name “daffodil” is thought to come from Affodyle, an old English word meaning “early comer.” Also knows as the Lent lily, it was called many nicknames in Shakespeare’s day, including daff-a-down-lily and daffodilly.
One popular spring attraction in the hills of Northern California is Daffodil Hill, near Volcano, Amador County. Every spring, from mid-March through mid-April, the 4-acre farm erupts in fields of yellow. The site has been open to the public for generations, attracting visitors from all over the world with its sunny drifts of gold.



            I first visited Daffodil Hill as a baby and enjoyed sitting among the blooms, which were taller than I. Over the years, our family returned several times, grown and changed, yet the daffodils have always been fresh and lovely.               
Daffodil Hill first began in 1887 as a 36-acre ranch and toll road for travelers and lumbermen. It grew well-known in the 1930’s as travelers admired its daffodil-covered slopes. Descendents of the original family held onto the old homestead, planting thousands of new daffodil bulbs each year and nurturing more than 300 named varieties. Today, more than 300,000 bulbs flourish well-tended on the farm.
Those who do not live near Daffodil Hill can view daffodils at any public garden during the spring season. To adorn your own garden with daffodils takes but a bit of preparation and effort in the fall, and the results are well worth it.
Plan now for next year’s show, and you can look forward to your own spot of loveliness next spring.



“Fair daffodils, we weep to see/You haste away so soon.”
-- Robert Herrick, “To Daffodils”




  


Daffodil photos taken at my home.



Bibliography



http://www.bachmans.com/divHomePage.ep?currentNodeBean=GardenCare&categoryCode=02&pageIndex=_pageIndexToken_successWithDaffodils

 “The Language of Flowers,” Ed. Sheila Pickles, Harmony Books, 1990.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chocolate Chip Banana Bars


"I'm getting so old, I don't even buy green bananas anymore."
- Chi Chi Rodriguez

If you like bananas, you'll know they're tasty and good for you, but they have a very limited shelf life. Unlike Chi Chi Rodriguez, I'm an optimist, so I buy bananas that are slightly green, knowing they'll be perfectly yellow the next time I need one for my cereal bowl.

My problem isn't that my bananas are too green but that they turn brown way too soon. Fortunately, after dealing with this problem for years, I've found several good recipes that use brown bananas. Today I'll share one with you: Chocolate Chip Banana Bars. 

This recipe is a great one because it's fast, easy and delicious, and everyone loves it. I found it in an old cookbook titled "Cookies." See if you like it, too!


Banana Chocolate Chip Bars
 
1/2 C margarine or butter, room temperature (one stick)
3/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 C mashed bananas (about two medium-size)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 C flour
1/2 C wheat germ
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 C chocolate chips
3/4 C chopped walnuts or pecans (or more chocolate chips)
Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and brown sugar together until creamy. Beat in bananas and vanilla. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture, beating well.
 
Stir in chocolate chips and half of the nuts. Spread mixture in a greased 9” x 13” baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining nuts if you are using nuts. (I omit the nuts and just use a total of 1 1/2 C chocolate chips.)
 
Sprinkle cinnamon sugar all over the top. Bake 18-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool and cut into squares. 
 
This recipe is from “Cookies,” 1980.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wild Weather: A Look Back at 2011



Happy New Year!

OK, so I know it's actually Feb. 5, and it's been 2012 for more than a month now. But yesterday ushered in the new Year of the Dragon in Chinese astrology, and that's close enough for me.

Three days ago, on Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow in Gobbler's Knob, Penn. That reportedly means another six weeks of winter. That's OK. In fact, so far, this winter has been fairly mild for us in Dallas. Nothing like last year .....

Which brings us to 2011. I know I'm not the only one who's happy to say goodbye to 2011! Here in Texas, 2011 brought plenty of trouble: snowstorms, a heat wave, drought, wildfires and a state budget crisis.

Snowstorms: The year started off with an unusually cold winter, with several snowstorms that closed down schools throughout north Texas and kept kids home from school for days. An ice storm in early February, followed by three days of below-freezing temperatures and then a snowstorm, caused hundreds of auto accidents, forced the canceling of 300 flights to Dallas airports and caused lots of headaches for football fans trying to travel to Dallas to see the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 at Arlington's giant new Cowboys Stadium. (For more, visit this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/us/05storm.html)

We had 100 hours below freezing, which was the longest stretch of freezing temperatures we'd had in more than 20 years. (See http://www.srh.noaa.gov/fwd/?n=feb2011) My kids were home from school for four days!!! (I hope that doesn't happen EVER again!)

Heat wave: Last year saw a horrible heat wave that turned out to be the state's worst ever recorded! (That's the worst since at least 1895.) August was the hottest month in Dallas since records began in 1898. All kinds of heat records were broken all over the Southern U.S. (See http://www.weather.com/outlook/weather-news/news/articles/2011-heat-superlatives_2011-07-15) For example, here in Dallas, we set a new record of 71 days over 100 degrees in one year! (See this article for more: http://dallas.about.com/od/neighborhoods/qt/Dfw-Weather-70-Days-And-We-Have-A-New-Record-For-Triple-Digit-Temperatures.htm)

It was so hot every day that my kids and I experimented with dashboard dining, cooking all kinds of food on our car dashboard on those hot summer days.


Drought: The hottest summer on record, paired with low rainfall totals, led to a terrible drought throughout the Southern U.S. After last summer, almost all of Texas was in a state of extreme drought. At least 13 people in Dallas died from the heat, and the overburdened state power grid, facing unprecedented demand for electricity as people ran their air conditioners constantly, was at risk of shutting down. (See more at http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2011/08/05/texas-drought-may-persist-for-another-year/)

The dry conditions caused about $5.2 billion in agricultural losses in the state's worst single-year drought on record. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/28/texas-wildfires-agriculture-losses_n_986276.html) Also affected were the state's water table and lake levels, which fell significantly.

Wildfires: The lack of rain, plus the incredible heat spell, combined to make a perfect firestorm of wildfires that burned about 4 million acres in Texas, doubling the previous record. Firefighters responded to more than 28,000 fires in Texas in the 2011 fire season. The fires burned 2,862 homes and led Gov. Rick Perry to declare a State of Disaster. The fires were so huge, they could be seen from space. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Texas_wildfires)

Budget crisis: To top it all off, the nationwide recession left is mark on Texas, forcing the state Legislature to make billions of dollars in cuts to state services, including a 6% cut to schools that forced districts across the state to lay off thousands of teachers. These cuts not only continue but increase in the 2012-2013 school year.

So in summary, most of 2011 was long, hot, dry and miserable for a lot of folks. So far, 2012 is looking up a little. A big, wet storm pushed through Dallas last week, raising area lake levels and lifting a tiny part of north Texas out of drought stage. (Read it in the Star-Telegram: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/02/02/3708618/big-rain-ends-drought-in-dallas.html)

Let's hope that last week's rains, like a breath of fresh air, herald a better year for us all in 2012, both in Dallas and wherever you are.

Happy New Year!!!