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.


 “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:

We had 100 hours below freezing, which was the longest stretch of freezing temperatures we'd had in more than 20 years. (See 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 For example, here in Dallas, we set a new record of 71 days over 100 degrees in one year! (See this article for more:

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

The dry conditions caused about $5.2 billion in agricultural losses in the state's worst single-year drought on record. (See 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

Budget crisis: To top it all off, the nationwide recession left its 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:

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!!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Sightseeing in Chicago: Millennium Park

"Gigantic, willful, young,
Chicago sitteth at the northwest gates."
-- William Vaughn Moody, 1901

One of the highlights of our summer this year was visiting Chicago for a day. I'd never been there before, so we decided to see some of the main sights. Luckily for us, many of them are in one spot: Grant Park.

Founded in 1844, the 319-acre park lies on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan and encompasses gardens, museums, fountains, open spaces, woods and sculptures. It is the lovely centerpiece of the city. 

The northernmost portion of Grant Park comprises the new 24.5-acre Millennium Park, which opened in 2004 on the grounds of a formerly blighted industrial site. Inside Millennium Park is the five-acre Lurie Garden, home to a perennial garden with many native plants, including the Pale Coneflowers (Echinacea pallida) pictured at the top.

Among the beautiful flowers in Lurie Garden, we also saw these White Blazing Stars (Liatris spicata 'Alba'):

Also in Millennium Park is Crown Fountain, which consists of a shallow reflecting pool of black granite flanked by two 50-foot glass brick towers. Using LED technology, the towers display gigantic faces of 1,000 different Chicago residents intermittently spouting streams of water from their mouths. It really is a technological wonder and is interesting to watch. On the day we were there, the Midwest was in the grip of a heat wave, so the reflecting pool was filled with children (and a few adults) wading and splashing in the cool water.

One of the glass bricks was not working properly.

If I were a kid, I would have joined in the fun!

From the park's border, one can look past lush flowerbeds toward nearby shops in historic buildings.

One highlight of Millennium Park is Cloud Gate, a 110-ton elliptical sculpture coated in shiny stainless steel that reflects not only the sky and city skyline but also visitors who reach up to touch the sides and crowd underneath to look into the swirling images above. I think the sculpture looks a bit like a giant bike helmet, but many locals call it "The Bean."

Cloud Gate, aka "The Bean."

I'm the tiny pink dot standing in the very center and looking up.
Here is part of the city's skyline reflected in the side of "The Bean."

The last highlight of Millennium Park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a large band shell that hosts the Grant Park Music Festival, which is the nation's only remaining free outdoor classical music series.

The pavilion seats 11,000 people on the Great Lawn under a sweeping metal trellis, and its state-of-the-art sound system is designed to mimic an indoor performance hall. Its stage hosts all kinds of groups every year, from classical music to rock, opera, folk music and jazz.

For lovers of modern art, music, wildflowers and family fun, Millennium Park has much to offer. Consider stopping by the next time you're in Chicago!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dashboard Pizza Bagels

Guess what! Today's high was ONLY 95 degrees! That's actually a cooling trend for us this summer in Dallas, and it's about time, too! This summer went down in the record books as the hottest summer ever recorded in Dallas, although we missed tying 1980's record of total days over 100 degrees (69 in 1980) by only two days. (See article here.) To commemorate the heat wave, an enterprising Texan is now selling T-shirts proclaiming, "I survived the heat wave of 2011"!

I think I speak for just about everyone here in Texas when I say we're ready for some nicer weather. A cool front is supposed to be arriving tomorrow, bringing us a much-deserved low of 59 degrees F! (I'll believe it when I see it!)

Anyway, I'm wrapping up this summer's series on Car Cookery with a snack we ate a lot in college: pizza bagels.

I made these a while ago when our heat wave was still in full force. The outside temperature was 105 degrees, and it was 158 in our trusty Suburban. It's a recipe so easy that even college kids can make it.

First, grab a bagel, and cover the center with a slice of pepperoni so the sauce and toppings don't fall through the middle.

Then add whatever toppings you like. I added pepperoni, black olives, red onions, garlic powder and mozzarella cheese.

Put them in a pan, and then broil them in your oven, toaster oven or hot car.

When all the cheese is melted, take a bite! They're awesome!

If you've enjoyed my entries about Car Cookery, you may want to read some posts by a woman in Phoenix in her series titled "Dashboard Dining." Her stories are funny, and I'm really impressed by the elegant three-course meals she has cooked in her vintage Mercedes Benz. Maybe next summer I'll be inspired to cook something gourmet on my dashboard.

And surprisingly enough, there's another way to cook with  your car: on its engine block! I first heard of this when I watched an episode of Food Network's "Extreme Chef" TV show. The contestants had to cook an appetizer on a hot car engine, and miraculously, two of the three dishes turned out OK! Apparently this is not a new idea. You can check it out on WikiHow, WiseBread, YouTube or Instructables. There's even a whole cookbook on engine-block cooking titled "Manifold Destiny"! So feel free to be creative in your future cooking experiments. Engine cooking would even be good when it's not hot outside, so you could do it in the spring, fall or winter. Why not try it the next time you're camping or going on a picnic?

I hope you've enjoyed my posts on Car Cookery. It's been fun. Let me know if you've ever tried cooking anything in an unusual way!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's Official: Our Hottest Summer Ever!

Whew! It's official! The National Weather Service announced today that this has been the hottest summer ever on record for the Dallas-Fort Worth area, eclipsing the Awful Summer of 1980 for the highest average temperature with 90.6 degrees.

Although we missed tying 1980's 42-day streak of 100-degree days by only two days, we've still made it into the record books for something. I'm glad that after enduring this relentlessly hot summer, we at least have some bragging rights!

And we still may tie the 1980 record for the most total days over 100 degrees. Today was Day 65, and the 1980 record was 69. (See the full story here.)

I've gotten so used to this heat that it will feel really strange when this heat wave finally breaks.

But won't it feel nice?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dashboard S'mores

Hello again from the Land of Always Summer, aka Dallas, Texas.

This year is turning out to be the second-hottest summer in recorded history, trailing only the unbearable summer of 1980. (I'm glad we didn't live here then!) This month we finally ended our 40-day streak of 100-degree-plus temperatures with a day in the high 90s, meaning we came within two days of tying the 1980 streak of 42 days. Rats!

And now, as we wind up August, we've had 63 days of at least 100 degrees. Right now it's only 95 degrees, which actually feels good by this point. The record of the most 100-degree days in Dallas is 69 days in 1980. So we still have a shot at meeting that record, although I'm not sure I want to.

One of the more interesting things we've done this summer is to try our hands at dashboard cooking in our old Chevy Suburban. We've made quesadillas, garlic bread, grilled-cheese sandwiches, cinnamon toast, hot dogs, bruschetta and beef jerky. As the temperature inside the car can easily hit 120 degrees and above on a hot day, most of our experiments have turned out quite well.

By far the most popular experiment with our kids was the dashboard s'more. Easy and tasty, it came out great! Since then, I found this funny song on YouTube titled "Dashboard S'mores." It takes place -- you guessed it! -- in Texas. Where else?

I've also come across several people who've baked chocolate chip cookies in their cars! You can find out more at Discover Magazine, Baking Bites, SnarkyVegan or Completely Delicious. We'll have to try that sometime as well! I bet the smell inside your car is heavenly. :)

I've also found a surprising number of online articles about solar cookery using cardboard boxes covered in aluminum foil, or funky reflective dishes that look like giant woks. This turns out to work great in hot places such as Africa, where they don't have electricity or Suburbans. And it might be fun for a Scout project.

For now, though, we'll continue trying car cookery and hoping for our heat spell to eventually end. But maybe it would be nice if we could break that 1980 record, for bragging rights anyway.