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Friday, October 25, 2019

Red Oak House Garden Notes No. 55: Autumn Sunshine

Today I worked joyously in the autumn sunshine at Red Oak House, on a rare still day, planting 92 tulip bulbs, at the request of my husband. He had asked me last spring to plant more and, when I received an email from a seed company mentioning bulbs, it hit me that there was still time. Last night I went to a local home store, where it looked like I was too late as the Christmas stuff dominated, but I wandered into the semi-dark garden supply area and found lots of bulbs for sale, knowing that today would be the day to get the planting done.

These tender shoots are beyond delectable for the ravenous rabbits when it is the only green in the spring, so I must plant tulips inside the garden fence. I dug a trench six inches deep -- it is muddy and my boots grew heavy with the load underfoot. While I worked, my mind wandered back to pleasant childhood days planting tulips with my mother at our Slope County farm. We also had to plant inside the fence that was around the house to protect from rabbits. My mother loves tulips, bright spots in what can be bleak spring days in North Dakota.

There is not much color in the yard this year as most of the leaves are turning brown and gray, even the aspens, normally a luminous saffron by now. I mowed up the current round of gray leaves from the grass, secure in the knowledge that most of the leaves remain on the flower beds (which occupy far more space than the tiny plot of grass we have) to provide critical cover for over-wintering insects. I need the three bags I gathered with the mower to mulch the asparagus.

For some reason, the eponymous Red Oak tree is defying this trend of brown and gray leaves (which we surmise must be caused by the overly abundant rains we've had this year). It is looking glorious right now. Soon enough its leaves will rain down and fill the rain gutters.

Again to protect from rabbits, I've erected fences around some of the shrubs they munch on during the winter. The chrysanthemums are mostly flattened from the early October heavy snow, but a few spots of color remain here and there, mostly from the purple asters. On the feeders, the birds are busy with constant visits from nuthatches, both red- and white-breasted, woodpeckers, chickadees, and juncoes. I especially like it when the raucous Blue Jays show up. For now, I seem to have foiled the pesky squirrels.

Autumn foods dominate in our kitchen, including last Sunday's roast with root vegetables, one of our "nothing-from-the-store" meals (we buy the beef from a Morton County friend). Jim is happily spending today in a boat on the Missouri River, sipping their traditional Bloody Mary and attempting to put some walleye in the freezer before the fishing season ends. He always comes home with good stories if not fish.

Here at Red Oak House, we are mostly ready for the winter, a time to focus on our many indoor projects, including work on our neglected manuscript.

"If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by"  Emily Dickinson


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Tomato Herb Phyllo Tart - My Recipe

I love to cook and I love to share food with family and friends. I've been cooking on my own for a crowd since I was ten-years-old. Last night I made this dish, which makes my husband very happy. Many friends requested the recipe. Here it is, a first for WildDakotaWoman.

Tomato and Herb Phyllo Tart

7 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
1/2 c. melted Irish butter
1 c. grated Parmesana Reggiano (don't use the cheap parmesan)
1 1/2 c. grated mozzarella cheese (again, higher quality cheese, more flavorful results)
1 large head of garlic, chopped
4-5 large tomatoes, sliced
1& 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 t. grated fresh pepper
1/2 t. thyme
1/2 t. oregano
1 t. fresh chopped rosemary

Note: all spices are Penzeys or freshly grown -- I have a rosemary plant I keep indoors over the winter.

Preheat oven to 350°. Place tomato slices on paper towels and pat dry. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a large cookie sheet and then lightly coat with non-stick cooking spray. Place one sheet of phyllo on the cookie sheet. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle with a T. or so of parmesan. Don't worry about full coverage as this will be taken care of with multiple sheets. Place another sheet over this and press down firmly. Repeat until all sheets are used and all butter & parmesan is used. Sprinkle the top with mozzarella. Place the tomatoes on top in straight lines so square can be cut after baking. Place the chopped garlic on next, then sprinkle on the salt, pepper and other spices. Bake at 350°for 30 minutes or until the edges are lightly golden and the bottom cooked. If needed broil for a minute or two at the end to carefully brown the top. Cut into squares and decorate with fresh rosemary sprigs when serving.

Bon appetit!

Friday, October 11, 2019

A Long-Overdue Wild Badlands Day

My family journeyed west earlier this week for a long-overdue wild Badlands day.

If you look closely, you can see Chelsea, my hiking companion

Our first stop was to view the ongoing bison round-up at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The corrals were full of bison and, from outside the fence, we watched the trailers being loaded, and we could hear the racket those massive beasts make when their bodies meet steel.

In the heart of the park, we were delighted to see the saffron cottonwoods in our beloved Little Missouri River valley and observed that the water was unusually deep for this time of the year, a reflection of the wet cycle we've been experiencing.

My daughter and I went for a hike, a bushwack really, making our own trail, a couple of hours of bliss on a 75-degree sunny day, with a gentle Zephyr wind, no ticks, and the knowledge that a blizzard was coming the very next day. (See photo at top) Chelsea told me her favorite was the shades of red in the chokecherry bushes and little bluestem grasses. We savored every moment.

It turned out to be a pretty snake-y day, one small rattler and two blue racers, and Chelsea, of Wild By Nature Photography (my daughter), got some good photos with her telephoto lens. I have exceptional "snake radar," having honed it growing up in Slope County, where snakes are abundant.

Rattler (Wild by Nature Photography, Chelsea Sorenson)

Blue Racer (Wild by Nature Photograph, Chelsea Sorenson) 

The day ended with a stint at Peaceful Valley Ranch where a team of young scientists is banding Northern Saw-whet Owls, an annual ritual. While we didn't have the fortune of catching any owls this particular night, it was a thrill to stand under the stars listening to the Sandhill Cranes fly over. "Hurry up," we shouted.

After a good night's sleep at the Rough Riders Hotel, we rushed home to wrap up the last of the gardening work before the blizzard. I dug out the snow shovels from storage and hurriedly picked raspberries with cold fingers and Jim planted and mulched next year's garlic.

If you need me, I'll be happily watching it snow on our lovely new metal roof at Red Oak House. Since we bought the house, the roof has leaked. This will be the best winter in our ten years here, no doubt.