This Wusthof’s for You, Ben!

First the children move out, and then when they return to visit, they bring their own kitchen equipment, because the stuff I bought at tag sales in 1902 is not good enough for them.

Thus it was that Ben returned home to cook us dinner about a week ago, bringing his own well sharpened Wusthof knife and some remarks about the dismal state of my foley food mill, the very mill that had pureed a thousand cups of applesauce for him when he was a small child.

About my knives, there were no cutting remarks, though my knives deserve these kinds of comment. My knives are so dull that people have been known to come to meals at my house with their own knife sharpeners. I kid you not. Back in the day, my father in law would bring his own wet stone to Thanksgiving dinner at our house.

No, in the instance of my dull knives, Ben was decidedly mute. He just whipped out his fancy new knife and set to work chopping an onion for his soupe du jour.

What can I say? Ben has decided to cook his way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, from volume one, page one to volume two, page five hundred fifty five. As a consequence, we are the lucky recipients of things like warm brioche and soupe catalan aux poivrons.

It’s a rough gig, but someone has to eat all this great food.

As I watched Ben speedily dice his onion, I got a dangerous glimmer in my eye. I wanted my own Wusthof. As we went through the brutal experience of taste testing that night’s Potage aux Champignons, I thought how nice it would be to have a sharp knife like Ben’s. I mentioned my hankering. Everyone determinedly changed the topic of conversation, “How about those Red Sox?”

Like a headstrong mare, (perhaps this should read AS a headstrong mare), I could not be turned from my course. Within a day or so, I had gotten a knife JUST LIKE BEN’S.

Day one and I tried to avoid Jim’s eye as I set to work furiously chopping JUST LIKE BEN. I seemed to be doing so well. Things were flying beneath the blade of this knife. I was so impressed with myself. Day two, after a slight nick while cavorting with a bushel of apples, I decided it was best to only use the knife when someone else was home. For several days, these supervised chopping sessions went swimmingly. But like all good horror stories, eventually the suspense was broken with a moment of drama.

You see there is a good reason that my knives are dull. When it comes to knives, I am NOT JUST LIKE BEN. I am NOT talented with knives. Jim knows it. I know it. Ben knows it. We all know it. Everyone was just waiting for me to get real about the insanity of me having a sharp knife.

It happened this weekend. I was chopping seaweed. There was a crowd in the kitchen. I was, no doubt, talking a mile a minute. And oops, there went the top of my thumb!

Enough said about that! As always, I was very grateful for Emergency Care and so was everyone else in the room. I was also so happy to gift Ben IMMEDIATELY with an early birthday present, one slightly worn Wusthof with history.

Lesson learned. Keeping up with Ben is no different than keeping up with the Jones.

And on that note, I think I will go and cut some bread for lunch It’s nice to put in five minutes of aerobic activity to get a slice of bread. When you can cut something fast you don’t burn nearly as many calories. Why, I think l will cut myself two slices of bread. It’s hard work sawing bread with a butter knife.

And Ben, in the future, you’ll need to bring one of your two Wusthofs when you cook here. That is, unless the aerobic activity of sawing onions for several hours appeals to you the way it appeals to me.

Who Ya Gonna Listen To?

Late Saturday afternoon, it felt like we were going to have a frost that night. The air had that cold, bright, still feeling that I associate with a frost. I decided to cover the Red Shiso in season extender cloth, a material that usually keeps the Shiso protected from very mild frosts. Nothing much can protect it from a serious frost.

After supper, when I went to check on the internet for its hour to hour temperature prediction, a night time low of 40 degrees at zip code 03770 was indicated, with colder temperatures predicted for Sunday night. Gosh, how official the computer screen looked with all its charts and graphics. At 1 am it would be 41 degrees but feel like 40 degrees with a dew point of 40, humidity 96%, and a wind of 1 mph coming from the NNW. Lulled into LaLa land by this barrage of information misinformation, I turned my Shiso alarm bells off and slept like a baby.

I try to harvest the Red Shiso as late into the fall as possible to give it maximum sunshine. I have a zillion theories about why our Shiso sometimes dries a deep maroon and sometimes dries a paler maroon. My theories about color variations include ideas about different seed lots, too much rain, too little heat, basically as many theories as a farmer can spin. One thing that appears to be really and truly true, regardless of other factors, is that the more sunshine the Red Shiso gets, the deeper the maroon color. This means I try to leave the Shiso growing well into these gorgeous clear days of fall sunshine.

I also try not to flirt too outrageously with frost danger, because Red Shiso is very frost sensitive. Like tomato or squash foliage, Red Shiso foliage is very tender and almost melts in a mild frost. Last Saturday night was the first night I could almost smell a frost. I knew my nights of Red Shiso Russian roulette had begun.

But still, I went to bed, thinking I had things covered, literally and figuratively. had said it was so.

Sunday morning, my first inner alarm bell rang when I noticed that there was a frozen puddle of water on the back deck. As I stepped onto the deck to examine the frozen puddle, I noticed the air was extremely still, almost hushed, another bad sign. Then I noticed swaths of frozen grass swooping down through the gardens. Next, I noticed the roof of the screened porch out in the hayfield was covered in frost. By this time, I was sprinting towards the Red Shiso. to the contrary, this had not been a 40 degree night.

Mercifully, the Angels and Elementals protected the crop. Frozen grass encircled the Red Shiso. Much of the season extender cloth had blown off the Red Shiso. The little bit of cloth that was in place was crackling with ice. Yet, most of the Red Shiso was covered in heavy dew, not frost. As I inspected the Shiso more closely, I saw that the occasional Shiso leaf was frosted, but almost all of the crop was fine. Thank God and all God’s helpers! This is the one crop I must have each year to keep going. Its the main ingredient in our stabilzer and a vital part of every bottle of our Flower Essences. I don’t even let myself imagine what it would be like to lose a whole year’s crop. It was challenging enough when two of the crops dried with very few maroon leaves and the majority of the crop too pale for use.

As I literally wept with relief, I thanked my Angelic and Elemental partners who protected the crop. Then I held a pow wow with them to see if I should start harvesting the crop. The consensus from my upstairs partners was that I should start to cut and hang the Red Shiso as soon as the sun had dried the heavy dew.

As I waited for the sun to dry the Shiso, I sat out in the sunshine reading Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter. Set in Mexico during the late 1800’s, the story begins with a charming little girl, Teresita, discovering her gifts as a healer when she is trained by a yaqui shaman named Huila. This is a woefully simplistic description of a beautiful, complex, enchanting epic written in an amazing kind of layered prose.

What I was thinking as I sat waiting for the Red Shiso to dry was that this book was one of the only books I have read in which someone teaches another person how to talk with plants or even mentions that it is possible to talk with plants. Huila’s work with Teresita begins as a very matter of fact process laced with humor. Huila notes that it is important to be able to talk with plants so that if you are traveling and someone gets the runs, you can talk with the plants you don’t know and have them tell you which one will help with this “flood of caca”. Her dramatic description gets Teresita laughing, but also gets her engaged in paying attention to what plants say.

When do any of us realize that we don’t process the world like other people? I am still learning that most people think my ideas about reality are… well… caca. Talking with plants may be nonsense to some, yet for me, it has been one of the loveliest and most solid things in my life. Gardens have always been filled with beloved friends. Yet so has everywhere else. There are always forgotten hedgerows, waste grounds, sandlots, or cracks in the pavement where a plant friend has sprung to life.

I am never without company. I see old friends everywhere, on every walk I take. I can stop to visit with these plant friends or not, but always there is the moment of recognition and delight in meeting again. This time of year on my lunchtime walk with the dogs, I greet a clump of Pearly Everlasting then note a cluster of Silver rod before admiring to a tumble of Asters. Always there is the exchange of gladness as we meet and greet.

Such companions!

Right now, my favorite walk ends in a downhill whoosh through a meadow covered in exuberant Goldenrods. As I move through their celebration it is probably as close as I will get to crowd surfing in a mosh pit, but it works for me.

Wherever I go, I remember what was growing there. I forget so much, but somehow I always remember where plant friends live. This has come in so handy when making Flower Essences. And if I am traveling, as Huila tells Teresita, I talk to every new plant I meet, certain that each one is a new friend and excited that perhaps this new friend will want to become a gift bearing Flower Essence.

Huila explains to Teresita that we can talk to plants or rocks or mountains and they will talk back. As a child, it never occurred to me that you couldn’t talk to a plant. And what a blessing that no one ever interfered with my life with plants by saying to me, “Now of course we mustn’t speak to plants.”

By mid morning, the Red Shiso was dry enough to be cut and hung. I got my clippers, asked the Red Shiso where it wanted me to start cutting and then set to work. It was peaceful. The Red Shiso looked lovely and dark as I threw bundle after bundle on sheets on the ground. Every so often I would haul a laden sheet to the Red Shiso building and tie bundles to the rafters. I knew that if I thought about how much there was to cut, I would feel overwhelmed, so I just kept cutting and hanging. Jim came and worked with me for a couple of hours. That was a great help.

As it began to get dark, we had cut and hung almost two thirds of the crop. I paused to ask the Angels and Elementals if they wanted me to keep going. I remembered the year when a heavy frost was coming and the Angels and Elementals had said that I needed to get the whole crop in. I had cut bundles into the dark, filling sheet after sheet with cut Red Shiso. In the cold starry night, I dragged the filled sheets into the Red Shiso building. It was a long night!

The good news last evening was that the Angels and Elementals said I had cut enough for the day. Jim and I covered the remaining Red Shiso with double layers of season extender cloth. At midnight, we turned a sprinkler on the Shiso and let it run until dawn. We thought the water coming out of the well at 50 degrees would bring a little bit of warmth to the Red Shiso. The Angels and Elementals were calm that this would be enough protection. They said the uncut Red Shiso was safe.

A fog blew in after midnight. Early this morning, when I saw this fog out my window, I knew there had been no frost. had predicted frost. The Angels and Elementals had said no frost. There was no frost.


As a modern day Huila might say, “You can talk to everything, but don’t look for answers from the wrong things. Sometimes the nose on your face or the plants at your feet are going to know the weather forecast a lot better than some data served up in a box.”


Crabby about Chrysanthemums

I have nothing against Chrysanthemums but ……it feels to me like the garden industry is pushing these Flowers so hard that nowadays Fall = Chrysanthemums.

I think that is BORING. I also think it is a disservice to the wonderful Flowers that bloom in the fall without having to be imported from Home Depot. I don’t think we need a zillion Chrysanthemums around the place right now. So much is still colorful and blooming in and out of gardens. Fall is a colorful time and not just during “peak foliage”. The clouds are dramatic shades of purple and blue. The fields and gardens are filled with a lot of vibrant Flowers and foliage. Yes, sometimes the annual Flowers are a bit bedraggled by now, but often they are not. The slugs and bugs have had their way, but ultimately have not prevailed.

Really, there is no need to “mummify”.

I thought I would prove my point by going out and taking some pictures of what is blooming right now in our gardens. I didn’t think much about fall when I planted any of the gardens however even without focusing on it, the gardens are a wonderful jumble of fall Flowers. All but the Sunflower pictures and the final shot of the Red Shiso were taken today.

The Sunflowers glory in fall’s clear bright light.


Even a solitary Sunflower makes a big moment of beauty.

The Torchflowers have fall panache as well, and the bumble bees love them.

The Orange Zinnias continue their display in the vegetable garden and now the Cosmos come into their own making a vibrant contrast to the Zinnias.


A few rogue Red Zinnias slipped in amongst the Orange Zinnias and look wonderful against the Red Shiso backdrop.


In the perennial beds, Persian Carpet and Old Mexico Zinnias are zesty against the Sedum “Ruby Glow.”

They also shine all by themselves and don’t stop blooming for a moment.

The Sedum “Autumn Joy” is about to come into its own after filling the gardens with cushions of soft green buds all summer.

The Heliotropes are also at their best right now. They grow so slowly, but reward our patience amply.

Even the Begonias which have done heavy duty service on our front porch all summer still look lovely.


Out in the Rose garden, a few Roses throw off a second bloom for us.

And those Roses that don’t give us the glory of their Rose hips.

The Asters or Michaelmas Daisies begin to fill the hedgerows, fields, and garden beds. They make a colorful counterpoint to all the Goldenrod.


In the Arbor Garden the Lingularia “Desdemona” blends with Black Eyed Susans.


Overhead, wands of Black Cohosh (Cicimifuga Racemosa), covered with honeybees. give off their heady tropical fragrance.


And if foliage is what you are after, the Red Shiso is looking pretty spectacular. Here it is, just as the sun hits it after one of our recent rains.

Knitting Instructions for the Lions for the Children of the Beverly School in Kenya

We hope to have at least fifty knitted lions by next summer. The first fifty will be for the beds of the fifty students that will enroll at the school in the fall of 2008. This will be the first group of students arriving at the Beverly School.

If we have more lions, we can ask Megan and Ben or others going to help at the Beverly School to share these extra lions with children in the Kisumu slums where Megan and Ben gave out knitted bears this summer.
Please feel free to use a different pattern than this one or to crochet instead of knit! There is a gorgeous but complicated lion pattern in the Victoria and Albert knitting archives on the web. There may be many other much better patterns for knitted lions than this one.

In particular, my lion face is a work in progress, so please let me know your face ideas and improvements on this lion face.

Size 7 knitting needles
Worsted weight yarn either machine washable or cotton (I use Saucy cotton wool myself)

Leg and pants:
Cast on 10 stitches in lion colored wool. I’ve tried tawny brown but think shades of yellow work better.

Knit 10 rows.

Note: An easy way to count these garter stitch rows is to count the raised rows. Five raised rows equals ten rows, because with garter stitch, every other row is raised up.

Switch to the color you choose for the pants. Cut your lion colored yarn leaving a healthy tail of yarn. By the time you finish knitting your lion, you’ll have a lot of these yarn strands, but you’ll use these strands later to sew the lion together. Knit 20 rows in the pant colored wool.

Now start the other leg. Leave the first leg on your knitting needle and cast on 10 new stitches in the lion color onto your knitting needle that is holding the first leg. By casting onto this needle you will knit two legs that can easily be joined with the same side up on both legs

(Because of the way the knitting looks when you change colors, you will see that one side of your work is the front while the other side looks like the back).
Repeat as with the first leg knitting 10 rows in the lion color and then 20 in the pants color.
Here are two legs ready to be knit together.

Now you are ready to knit both legs together. Just knit across both your first and second leg and then keep going knitting 16 more rows for the top of the pants.

Torso of the lion:
Change to a color for the top of your lion body. Knit 20 rows in this color. You can do stripes or anything you want with any of these sections.

Here, the legs and pants are knit, the torso is knit and I have begun to knit the rows for the head.

Change to lion color and knit 5 ½ inches in this color. I find this is about 44-46 rows of knitting but it will be a bit different for knitters knitting tighter or looser than me.

Back of lion:
When you have knit the 5 ½ inches of lion color for the head, you are now going to knit the back of the torso and the back of the pants and legs. This means knitting 20 rows of the torso color, 16 of the pants color then knitting each leg separately. Basically what you are doing is what you did on the front only in reverse order. Bind off at the end of each leg.

This is what your knitting will look like, a long strange skinny thing.

Yes I know. You have a lot of yarn strands everywhere, but don’t worry! You really will need a lot of them for knitting the lion together!

Putting the lion together:


Fold it in half at the middle of the head section. See how the front and back match up! Stitch together the back and front of the head, Stop stitching at the place where the torso color starts.
Working on the face:


You can make the ears as you sew up the sides by sewing across the top corners on each side of the head. Lion ears are not that prominent with the mane falling over and around them. Stuff the lion head before embroidering the face. Polyester type filling works well.

When you go to embroider the face note that lions have slanting eyes, narrow chins, and distinct wide nose bridges with a triangle of nostrils much like domestic cats. If you google lions you will find lots of helpful photos. Use a contrasting yarn color when embroidering the face.

My first attempt didn’t have enough contrast between the skin of the lion and the embroidery color. It was hard to see the face.

I think the lion above with the pink top looks a bit like a lion and is easier to see, but please feel free to find your own way with this (and then share with me your tips!). I will be knitting lions all winter, so I welcome suggestions!

When you have your face done you can stuff it with some kind of fiberfill stuff and then start a running stitch along the bottom of the neck encircling the whole head. Slowly tightening this running stitch as you stitch round a second time so that the lion head gets pulled in and there begins to be a pronounced neck. Gradually tightening the yarn in a couple times round the head makes for a head that doesn’t look like a knitted square. The tighter you make your running stitch the more it will look like a lion as, like other cats, lions have narrow chins with their heads widening at the top.
Now the arms:
With your torso’s color yarn pick up 8 stitches along the side of the torso near the head on the front of your lion and then 8 more stitches along the side of torso on the back of the torso.


This is the trickiest bit. At the risk of confusing you, I am showing you exactly where the first 8 of the 16 stitches come from on a lion with no face yet. The other 8 come from the back torso.


Here is another photo about the arms. Looking down on the lion from above, I hope you can see where I picked up the stitches for the arms after I sewed the head together.

You will have 16 stitches. Knit 16 rows in this color then switch to the lion color for 10 rows. Bind off. You will see how it naturally folds in two and becomes an arm. Now pick up stitches on the other side of the lion for the second arm and knit the same 16 stitches in the torso color and 10 in the lion color.

Finishing the lion:
Lots of sewing up seams here. I don’t know if its better to knit a couple of lions then do all the sewing or sew them as you go along. Depends on your personality. I don’t always like finish work so I tend to knit a bunch of lions then sew them all up when I feel like it. Anyways, you’ll see how the front and back match up and sew together. Stuff with polyester fiberfill of some sort as you go. I sew up the arms then stuff them, then sew the torso and stuff it and so on.

Tail and Mane: I have made tails by casting on three or four stitches then knitting two inches or so and then adding strands for the end of the tail. Attach them almost where the legs begin not at the waist. They look wrong farther up on the pants, sort of like a tail coming out of the middle of the back instead of at the hind end (as if lion’s wear pants). For the mane, I have used a crochet hook to attach lots of various lengths of different mane colored yarn. For the girl lions, I don’t plan to give them manes since female lions do not have manes. So far, the manes I have made for the male lions look better with strands in front of the ears as well as all down the back side of the head. Some longer strands seem to help the lions look lion like.



Here is a lion front and back. Please let me know your questions about this pattern!

Send all lions to Green Hope Farm, POB 125, Meriden, NH 03770 and we will see that they get to Kenya. Thank you so much!

PS Skirts for fancy lionesses:
Pick up about 40 stitches around the waist of the female lions with three or four double pointed needles. Take another double pointed needle and knit around the body of the lion increasing every fifth stitch for eight or so rows (not an exact science). Switch to a contrasting color for the hem, knit a row in this contrasting color then purl a row while binding off. One of the bears Ben and Megan gave to a child in Kisumu had a pink skirt. I loved seeing the little girl holding that bear- but it is a lot of extra work.