First Warm Spring Day

Well, after an excruciatingly long winter, spring is finally making an appearance. It’s officially been here for over a week, but it’s been very cold and windy. I was happy to see that the bees survived the winter. Today was warm (for here — 42F) and sunny in the afternoon, and they were out and flying around. They seemed to be having a tussle of some sort at the hive entrance. I wish I knew what that was about.
They were all over the Winter Aconite that’s blooming now. We have a lot, although I’m not sure how much pollen they’ll actually get from it. Now I’m looking forward to looking inside the hive as soon as it warms up a little more, to see how much food they used over the winter.

Bee on the Winter Aconite

Winter Aconite glowing like neon because my camera was set to overexpose.


Honeybee Tussle

Are they removing a dead bee? That would make sense, but it appeared to be alive.

Bright Red Art Deco Square Cross Earrings

Bright Red Art Deco Square Cross Earrings
Even though it’s passed, Chinese New Year and it’s food and festivals have been on my mind, and inspired these earrings. I’ve had these red beads in my workroom for a while and finally made something with them. Bold, bright and reminiscent of 1920s and 1930s motifs. They’re available in my Etsy shop.
Red Art Deco Chinese New Year Earrings

Some Late Summer Flowers

Today was a gorgeous day and the light was so beautiful that I had to take a few photos.

Bee Update and Spicy Tomato Jam

My blog has been languishing for most of the summer because I’ve been so busy working, making jewelry, cooking and canning.

My bees are thriving. Around the time of my last post, I decided to try leaving them undisturbed for as long as possible, so I’ve only been checking on them every three weeks or so — mainly to peer into the upper boxes to see how they’re doing in terms of comb and honey. I read that each time the hive is pulled apart, it sets the bees back three or four days work, so I’ve been trying not to disturb them and have instead, been learning to monitor them from outside the hive. I’ve tried to learn to identify when they are bringing nectar back home and have seen them defend the hive against intrusion by balling and smothering the intruders, which was strange and fascinating. I did take each box off a couple of weeks ago to check their weight for honey stores and there seemed to be about a box and a half. I know they’ll need more than that, so I’ll be checking them a little more frequently from now into the fall.

We planted about 35 tomato plants this year and as you can imagine, have been eating them every day (which is no problem for me — I wait all year for this) and doing some small batch canning. Today I’m making a batch of this spicy tomato jam from the New York Times. I’ve made it a few times. It’s easy and delicious, sweet and savory. It’s very easy to modify — just taste and adjust as you go. I usually make a double batch, use less sugar, more spices, and use Sriracha sauce for the heat. Today, I’m adding curry powder and chili garlic sauce. Recipe follows, below.

Tomatoes — some for lunch, some to turn into jam.

Tomatoes — some for lunch, some to turn into jam. Big Rainbow, Anna Russian, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Red Zebra and Green Grape.

Here’s today’s version:
3.5 lbs mixed ripe tomatoes, chopped (do not peel or seed)
1 cup sugar
juice of 4 limes
1.5 tsp cumin
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp curry powder
.5 tsp ground cloves
1 tb Asian chili garlic sauce
Put everything in a heavy bottomed sauce pan, bring to a boil and cook, stirring often, for 1.5 hours or until thick and sticky. Pack into 4 hot, sterilized half pint jars and process in a hot water bath 5-10 minutes.

First Days with Bees: June 22

I put a new box of frames on the hive about two weeks ago.  I cut the foundation into thin strips and put them in the frames to get the bees started  — some were very thin — 4″ x 2″, some were squares that touched the top and bottom of the frame. I’m experimenting. They don’t seem to need much to get started. After 12 days, the bees had made lots of comb and were filling it with honey. I was surprised that they had made so much progress! I checked the brood nest and it looked very full, so I think I’ll be adding another box to the hive this week. I had to scrape off a bit of comb to check the frames and got to taste the honey and It was light and slightly lemony.

For my next box, I’m going to use wooden strips dipped in beeswax for at least half of the frames and see how that goes. I want to go completely foundation-less if I can. We’ll see how those frames develop. Here are a few photos:

12 Day-Old Frame with Honey

I was surprised to find so much honey, but I’ve read that it can happen really fast.

Honey, some capped

More honey, they’re already starting to cap some of it.

Looking Down into the Broodnest

Looking down from the honey fromes into the brood nest

Worker and drone cells

The outer frames had some drone cells. I hadn’t seen any last time I checked.

Last Frame from the Broodnest

This frame had barely anything on it 12 days ago. Look at it now! I’m glad I have a lot of extra woodenware.

Garden Peas — Why did I wait so long to grow them?

I love peas. I love them in pasta with bacon, with eggs and asparagus — everywhere really — but I have to admit that I’ve almost always used frozen ones. Until now. This year we decided to plant Little Marvels and and they’re so much better than I ever imagined. It’s been the nicest surprise.

Little Marvel Garden Peas — Just Picked, Still in the Pod

Little Marvel Garden Peas. Shortly before I completely devoured them.

Fresh, raw peas taste completely different from any I’ve had before: Sweet, crunchy, sunny and slightly grassy. And they are beautiful. The plant grows long with curly tendrils, the flowers are sweet and old-fashioned. The pods are the most beautiful shades of clear, slightly translucent grass and spring green.

I don’t know why I waited so long to grow them — maybe because I didn’t expect them to be much different from the frozen kind. Anyway, they’ll be in the garden every year from now on. We planted more than a dozen, but I don’t think that was enough.

Little Marvel Garden Peas in the Pod

Incredibly beautiful, sitting in their bright green pod.

Initially, I didn’t intend to write recipes here, but I love to cook, and this is a delicious way to use peas. It’s fast, easy and completely adjustable to your own taste. Add more or less of anything. it’s also good with asparagus, instead of peas.

Pasta with Peas & Bacon — For Two

4-6 ounces of pasta — I like shells because the peas get caught inside — or your favorite shape
5-6 thick slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces
A small onion, cut into thin half moon slices (or a couple of green onions)
A couple handfuls of peas
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano — or more, to taste
Salt and pepper — but be careful with the salt — the pecorino and bacon are probably salty enough
A couple big splashes of cream or half and half (optional — it’s just as good without it)
1/2 cup reserved cooking water from the pasta

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a big, fat pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook 1-2 minutes short of the package directions. Before draining the pasta, Save about a half cup of the cooking water to use later.

While the pasta cooks, fry your bacon. Just as it starts to brown, add the onions and cook them together, until the bacon is crisp on the edges, but not blasted into dryness, and the onions are soft. Add a few good grindings of pepper. All of this should take just about as long as the pasta will take to cook. Drain off any fat in excess of a tablespoon or two.

Toss in the peas and stir for a minute or two. Add the pasta, the cream (or half and half) and cook for a minute or two more, adding a little of the pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Test the pasta for seasoning and doneness, and tip it all into a large bowl. Toss in the pecorino romano, taste again for seasoning. Serve with a salad of tomatoes or green leaves or both.