Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

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WANAFriday for 9-20-13. Dandelion Dreaming

Ellen Gregory posted the #WANAFriday (last Friday’s) blog prompt for September 20, 2013:

Share your favourite (or interesting) WORD — what does it mean for you? (Note that Australian spelling there!)
I love words like serendipity, scintillating, effervescent, splendiferous, grandiloquent, sibilant, and supercilious.  All these multisyllable words sound pleasing to me. Some of them have somewhat haughty meanings, but they still sound interesting, sweet, and maybe a bit humorous.
My husband likes the word magnanimous and money. Yes, money does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it.
#MyWANA Favorite Word
Siri Paulson already wrote about serendipity, so I had to choose another word for this prompt challenge.
A recent Facebook posting reminded me of another word I like: Dandelion.

Yes, folks, dan-de-li-on. Some folks consider it a weed, but where I come from, we know better.

photo: fcpsdotedu

photo: fcpsdotedu

Not that dandelion has always been a lovely word for me.
When I was a kid, those egg-yolk-yellow dandelions blanketed our football-sized front and side lawns, squeezing out the more desired green-velvet grass. Mom, always looking out for what the neighbors thought, decided that a dandelion infested lawn in our nice neighborhood was not socially acceptable, so she decreed that we kids had to get out there on perfectly good icy-cold-Maurice-River-swimming days to dig out these perverse lawn inhabitants and dispose of them.
dandelions in lawns
Mom didn’t like it when the flowers turned from yellow to white puffy balls, and the feathered seeds starting flying through the air on the light summer breezes, seeking new rooting grounds (notably our neighbors’ lawns) to infest. (What would the neighbors say then?) And, beware, if any one of us kids ever, ever, ever blew on those fluffy seed balls, trouble would surely follow. Back then, there were no taboos about spanking children!
photo: legallysocialbledotcom

photo: legallysocialbledotcom

No. Mom wanted those dandelions out of her lawn. Pronto!
So, day after day, on the hottest of days, my Little Brother Bobby and I sat out on the lawn persistently digging out dandelions, not always with the best attitude, I might add. (A few dandelion flower fights made it a little more interesting, but only when Mom wasn’t looking.)
We thought this whole dandelion destruction debacle was a losing battle, but Mom had different ideas. She was determined to have a lawn as nice as Mrs. Cervini’s down the street.
Well, Mom won. After that summer, our lawn did look as nice as Mrs. Cervini’s. Green, nicely trimmed, and dandelion free. We kids felt pretty proud about that, too.
What? Dandelions Can Be Eaten? Who Knew?
DAndelion salad
Now, here’s the thing. Dandelions are a cash-crop delicacy in my hometown, Vineland, NJ. In fact, Vineland holds bragging rights to being the “Dandelion Capital of the World.”  (Not far away, in Hammonton, NJ, is the “Blueberry Capital of the World.”)
We didn’t know that dandelions were valuable when we were digging up and disposing those dastardly weeds to make Mom happy.
Yes, dandelion is a valuable food crop in early spring. You can use dandelions in soups, salads, fritters, muffins, breads, and even tasty wine. I haven’t heard of a dandelion dessert, but who knows, some creative chef out there may have dreamed up a sweet, melt-in-your-mouth dandelion dish. Vinelanders hold dandelions in high esteem in a special spring festival each year. A dandelion dinner at Merighi’s Inn on East Landis Avenue is the real deal.
Dandelion Salad Fit for Royalty
We had simpler fare at home. Each spring, Mom made dandelion salads, decorated with hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with paprika, to accompany our evening meals. “Dandelions are loaded with vitamins A and C, iron, and beta-carotene,” she claimed. “Eat!”
“The secret to good dandelion salad,” she said, “is to pick the tender leaves before the plant forms its flowers. (Once the flowers bloom, the leaves taste bitter.) Add a little vinegar-oil-garlic dressing, and there you have it: a delicious, healthy spring salad. Decorate the salad with hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with paprika and enjoy. Simple, but delicious.”
Today’s WANA favorite prompt brought back a lovely childhood memory. Check the following posts for other #WANAFriday Participants’ favorite words:

Di Bell digs deep and finds some wonderful lost words.
Ellen Gregory shares her love of kitties with the word ailurophile. 
Julie Farrar uses her word as a jumping-off point. (Look for a kitty in here, too.)
Kim Griffin goes nostalgic with a Mary Poppins’ word.
Siri Paulson beats me to the punch with serendipity.

The Last Meow

Favorite Word? For a cat? That’s easy. Eat-play-sleep. That reminds me. I think it’s nap time now. Maybe I’ll head out to the dandelion patch and take a snooze.

photo: flickrdotcom

photo: flickrdotcom

Meow for now.  =<^;^>=

Five Recipes for Dandelion Wine

Got Blueberries?

Most people have a favorite season. My favorite? Blueberry Season.

Atlantic County in South Jersey is the place to be if you love blueberries. These little blue dynamos, sometimes called bleuets (French), thrive here.

Atlantic County has just the right balance of sandy soil and organic matter (“berryland soils”) that highbush blueberries love, and this county is the largest producer in the state with over 42 million pounds of blueberries harvested from 6,100 acres. In comparison, the next highest producer, Burlington County, harvests 5,300 pounds or more annually from 1,000 acres.

The Atlantic Blueberry Farm, Mays Landing, NJ

Hammonton, NJ, a town in Atlantic County with a population of 12,840, located between Atlantic City and Philadelphia just off the Atlantic City Expressway, claims to be the Blueberry Capital of the World. To celebrate their claim to fame, Hammonton holds a Red, White, and Blueberry Festival every year on the Sunday before July 4th. This event comes complete with blueberry pie-eating contests, baking contests, carnival games for the kids, a craft show, music, antique cars, a stage show, and plenty of food to eat. You can buy blueberries by the pint or the case, or you can just buy a blueberry pie or a jar of blueberry jam.

This year’s festival was held last Sunday, July 1, just one day after a terrible freak thunder and wind storm called a derecho hit neighboring towns. Hammonton had thunderstorms but with none of the damage that hit other Atlantic County cities. Read more about that derecho here. Because of high winds, nearby Mays Landing lost much of its current blueberry crop just mid-way through the season.

If Hammonton’s auspicious claim to be the Blueberry Capital of the World is not enough, some New Jerseyites have made another chest-thumping, back-slapping assertion. Vicki Hyman of Newark’s Star-Ledger wrote about our beloved blueberry in “How New Jersey saved civilization by taming blueberries.” You can read that story here.

Do you think we Jerseyites make exaggerated claims about blueberries? Think again.

We grow blueberries that are bigger than a penny! Here’s the proof.

New Jersey blueberries are big!

Historically, lowbush blueberries grew wild in the South Jersey Pinelands, but these berries were small and tart. Native Americans in the area used them for relieving stomach problems and other ailments. We now know that these berries, loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, protect against cancer and heart disease. Blueberries lovers also claim that these blue wonders are like the proverbial fountain of youth. Eat them, and you will have better eyesight and better skin, all the while delaying old age. How’s that for fanfaronade?

In the early 1900s, Elizabeth Coleman White (1871-1954), a cranberry farmer with a November crop, wanted to expand her family’s farm business into the rest of the year by raising blueberries. She searched out the best wild blueberries bushes in the area looking for the biggest berries. She and botanist Frederick V. Coville then cross-pollinated thousands of cuttings and developed the first cultivated blueberry bushes, beginning what is now a billion-dollar industry in New Jersey.

In 2003, Proud New Jersey fourth graders from Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School in Brick, NJ, lobbied the New Jersey Legislature to proclaim these little blue dynamos to be the official state fruit. Their bid was successful, and the Legislature recognized the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) as one of the state’s claims to fame and fortune.

Of course, other states put out their claims for blueberries, too. The wild blueberry is the official state fruit of Maine, and several towns in Maine squabble over being the blueberry capital. Maine produces 25% of all the lowbush blueberries in North America.   Lowbush blueberry plants are about one-foot tall, whereas highbush blueberry plants are between four and thirteen-feet tall. The bushes in our local fields have a good picking height of about five to six feet.

Wild blueberries. Lowbush blueberries. Highbush blueberries. All technicalities! Let’s just say that with Atlantic County producing more than 42 million pounds of blueberries, we have earned our bragging rights!

Blueberries are very versatile. You can eat them at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack. You can use them in drinks, sauces, soups, salads, breads, entrees, vinegars, desserts, and wines. Here are some of my favorite ways to use them.

Multigrain Cheerios with blueberries and banana

Whole wheat waffles with blueberries, peaches, and syrup

Deep Dish Blueberry Crisp

Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart

Want to try making the Blueberry Crisp or the Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart? Here are the recipes.

Deep Dish Blueberry Crisp

  • 5 cups Jersey Fresh blueberries (you can also use frozen blueberries)
  • lemon zest from half of one small lemon
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (use more if your berries are tart)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Crisp Topping

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup oatmeal (or two oatmeal cereal packets-any variety)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp butter cut in pieces (or Smart Balance Margarine)
  1. Prepare the blueberries by washing gently and removing any remaining stems. (If you use frozen blueberries, let them partially thaw first.)
  2. Pour blueberries in a deep dish pie plate and toss with flour, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon.
  3. Make crisp topping by mixing brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter.
  4. Pat crisp topping over blueberries.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until blueberries are bubbly.
  6. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart

  • one frozen pie crust
  • 3 cups Jersey Fresh blueberries
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar (more if your berries are tart)
  • lemon zest from  1/2 small lemon
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  1. Let pie crust thaw for 15 minutes. Roll it out a bit on flour-covered parchment paper and place in pie dish. (Pie crust should hang over the edge of the pie plate.)
  2. Mix blueberries, flour, sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest.  Pour mixture in center of crust.
  3. Fold edges of pie crust back in over blueberries.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375 degrees until blueberries are bubbly and crust is light brown.
  5. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Blueberries can also be used to make wine. Our local Balic Winery produces blueberry and other berry wines along with their usual grape wines.

And don’t forget fundraisers.  The American Cancer Society raises funds around the country in Relay for Life events, and a good blueberry-pie-in-the-face event gets lots of attention and dollars.

Aunt Patty smashes blueberry funnel cake in Miss PheeBee’s face in the Fantastic Blueberry Funnel Cake Fiasco Fundraiser at Relay for Life, Ocean City, NJ

Next time you buy blueberries, look at the label to see where they were raised. Maybe you will be lucky enough to buy our Jersey Fresh little blue dynamos.

Here’s a bit more on these delicious berries.


WANAfriday: A Good Weekend for Reading

Every Friday a WANA112 blogger tosses out a prompt for fellow bloggers to consider. The prompt for this week is:

001First Lines. Take this first line from Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani and run with it:

“This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Ava Maria Milligan took over as Big Stone Gap’s pharmacist when her cold, unfatherly father died thirteen years ago. Now single and thirty-five, her mother’s recent death leaves her in a quandary: a revealed death-bed secret causes Ava Maria to reevaluate everything about her life in Big Stone Gap.

Even so, life goes on. The big weekly event in Big Stone Gap, “The Coal Mining Capital of Virginia”  in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is the arrival of the Wise County Bookmobile. Ava’s life almost depends on this “glittering royal coach” and the life-line to the world that it brings each week. Contemplating living in Stone Creek for the rest of her life, now that town gossip flaunts her mother’s long-buried secret, becomes a major challenge. The bookmobile, at least, brings “stories and knowledge and life itself” and relief from the pain of her mother’s death.

Quaint, but clever, mountain folk contribute to the liveliness of the book: Vernie Crabtree (makes killer chocolate chip cookies in town); Iva Lou Wade, (the bookmobile librarian dishes out advice on books and love in equal measure); Mrs. Nan Bluebell MacChesney (“Apple Butter Nan” and not-too-successful match-maker for her son); Jack MacChesney (a mountain man and one of two eligible bachelors in town); Theodore Tipton (the well-educated, non-romantic, other bachelor in town); and other characters who enliven the drama of everyday life in a small mountain town.

The September weekend threatens to be a cool, rainy weekend. This will be a good weekend for reading, Ava Marie thinks. On Iva Lou’s advice, she picks up The Captains and the Kings, a historical romance. She also picks up The Ancient Art of Chinese Face Reading, and As Grief Exits.

But this book is not about reading. It is about a young woman, a town leader in many ways, who now questions everything about her life as she works through this newly gained truth about her birth father. Along with the death-bed secret comes information about long-lost family members in Italy.

Is Ava’s future in this mountain town or in the wider world that she has come to love through her reading? Will Nan Blueberry MacChesney ever have any luck marrying off her mountain-man son? Read this well-written and enjoyable book to find the answers to these questions and to find out more about life in a small, coal-mining town in Virginia.

* * *

As for me, this will be a good weekend for reading, too. We seem to be having an early fall with almost record-setting low temperatures in the morning but warmer temperatures later in the day. I hadn’t originally planned to spend the weekend reading, but my reading group meets on Sunday, and I have to finish Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s, The Language of Flowers, before then. I have read a few reviews of the book, and it sounds like a book I will enjoy.

Language of Flowers

In my TBR stash, I have several other books waiting. I know I won’t get to them this weekend, perhaps next week.

Last weekend, I read Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society, a YA book about gifted children who set out to save the world. I loved the cleverness of the writing, so I picked up two more in the series at the library: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

001 (4)

I also looked online and discovered several more books in the Big Stone Gap series, so on another rainy weekend I will read a few more of Adriana Trigiani’s books:

Big Cherry Holler
Milk Glass Moon
Home to Big Stone Gap

And here are some thoughts by other WANAs on this WANAfriday prompt: “This will be a good weekend for reading.”

Ellen Gregory  On a Writing, Not a Reading Retreat

The Last Meow

What? No books about cats? What’s with that?

How about reading Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron?Dwey

Or how about 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization by Sam Stall?

Cat who changed world

Go ahead. Live a little Read a book about us world-famous kitties.

Meow for now.  =<^;^>=    

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