Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Temple Square flowers

I don't think you can beat (or at least, not locally) Red Butte Garden for daffodils, but a week or so ago when I met Rachael at Temple Square (in the freezing rain, of course) we could see even through the grey drizzle that the tulips (and other flowers) there were going to be gorgeous. So we prioritized a return visit as soon as possible. It didn't disappoint. The color combinations are perfect---I love a rainbow-colored flower bed! SO pretty.
There were lots of interesting varieties of tulips
These were my very favorites---such a lovely pinkish-peach

Love these pink and red flowers (don't know the name?)---like tiny puffer fish

Just what you like to see on Temple Square: a family watching their son open his mission call. So cute. They cheered and cried and documented the moment with pictures. :)

I was happy to see these rivers of forget-me-nots!

I like seeing the blue sky between tall buildings
Such colorful borders!

Monday, April 23, 2012

More daffodils

You might think we'd have had our fill of daffodils. But if so, you underestimate us. Or should I say, "me." I just don't tire of them . . . not yet, anyway. And the children don't ever say no to a chance to run around outside!
The colors of this hyacinth remind me of popcorn. Yum!

I love the light in springtime when the trees are just beginning to get green. (Am I always saying this?) These three pictures all show it: the illuminated edges of leaf and petal; the light that seems to emanate from within each plant.

For now, the action is all below---but soon the branches above will be bursting with life too

At one point, Daisy yelped out from her stroller, "I saw my tiny penguin!!" We thought she was just trying to imitate her brothers (we'd just been talking about how we wished we could see a bunny again) but then she pointed to this little quail running across our path. Who DID look like her tiny penguin! We didn't have the heart to tell her it wasn't one, so we henceforth referred to the quail as "penguins" too.

The tiny penguin in question

This is what happens when you tell these children to "go run around"

Spiky daffodils

Friday, April 20, 2012

Coconut and Green Lentil Soup

I like legumes. I make dal quite often and we do like our lentil soup. Recently I found a recipe on this lovely blog (enjoy her soup picture; it's beautiful) which looked spectacular.  And it was! It's so fast and easy, and adaptable! It's a refreshing update to the flavors of my current dal. It's a bit curry-y, but lighter; and spicy, and  so warm and fragrant . . . you'll just have to try it. I loved the coconut milk and the just-soft-enough green lentils, but most amazing of all was the blend of spices: cardamom (one of my favorite spices), turmeric, cinnamon, cloves. The carmelizing onions and the simmering lentils and the spices in the hot butter made the house smell AMAZING. While I was in Seattle I stopped at a spice store and I went around sniffing everything happily before picking out several new things to try. One of things I got was some qualat daqqua (Tunisian 5-spice), which smelled right for the job, so I threw some of that in as well.

I made my soup quite thick, and cooked the lentils slightly softer, for logistical reasons (i.e. to make feeding baby-mouths easier). You could probably use more broth if you like a thinner soup. Also, this would be awesome served with naan, but any bread works well for dipping (I used my regular wheat bread this time). I'm sure it would be good with yogurt (like I serve our lentil soup) as well.

Coconut and Green Lentil Soup
(adapted from The Traveler's Lunchbox version of this book's recipe)

2 1/4 cups green lentils (or brown lentils)
9 cups vegetable or chicken broth
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
3 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
1 teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon qalat daqqa (optional, of course)
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of freshly-ground nutmeg
2 14-oz cans coconut milk, or to taste 

Combine the broth, lentils, turmeric, and thyme in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until lentils are as soft as you want them.

When lentils are about half-done cooking (or 10-15 minutes from when you think they'll be done), melt butter in a small skillet on high. (For extra flavor, let it cook till it foams and browns a bit before adding onions.) Add diced onion and cook for a couple minutes on high; then turn down heat and cook over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes, until onion begins to brown and caramelize. Add spices and fry for just 30 seconds or until spices are very aromatic. Scrape skillet contents into the big pot, add coconut milk, and simmer for a few more minutes to allow flavors to blend.

Serve with naan or bread for dipping.
(Hi, tiny spoon-Marilyn!)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Skagit Valley

Speaking of paradise . . . a friend of ours told us about the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington and as it happened to be the right time of year, I knew immediately that I wanted to go. It was a bit of a drive from Seattle and I figured it would be rainy and chilly and maybe the tulips wouldn't be out yet, but I still wanted to go! I just had the feeling we would love it, and (*self-congratulatory pat on back*) I was right! Apparently the volcanic soil of the Skagit Valley is great for growing bulbs, so several bulb farms (the bulbs sold on, for example) are based there. I looked at all the festival maps and when I saw that the daffodils would be in bloom, I was so excited! (As you know, I love daffodils. Even more than tulips, maybe.) So we set out on a cloudy morning for what my aunt assured us would look "just like Switzerland." I knew Sam and my mom were mostly just indulging me in agreeing to spend a day doing this, and I appreciated it. I would plan all our trips around gardens and flower shows if I could!

We went in and out of rain showers as we drove, but by the time we reached the valley, the sun was out and the skies were blue. It was perfect (if slightly muddy). The nearby bay was gorgeous with the shifting clouds above.
Roadside picnic and trail-exploring. We stopped at a little dairy farm to buy chocolate milk and cheese. I talked to the owner's daughter who made all the cheeses, and it was fascinating. She names the cheeses after her children. I wish I had a cheese named after me!
Tree-lined road (I love the green!)
Cows. Baby cows (yes, I know they're calves, but I can't seem to think of them as anything but baby cows) were everywhere on this trip, and so cute! I kept pointing them out to everyone in the car (at first the boys cared, but after a while their 'wow!'s became somewhat insincere). As we drove home to Utah at the end of the week, Sam asked me if I was "baby-cowed-out," to which I replied, "Never, never!"
A couple of the bulb farms have display gardens and stores, etc. that you can stop at. This one (Roozengaarde) was so lovely--pretty little paths to wander through, and so many varieties of flowers! Seeing these boys you would think it was below freezing outside. It was actually a lovely warm day and all normal people were in short sleeves or light sweaters. But they were pretending to be robots, which meant hoods on, apparently.
Hyacinths. The scent right here was heavenly.
So you could see the tulips were starting to show a tiny bit of color, almost ready to bloom. Next week they are going to be gorgeous, I bet. (There are some beautiful pictures here. Some of these must have been taken the same day we were there; I recognize the clouds. Looks like the tulips are starting to come out now---I wish we could go back, because I'd love to see the tulip fields too.) But I wasn't too sad to miss them, because the whole reason I wanted to go to this area was . . . 

the daffodils! I'm not exaggerating when I saw I looked forward to them all week long; I couldn't wait to get to the fields. Finally we rounded a bend and saw those acres of pure yellow laid out like spilled paint below us. The intensity and saturation of that color took my breath away. This field above, I think, was one they used for selling cut flowers. You can see how sparse it is compared with the flower-covered one in the background, but I think the contrast (there are, after all, lots of daffodils even in this sparse part) helps show just how concentrated those pure yellow fields were.

And I'm making these pictures huge, because . . . well, just because I want to, I guess. I wish I could make them life-size and panoramic too, so you could feel what it was like to be surrounded by all that yellow.

Oh, I love them so much. Can you even believe places like this exist? I love this path, curving into the endless ripples of gold.  I felt like I was in a yellow ocean. I wanted to lie down on my back and let it surround me (but it was too muddy, of course). I found it amazing how you could see the flowers glow from within, like shaped glass under light. (Is this why I found glass such an apt vehicle for portraying the living, natural world?)

I loved the way the sun poured down through the fast-moving clouds to be captured in these tiny, translucent vessels.  The petals hold and toss the light like liquid sunshine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


My aunt said something interesting as we were talking the other day. She was talking about how her idea of paradise/heaven had always been a big, beautiful library full of interesting books, full of light and windows and opening onto a beautiful garden. There would be a grand piano in one corner, and there would be time---all the time she wanted---for reading those books, and when she got tired of that, walking among the flowers in the garden. "And then one day I realized," she said, "that now I have pretty much all of that. I'm living in my paradise already. I feel like I have heaven here."
It made me wonder, what is paradise for me? In some ways I think it's much like hers---books, time, sunlight (ah, perhaps this is the one she lacks? She is in Seattle, after all), flowers, music. Long, leisurely, interesting meals would definitely be on my list as well.  We did discuss how we mortals can't help imposing our human ideas on heaven, and how the real thing will probably be much different. Still, it's an interesting thought exercise: what do I love now, what do I hope to enjoy one day---and am I on the path for it?
It's a lovely existence, being in my aunt's paradise. She has such a lovely, interesting, beautiful house. There are five pianos in three different rooms, so the house was constantly full of music. I performed at their big Bach Birthday concert on Saturday, which was delightful---I love having somewhere to perform. Every night when the littlest kids were in bed, we'd go off to practice. Kay would head up to her sewing room and we'd soon hear the Bach Chorale floating down over us, and then Harold or Abraham or my mom would start up in the living room, and I'd withdraw to the studio and lose myself in practicing like I haven't done since I was in college. In the pauses I'd hear music all around me, so companionable and comforting, and even later at night we'd come back together and perform for each other---"I know something's going wrong in the memory work, and I'd rather find out about it now than later," Kay would say. It's so rewarding to play for an appreciative and musical audience, I found myself wanting to play pieces I hadn't ever performed before, inspired and feeling like my playing was elevated by the adrenaline and the company. No one wanted it to end, so we kept talking each other into just one more song, one more story. It was magical.
Museum room---full of artifacts from Kay and Harold's travels all over the world
Snuggery (years ago--this is Abraham!)

Then there are the books. Every wall is full of them, and they're a mind-bogglingly eclectic mix. I wanted to read all of them, from the old, lovingly-handled copies of Five Little Peppers and Girl of the Limberlost in the Rose Bedroom to the library of Egyptian scholarship in Harold's study.  The kids were in love with the cozy snuggery, with its tiny octagon window, and they were thrilled with all the vintage Fisher Price toys. I almost wished for worse weather so we would have had an excuse to stay inside all week and explore the house.
Gazebo in early Spring
Summer---so green!

And Kay's paradisaical garden is there too---all of it so green and exotic to a desert-dweller like me. I love the way the landscaping in the yard blends into forest behind, and curves invitingly toward the house in front. You come upon the house around a bend just like coming upon a castle in an enchanted forest. At night there are frogs (I love frogs! Sam says I wouldn't if I had to hear them every night, but I like them, just like crickets) and a few stars through the misty air.
Evening view from the Rose Room

I loved being part of this little part of paradise for a week. It made me want to (someday!) build my home into a place like that, where people can come and feel like they are edified and enlightened just by being there. Do you think heaven will be anything like what we expect, or is it too far removed from our current ideas for us to understand it? Where do you go that feels like heaven to you?


Sunlight coming through the "glass ceiling" (full of glass sculpture) on the bridge.

While we were in Tacoma last week, we went to a museum called the Museum of Glass.  I've long been interested in glass art (sculpture?), and Sam and I saw some Chihuly when we were in Arizona a few years ago---I loved it!  Dale Chihuly lives in the Seattle area, I believe, and had something to do with the creation of this museum.  Anyway, I wanted to go by there while we were in the vicinity, at least to see the outdoor sculptures and the glass bridge (pictured above and at bottom of post). 
After some debate (everything is expensive, of course) we decided to go into the museum as well, and I was SO glad we did! It was spectacular. This glass volcano-like structure (above) . . .
housed the glass-blowing workshop where you could watch the artists at work. It was mesmerizing. We watched for two hours and Sebby still started to cry when we said we had to leave. The glass seems so foreign when it's molten---like a different substance altogether. Which it is, I suppose. The way the colors changed and deepened with the heat, and the fluidity of the forms as the artists blew or pulled with tongs or hammered at them, was so beautiful. It made me so want to try it myself! Maybe someday. Although it's probably Sam, not me, who would be good at it.

Just as amazing as the workshop was this exhibition, "Beauty Beyond Nature: the Glass Art of Paul Stankard."
I'm afraid I can't adequately describe Stankard's glass art. He does tiny, meticulously detailed renderings of flowers and other botanicals, made of and encased in glass orbs or rectangles. Some are paperweights; others more free-form sculptures, but all are exquisite. I could have spent hours examining each piece: each tiny petal, each entwined root, each furred bumblebee; each impossibly delicate stem. We watched a film that showed some of his artistic process (though not enough--I wish there was a complete documentary), and it was fascinating. He quoted the Latin motto laborare est orare"my work is my prayer," and talked about how his studies for art have informed his faith. He doesn't attempt total scientific accuracy in his renderings of flowers and plants, but rather tries to evoke feelings of awe and reverence for nature, and contemplation of natural themes of life and death, in his viewers.*

As I was looking for pictures that did justice to Stankard's work, I found this blog post that shows a few pictures of the process. You may find it interesting as well.
Image by Fernando Gaglianese, from this post

Lily of the valley. I would buy this one if I had $6000 or so lying around.
It's so hard to tell from pictures alone, but let me remind you that these are made ENTIRELY OF GLASS. Each tiny piece is shaped and sculpted and then placed delicately in its exact spot. I can't imagine how he gets so many visual textures---different opacities, striations, etc.---out of one medium. And the way the outer glass is so dazzlingly clear, making the inner display appear to float suspended in midair! Simply amazing. I found it so elevating to look at this art---to marvel at the technical mastery of it, yes, but also to see the warmth and vibrancy of nature captured in such an unlikely form. Glass---the transparency of it, the way it holds and flings the light---suddenly seems the perfect foil for the natural world. It drew my thoughts to the creator of the "originals," and gave me an even higher appreciation for His artistry.

If I lived in Seattle, I'd go back to this Museum again and again. It was one of the best parts of our visit!
*It reminds me of a phrase I recently read that the composer Manuel de Falla used (admiringly) to describe Debussy's Spanish music: "truth without authenticity."  This was Falla's goal as well---not to use actual Spanish folk music, but to elicit the feeling of a specific time and place, to create a "true" and familiar world for the listener, while using new and original music.