September 15

Making Mushrooms [Cooking]

So my partner has been on a mushroom kick lately. I think it started when she happened upon this YouTube channel. I was also pulled in after watching a few of their videos. I’ve always enjoyed mushrooms, incorporate them into a few of my dishes, but I really don’t know much about them.

White button, portobello, shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle. That’s the extent of my mushroom knowledge.

It blew my mind to learn just how many varieties there are, and that’s just the ones that are safe to eat. And the nutrition. That was another unexpected bit of information. I highly recommend the YouTube channel I linked above. After watching a few, I think you’ll have a better appreciation of our fungi friends.

Sidenote here: About ten, maybe fifteen years ago, I picked up a bed-full of mushroom compost in the back of my old pickup truck. A small town about twenty minutes east of here has a lot of mushroom farms, and occasionally they sell off the spent compost the mushrooms grow in. While it’s done as a growing medium, it makes for amazing lawn and garden fertilizer. White mushrooms in my yard

I scattered it across my backyard and all the plants and grass loved it. However, I now have a lot of mushrooms popping up here and there. I don’t know enough about them to dare harvesting, but they’re pretty to look at and photograph.

But I digress – The point of this post is to note that I purchased a mushroom kit from North Spore. I figured, if I’m going to try my hand at mushroom farming, I should start with something simple. The kit is for Blue Oyster Mushrooms, which sound both tasty and pretty. Mushroom grow kit box.

I started the kit the other night and it can take up to two weeks to sprout, so I’ll update when that happens. Of course, it’s trial and error and when it comes to growing things, there’s always the chance it doesn’t work out. I’m keeping my fingers crossed this works. I like oyster mushrooms.

Now I need to find recipes so I’m ready to cook when they’re ready to harvest!

RB

April 30

A Photo Moment – Amaryllis

One of the reasons I love flowers is because they remind me of the impermanence of things. It’s a tenet of Buddhist philosophy, that nothing lasts forever and our attachment to things is one of the causes of suffering. We have to appreciate things while we have them because we never know when they’ll be gone.

I’m reminded of this every spring when the Amaryllis in my yard begin to return to life. They’re flowering bulbs, meaning, they sprout and bloom when the weather begins to warm, then remain green through the summer, and die off in the winter. Amaryllis blooms

I have several of them in pots on my back patio, and a few growing in a bed further out in the yard. It’s kinda funny how excited I get when I see those first shoots rising up out of the soil, the flower stalk pointing at and reaching for the sky like a green rocket ship. I know what’s coming and I know it won’t last long.

Amaryllis bloom

This year they bloomed in a staggered fashion, first breaking the surface in one pot, then another, then another, as if they were trying to make the beauty of their blooms last a little bit longer. When they finally were in full display, the deep, rich reds were a sharp contrast against the greenery that served as a backdrop.

But my focus is always on the flowers. The colors are so dense, with the delicate stigma looking like alien antenna. Amaryllis bloom

Of course, there is one aberration, which is the one I call the candy cane. Predominantly white blooms with red stripes. There’s only one in the yard, but it’s my favorite. I don’t tell the other ones, though. Amaryllis bloom

The photos posted here were taken a little over a week ago, so now the blooms have faded and drooped and are ready to be cut back. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable.

However, I know they’ll be back again next year to brighten my yard for a few days. I’ll be waiting patiently.

RB

April 12

Creativity as Therapy

I’m sure you’ve heard of art therapy and music therapy. In fact, art has been used in therapy for over a century. Initially, it was used as a form of “moral therapy” for psychiatric patients, it’s evolved over time to something that can be utilized in a wide variety of situations, from helping Alzheimers patients with their memory issues to physical therapies where patients are relearning how to use their arms and hands.

But on a more personal level, I’ve found that art therapy, or creativity in general, can be therapeutic for everyday life.

Obviously, I’m not a mental health professional or physician, so take my words as simply personal experience and nothing more. I’m not suggesting you explore this in lieu of seeking professional help. Nowadays, it’s best to clarify before someone gets the wrong idea.

For me, creativity has always been mainstay in my life. From writing and drawing comic books as a kid to writing and self-publishing fiction as an adult, it’s been there for me as a way to express myself. However, it’s also been a sort of companion for me. Those long summers on my uncle’s dairy farm where I was the only kid for miles, my creativity and imagination kept me company. I created all sorts of adventures for myself as I wandered the hay fields and thick Wisconsin forests. That old gnarled tree stump became a troll. The wind whispering through the leaves were sirens trying to trick me into sailing my ship into the rocks. And that old abandon car helped me escape after I robbed the Bist Bank and Trust of all their pinecones.

Boy daydreaming.Trust me, it all made sense when I was a child.

As I grew matured (which is questionable), so did my use of my creativity. The aliens and pirates moved onto the page and became stories, and along with that, so did my hopes and fears. As a teenager I found that writing was a way for me to work through my hormonal angst. I filled spiral notebooks full of poems about unrequited love, dreams of the future, and images from my dreams. I actually still have a few of those notebooks and occasionally take them out to thumb through. It’s interesting to look back and remember how I used to be and how I used to see the world.

Later, in late teens, I began to journal. That’s when I found the outlet I needed, the sympathetic ear, the judgement-free listener. Journaling kept me going through bad relationships, family drama, love and loss. Even now, I still write in my journal almost daily. Sometimes it’s just a page, sometimes it’s several. But regardless, I always walk away from the page feeling a little bit better.

Why is that? Because it’s a way to clear the clutter from the attic. Speaking for myself, it’s easy to get caught up in my own little world, to become self-absorbed and see things from only one perspective. Writing in my journal allows me to work things out, to explore my thoughts, my experiences, and to see them from another perspective. There have been many occasions where I was thinking along one track, only to realize after writing in my journal that I was wrong. And admitting I’m wrong on the page makes it a lot easier to admit it to myself.

Journaling isn’t the only creative therapy I participate in. I also cook. Every day. Most of it is survival cooking, meaning, I cook because it’s time for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner. We need sustenance. But I do like to explore the creative aspect of cooking. I like to try new recipes, or read about different ways to cook something, like a chicken, then come up with my own method.

I find that when I’m in the kitchen, watching something in the sautée pan while deciding what spices to use, the rest of the world falls away. I forget my problems and worries. I lose myself in the motion of manipulating the pan, the smells of garlic and onion, the endless possibilities. Because cooking requires thought, imagination, and attention, it’s a wonderful way for me to unwind in the evenings. Weekends, however, are my prime cooking time. A bottle of wine helps, too.

In my opinion, one of the biggest issues in the world today is mental health care. There’s just not enough of it and there’s often a stigma attached to people to seek it out. That’s why I think encouraging people to use their creativity as a form of therapy could be a partial solution. Just having a way to express ourselves can make a huge difference in how we manage our mental state.

Consider this: You have a terrible coworker or manager. They make your workdays difficult. They make you angry, anxious, frustrated, but there’s nothing you can do about it. Situations like this can take a toll on your mental and emotional state. Some people are lucky enough to have access to decent healthcare and can go see a professional to learn coping mechanisms and ways to deal with these people. Others aren’t so lucky. In fact, I’d wager that most people don’t have that kind of healthcare.

But if you have ‘one of those days’ and arrive home with your head spinning, you can decompress by doing something creative. You can write about it. A journal can be your best friend. Or maybe use fiction instead. Write a story about your nemesis getting their comeuppance. I’ve done that. Or you can immerse yourself in trying out a new recipe in the kitchen, something new and exotic. Or you can pull out some paint brushes and a canvas and lose yourself in a landscape or something abstract. If you’re feeling restless, then put on some music and dance your heart out. No one is watching, so let yourself go.

Woman dancing.
Photo by Laura Fuhrman on Unsplash

We all have issues we deal with, and some of us handle things better than others. There’s no shame in needing a release, a pressure valve for your head or your heart. Professional therapy is great, but it can also be expensive and far too many people don’t have easy access to it. Creative, however, really doesn’t cost much. A pen and a spiral notebook. A paintbrush, some paint, and something to paint on, like a piece of scrap wood or cardboard. Music and dancing are free.

No, it’s not going to be for everyone, but there’s no harm in trying something new, is there? The next time you’re having a bad day, you’re stressed out, angry, hurt, confused, try doing something creative. It’s not a perfect solution, but it might just be enough.

RB

April 2

A Photo Moment – Azeleas

I think the prettiest time of year is spring, and here in North Florida, spring means the azaleas start blooming. I’m lucky enough to have quite a few of these shrubs in my yard and it’s always nice to look out a window and see these bright, colorful flowers everywhere. In fact, azalea flowers can last for weeks. This means that a bush can remain fully colored in pink, red, or white for a month or more.

Pink azalea blooms.
Blooming in the shade of some live oaks.

Azaleas are perfect for the average gardener, and even more so for the lazy ones. They are incredibly hardy with temperature extremes, can be propagated by planting cuttings, and need very little attention other than an occasional trim (if you want them to have a specific shape or keep it from becoming tree-like).

And here’s a fun fact for you: Every part of the azalea is toxic, even the nectar in the flowers. This has, in turn, inspired people in parts of the world to purposely feed azalea nectar to honeybees because it then develops into a ‘mind-altering’ – and potentially lethal – honey. In other words, don’t try this at home.

I’ll pass on the honey. Just seeing the blooms in my yard is enough to lift my mood and bring a smile to my face.

At the moment, I have pink ones blooming in my backyard and on one side of my house, along with a hedge in my front yard that’s displaying white flowers. If you look closely, you can see that they aren’t solid colors. The outer petals are pink or white, but closer in you can see they have this speckle pattern.

Pink azalea flowers.
Pink azalea flowers.
White azalea blooms.
Soft white azalea blooms.

Luckily, the weather is warming up and the pollen is finally being washed away with the spring rains, so I’ll be able to travel further afield soon. I’m looking forward to hiking in the local parks and forests, taking photos of the beauty I find, and getting some fresh air. I think my dogs are ready for it, too.

RB

 

 

 

March 15

A Photo Moment – Clover Flowers

There’s a saying with gardeners that, “a weed is just a plant growing in the wrong spot.” In fact, there are quite a few quotes that reflect on this premise.

I’ve always liked that idea. Dandelions, clover, thistle, among others, are always getting a bad reputation from people who believe that gardens should be perfectly manicured. I’m not a member of that group. I mean, I can appreciate the hard work and creativity that goes into what I call ‘display gardens’. However, I’m more of a natural garden aficionado. Or as a friend calls it, ‘lazy-person gardening.’

My backyard is one of those semi-natural places. I like to keep it so because it attracts birds, and I love birds. In fact, I’ve had generations of cardinals, brown-thrashers, and house wrens that have called my backyard home for the past twenty years. I must be doing something right.

It also allows me to have a wide variety of wildflowers – oftentimes called weeds – growing amidst the St. Augustine grass that once dominated my yard. The most prolific is the clover. It’s great ground cover, feels cool under my bare feet on a hot day, and attracts honeybees. There’s actually a guy who lives down the road from me who has hives in his yard, so I assume these are his bees that I see buzzing around the blooms.

Clover blooming.
One of the many small patches of clover in my yard.

What I love most about the clover are the flowers – soft pink in color, a sharp contrast against the green leaves, the way they flutter in a gentle breeze. I sometimes get distracted looking at them when I’m watering my potted plants. I find it meditative. Maybe it’s the Irish in me.

Now that spring has arrived, and yellow pollen is covering every outdoor surface, the clover is again blooming..and I’m a happy man.

RB

February 18

Capturing Moments

I’ve previously posted about photography, mostly regarding how I find inspiration in old photos, but I’ve also enjoyed taking photos. It started when I was a teenager in high school. I got my hands on a Canon AE1 35mm and fell in love with it. At one point, a friend and I set up our own darkroom in a shed behind his parent’s house. We’d spend hours taking photos around town and then spend several more hours developing the negatives. We mostly worked in black and white because it was easier to process. Occasionally, we’d try our hand at color, but it wasn’t much fun shaking those tubes of paper and chemicals for what seemed like hours. And while I’d love to have another professional camera, I’m content with my iPhone.

Bottles in sunny window.
Bottles in sunny window.

My personal preferences are portrait and nature photos. In fact, I take photos whenever I’m out and about, walking in the park with my partner and our dogs, or motoring down the St. Marks River and out into the Gulf of Mexico on a friend’s boat. I see little moments of beauty that I want to capture and keep with me, and occasionally I’m successful.

Mushrooms in the grass.
Mushrooms in the grass.

The thing about photography is that it’s not just pointing the lens at something and pushing a button. There’s framing, lighting, the Rule of Thirds, shutter speed, formatting, and so many other things to consider. I’m by no means a professional, but I do try to take all the particulars into account when capturing an image.

I also find inspiration in photos. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy looking through old photos, even when I don’t know anyone in the images. Looking at those captured moments, my mind wanders as I wonder about who these people are, what they were thinking, what were they like, and what happened to them. 

When it comes to photos of relatives, many of the same questions come up, especially with the ones I never had the chance to meet. Great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, distant cousins…they all become characters in my imagination. I don’t concern myself with how close to the truth I may get with my daydreams. It’s all make-believe. 

Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t been cooperative lately. Almost constant rain temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the mid 70s have not been conducive to spending quality time outdoors. That hasn’t stopped me from taking photos, however, it’s just limited my roaming.

Autumn Leaves.
Autumn leaves on a tree in my backyard.

In fact, my backyard is a great place to take photos, and not just of my dogs. I’ve let a bit of it grow wild to attract birds, and a few years ago I spread mushroom compost (from a local mushroom farm) and now we have all sorts of interesting fungi sprouting up. It’s really a nice mini-nature retreat within the city limits. 

And most of the photos I take are spur of the moment, like when something catches my eye. It might be the way the sunlight is illuminating a batch of flowers, or the way some mushrooms are growing on a rotting log, or maybe the way a bird is perched on a branch. I don’t necessarily look for the shots, I stumble upon them.

Moss on a rotting log.
Moss on a rotting log in my backyard.

Photography, to me, is a unique art form in that it’s used to capture a moment in time, something that would otherwise be lost with the blink of an eye. That’s both special and inspiring. 

RB