Thursday, March 22, 2012

Edna Day 2012

Grandma Schroeder was born right here on Elm Street 107 years ago. Yep, right at the beginning of springtime. It was a fitting birth date for her; it matched her personality.

So we remember her each year when we put pansies into the front planters. (I’ve talked about this before.)

This year, since the weather was so unseasonably warm beginning in February, I took a chance and planted some veggie seeds for a change. Some kind of “mesclun mix,” spinach, and a few rows of radishes.

When we got a little snow about a week after I planted the seeds, I was kind of worried, but not really. It was no problem. “A little spring snow never hurt anything.”

We added pansies about a week ago. We got them this year from the Dutch Bakery in Tipton. I did tell you they sell plants, too, right? They’ve got far more than those incredible “Dutch letters”!

The radishes are coming along. I planted a bunch of different types. Looking forward to a couple of radish sandwiches!

We’ve already had several salads from thinning out the various lettuces and other greens in that mesclun mix. Oh it’s so good!

Happy spring, everyone!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Op Op Celebrates!

As of early March, the Op Op blog started on its fourth year! To date, I’ve done 484 posts—egads!

Springtime is a great time to have started something, isn’t it?

We had a wonderful sign of celebration (AND a kickoff to the start of a wonderful birthday for my sweetie, Sue) this morning! With this warm weather, we’ve had the windows open all night long, so we awakened this morning to singing birds, as well as this sight:

Yeah, it’s “Tuffy the Opossum”—it was crawling around in our redbud tree at dawn. (I was wondering what Genji, our cat, was watching so intently!) (Sorry about the picture quality, but it was dawn, and you know how autofocus works!)

This past week, an opossum had been run over on Broadway; we buried her out beneath the elderberries. There was one teeny-tiny (dead) baby in her pouch. It was rather sad, but it’s reassuring to see that some of the opossums of our “urban wildlife” are still around.

For those of you who weren’t on board at the beginning, I encourage you to take a gander at my early posts. Ho-ho-ho!

There was the Op Op “signature” martini, for instance!

And four posts in a row discussing “what is an Opulent Opossum”! Surely by now, it’s clear this is not really a blog about marsupials. Those posts explain what I’m getting at with the phrase.

Grandpa’s dandelion wine recipe, Grandma’s recipe for wilted lettuce salad, and a post about the deep “roots” of our peonies helped set the tone for the blog (I think).

Did you know that when I started this blog, I really hadn’t taken many pictures at all? It’s been fun learning, and sharing with you. I’ve created albums on my Op Op Facebook page of some of my favorite photographs.

Well, here’s to Op Op year four. Thank you, so much, for joining me.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

St. Louis Orchid Show—There’s Still Time to Go!

But don’t delay—it ends on Sunday, March 25!

Last year (remember?), I was gypped out it due to inclement weather and a busted ankle, and I all I could do was point you to our friend’s Flickr site full of her beautiful floral photographs. (Indeed, this year, she took more gorgeous photos—and yup, I’m still telling you to see her Flickr page—click here!)

But this year is different—we got to go last week! And I took a few little pictures, myself.

But you really ought to go yourself, because pictures never equal the immediate experience—of flowers, or anything else. The annual orchid show takes place at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Here’s the official website of the show.

And here’s a YouTube advertising it.

The theme this year is “Flora of China,” which is an ongoing project of the research branch of the Missouri Botanical Garden, a multi-multi-multi-volume description of every plant in China. (But the orchids in the show hailed from all over the world.)

Visitors enter the orchid show through a Chinese-style moon gate similar to the gateway to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Chinese Garden, built to celebrate St. Louis’s sister city Nanjing. (That garden, by the way, is my favorite place at the MBG.)

The use of Chinese lanterns in the orchid show provides a tiny taste of the Missouri Botanical Garden’s big Lantern Festival that it will have this summer. Click here for more on that.

The orchid family is one of the largest families of plants in the world (you couldn’t tell it from Missouri, since most are tropical, and our temperate flora is dominated by composites, grasses, and grasslike plants). Orchids, however, are many and varied. There are about 600 genera, with about 15,000 species, worldwide (plus loads of cultivars).

Honestly, I don’t know what else to say, but GO!

I didn’t write down the names of the orchids I photographed, but many of the people taking pictures there were also photographing the name tags, for later identification. I just know this as “those freakishly bright orange orchids!”

See this little orchid bud? Well, it’s probably blooming right now! Just for you to see! Don’t miss it!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sneaky Snake Mating Melee!

It’s in the seventies today, and although it’s plenty windy, it’s feeling a lot like spring. Our daffodils are blooming profusely, and the forsythia’s starting to flower, too.

And, of course, another sign of spring in our yard is the emergence of hibernating garter snakes! (For the record, Thamnophis sirtalis.) Thursday (March 1) was a banner day for us in this respect, since we saw, for the first time, with our own eyes, a garter snake “mating ball.”

We’d read about it but, well, words don’t do it justice!

But here’s a picture Sue took. They were right outside our front steps, in a sunny spot on our front walk, in early afternoon.

The phrase “mating ball” doesn’t describe what we saw very well. I’d call it a “writhing snarl of snakes” or a “serpent tangle” or something. I’m pretty sure there were about a dozen in this group. We watched as two snakes arrived and joined the fray.

They looked like they were having fun!

There’s not much reason for me to tell you what you can find online, but for what it’s worth, here are some selections from the “garter snake” entry in Wikipedia.


Garter snakes have complex systems of pheromonal communication. They can find other snakes by following their pheromone-scented trails. Male and female skin pheromones are so different as to be immediately distinguishable. However, sometimes male garter snakes produce both male and female pheromones. During mating season, this fact fools other males into attempting to mate with these "she-males". This causes the transfer of heat to them in kleptothermy which is an advantage immediately after hibernation so allowing them to be more active. She-males have been shown to garner more copulations than normal males in the mating balls that form at the den when females emerge into the mating melee.


Garter snakes go into brumation before they mate. They stop eating for about two weeks beforehand to clear their stomach of any food that would rot there otherwise. Garter snakes begin mating as soon as they emerge from brumation. During mating season, the males mate with several females. In chillier parts of their range, male common garter snakes awaken from brumation first, giving themselves enough time to prepare to mate with females when they finally appear. Males come out of their dens and, as soon as the females begin coming out, surround them. Female garter snakes produce a sex-specific pheromone that attracts male snakes in droves, sometimes leading to intense male-male competition and the formation of mating balls of up to 25 males per female. After copulation, a female leaves the den/mating area to find food and a place to give birth. Female garter snakes are able to store the male's sperm for years before fertilization. The young are incubated in the lower abdomen, at about the midpoint of the length of the mother's body. Garter snakes are ovoviviparous, meaning they give birth to live young. However, this is different than being truly viviparous, which is seen in mammals. Gestation is two to three months in most species. As few as 3 or as many as 80 snakes are born in a single litter. The young are independent upon birth. On record, the greatest number of garter snakes to be born in a single litter is 98.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sesame Crunch Bars

When I first started getting interested in cooking, I was mostly interested in health foods, not “retro” recipes, and one of my favorite books of that time is called Uprisings: The Whole Grain Bakers’ Book. I’ve got the “revised edition” of 1990, which was published by the Cooperative Whole Grain Educational Association. This fun book features recipes from eighteen cooperative bakeries across the nation—many, alas, which are now closed.

Some apparently are still in operation, such as Blue Heron Bakery in Olympia, Washington, and Open Harvest Bakery in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hooray for them! And one of my favorites, though not represented in the book, is Small Planet Bakery in Tucson, Arizona (their “vegie bread” is the best!) Most of these kinds of bakeries were started in the 1970s.

Although the book is out of print, a former member of the Uprisings collective in Berkeley has been digitizing portions of it and posting them online, at For more information, click here.

I encourage you to get a print version of the book, because it’s very fun—all the recipes were written out by hand by members of the collectives and cooperatives supplying the recipes, with lots of cute drawings, too. There is also a lot of good introductory stuff about baking in general, and baking with a variety of whole grains, in particular. Plus, there’s a helpful index to recipes by major ingredients, and recipes separated by dietary characteristics (such as “no eggs or dairy,” “no wheat,” and “low- or no-fat”). This book is a treasure.

The recipes make delicious food you can feel good about eating, and if you have warm memories of eating or working at health food coops, you’ll particularly adore recipes such as Carob Chip Cookies (with tahini and tamari, yes, tamari); Carrot Celery Bread, “Peanut Minus” cookies (“eggless, dairyless, wheatless, but NOT peanut-less!”), 7-Grain Currant Muffins, Ozark Barley Bread, Banana Rice Cupcakes (wheat-free), and the best damn whole-wheat pizza crust you ever had (it’s spiffed up with oregano, cayenne, and basil—yum, yum!).

The recipe I’m sharing with you today is from the section contributed by Uprisings Baking Collective, formerly in Berkeley, California. You can read about that collective online here.

These sesame crunch bars are sweet, but not overly so. They keep well. They’re a terrific snack or light breakfast. They’re a perfect hiking snack! You can alter the flavorings a bit with other nuts, dried fruit, and so on.

Note that in the recipe below, transcribed from the book (page 224), I’m offering some comments and ideas for substitutions (which are in brackets).

Sesame Crunch Bars

Makes about 30 2-inch squares. Use an 8 x 14 inch pan, or similar.
[I use two 9 x 13 inch pans and spread dough to about 1/2 inch high, which yields 48 bars, each about 2 1/2 x 2 inches.]

  • 5/8 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups oats [rolled is what I use, as in Quaker]
  • 1 1/4 cups cashews [I don’t care much for cashews, so I use raisins or chopped dried apricots]
  • 1 cup wheat germ [I was getting low, so I substituted some crushed breakfast cereal flakes]
  • 6 1/4 cups sesame seeds [rather hard to find; I finally scored these at an international/ethnic grocery; by the way, sesames can get rancid quickly, so when buying, check for freshness, and refrigerate or freeze them when you get home]
  • 5/8 cup sunflower seeds [raw]

Cream together peanut butter, honey, and vanilla [it helps if you heat the honey and peanut butter; heating softens it up and makes it easier to stir]. Add the rest of the ingredients [in a big bowl!] and mix well with your hands—it works best and saves on dishes [if you heated the goo part, you can stir it with a spoon]. With wet hands or rolling pin, flatten mixture to uniform thickness on oiled pan. Dough will be stiff—be patient. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes [my oven runs hot and my bars are thinner, so I go for about half this time; watch it; if it gets too toasty and tan, it will be hard; and if you use raisins, don’t let them scorch]. Let cool [then cut into bars and store in a closed container, separated with waxed paper].