It's The BerriesIt’s The Berries, photo and all text ©Irene O’Garden, 2013


To listen to this post, please click here:  Listening To My Elders

Dagnab ‘em. Birds are peckin’ at ‘em, but loads of purple caviar still droops on the stem. The valuable, healthy elderberries are ready, ripening the crop of guilt that started when they bloomed.  (Elderflowers are also good for you, and I picked none of them.)

I have images to scan, emails to dispatch, but a few days ago, I yielded to the yield. Tiptoe on the wall to harvest them,  I’ll make Elderberry Syrup, I tell myself. I ordinarily buy it –it’s good for colds.

But scouting a recipe a half hour and a basin-ful later, I discover you can’t toss leaves, stems and berries in a pot, boil them and strain it later, as I’ve always done with red currants. Elder leaves and stems are poisonous (as are the uncooked berries.) Oh, great. Another step.

Joy of Cooking tells me freeze ‘em and the berries’ll drop right off. For three days a cookie sheet of pointy, fruity stems obstructs all freezer justice, raining icy peppercorns everywhere every time we open or close the drawer. Yesterday, at last, it was time to take time to shake them off their stems, make syrup, put things by, appreciate things, dagnab it!

Phooey. Still stuck to their stems. Have to pluck these thousands manually. I stopped cursing and began pulling. Called my old friend Cecile, chatted as if we were quilting. When the conversation was over, so was the stemming.

So, Elderberry Syrup. How exactly? No recipe in Joy of Cooking, just one for Elderberry Vinegar. But wait. Just roast the elderberries in cider vinegar for 90 minutes, let it sit a day, strain and bottle it?  I could start half the berries right now while I look for syrup instructions. So I did. (It turned out well–a wonderful wallop of flavor.)

While the vinegar simmered, I found this helpful syrup video from Mountain Rose herbs, calling for ginger, cinnamon and honey. Took only twenty minutes. Deep, delightful flavor and very nourishing. (If you’re not blessed with an elder bush, you can use dried berries.)

Syrup and Vinegar Syrup and Vinegar, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

Cut to dinner. We usually don’t have a cocktail, but the crystal summer night made a martini seem just the thing.  Alas. No vermouth.  “Shall I go get some?” John asks. “No, not worth it. I’ll make something else,” I say, browsing a bar book.

Then, lightbulb! What about Elderberry Martinis?  The Big Bartender In the Sky guided my hand. Using both blossom and berry, I created a recipe on the spot. Very tasty, not too sweet (and full of antioxidants!) I call it:


2  oz gin (I used Magellan, a floral gin)

½  oz St Germain Elderflower liquer

½ oz elderberry syrup

½ oz lime juice (or to taste)

Shake with ice, strain and garnish with lime.

For an alcohol-free version, just mix the syrup with seltzer and lime.

Do enjoy it, with appreciation for all the pleasures of listening to your elders.

Wise ElderThe Wise Elder, photo and all text ©Irene O’Garden, 2013


Goodbye for now, friends–we’re headed overseas. I’ll be back in a month with new stories to share. Meanwhile, please check back to hear some of the poets your fellow readers have voted to hear in my absence!

My Worm

My Worm, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Ink Under The Bridge

“A worm has zero legs.” You can see why I’m enjoying this week’s lettering task.  Ada’s poem is one of sixteen winning entries in this year’s Hudson Highlands Land Trust expanded River Of Words Poetry Trail.  Half the winners will see their work hanging on muslin banners along The Constitution Marsh Trail (opening here this Sunday.) The other eight works will be fluttering in October at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum.

It’s good for an artist to have such tasks. And when it comes to the severe judgements we can level at our work, an internal child-mind is a handy companion.

Take guidelines. Over the years a Nile of ink has flowed through my calligraphy and I’ve resented guidelines the whole length of it.  So tedious, making them yourself. My lettering felt crushed in these stony canals, for the impossible standard of perfection they implied. I used them, but grudgingly.

In the 80’s I found a sentence in Jane Robert’s Seth Material that became my motto:


Spontane-ing 1986

 Spontane-ing, 1986, Phot0, artwork and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

Spontaneity Creates Its Own Order. What liberation!  I went wild. I developed my cursive and invented a capital alphabet which I still rely on for speed and delight.  I was able to write lively straight-ish lines without a net.

But I secretly felt a pebble, a burr, a thorn in my work–a catty-wonkiness of discomfort  with formal commissions.

I move forward anyway, as I did this week. The letters were dear, the lines straight enough, but still the old dissatisfaction. Child-mind asks questions. “How could like your work better?” “I guess if the space between lines were more regular. “

“Yeah. Spacing’s boring. A frame, not a picture.” Never saw it like that, but my eye did.  A crooked frame harms the best picture.

And it was I, not the guidelines, who held the impossible standard: Space lines well without any guide. It can be done, but it’s hard. Why make it hard?

I cut a card, made a spacer, pencilled pinpoints at the start of each line to show just where to step on to the tightrope, where my kinesthetic balance carries me along without the net. Such confidence puts a spring in my letters. Children always know they are growing. We forget that we are growing too.

I smile at these young poets. Boring grammar will help them frame their thoughts eventually. But buoyed by fresh vision, spontaneity creates its own guidelines. And those wasted frustrations? Ink under the bridge.


Have you freed yourself from an old dissatisfaction?


Poetry gift for you:

As you read last week, I am offering to record public domain poetry to be posted in place of my regular posts while I am out of the country for the month of September. I have gotten delightful suggestions! If you are interested, please be sure the poem was published in the US before 1923 and that the poet slipped from us before 1942. Please get it to me before next Teuesday so I have time to record them all before I leave–Thanks!


Night Blooming CereusNightbloom, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Coincidence of Rarities

As plants go, it’s an eyesore. Scarred, scallopy, leathery, lesioned leaves all akimbo on the bony stems. Three hundred and sixty four days a year, that is.

But some unpredictable summer night, a prehistoric, dinosaurish scaly head lifts from the troubled leaves and opens to a melon-sized, pristine, fragrant wheel of glory. It is the legendary night-blooming cereus.

A paradise for moths, a silken tunnel of immaculate complexity –this opulent, ephemeral wedding of a flower has inspired parties for centuries. (We’ve held one or two ourselves.) As we left for Canada last week, we noted the swelling buds and resigned ourselves to missing this year’s display.

Yet our lumpy friend reserved her two spectacular blooms for the very night of our return, when I was able to capture this image.

As we sat in admiration, the waxing moon set early, leaving a dark starry stage for another annual rarity: the Perseid meteor shower. No haze, no clouds–for the first time in several years we could watch the thrilling, erratic archery of shooting stars.

The shooting stars: quicksilver blossoms. The cereus: a slower shooting star. Unity in rarity.

(Should you care to see a brief time-lapse video of night blooming cereus, here is one. Thank you, poppavox.)


A Gift For You

Do you have a favorite poem you would like to hear me read?

We will be abroad in September. Rather than depending on iffy Internet or closing up blitshop, I thought it would be fun to record some of my readers’ favorite poems before I leave and schedule them to post while I am gone.

Please note that your poem must be in the public domain, (published in the US before 1923) This gives us a huge selection:  Shakespeare, Blake, Mother Goose, Stevenson, Whitman, Dickenson–just think! Poets all over the world who wrote for adults and children! If you’d like some ideas or want to check if your poem is in the public domain, look here on Bartleby or on Gutenberg here.

You can submit them through the comments section below,  use the contact tab above, or email me. But please do so soon, so I have time to select and record them. Happy hunting!




Niche 2


 To listen to this post, please click here:The Nature of Niches

Quick little post this week, as we are off on our annual trip to the Shaw Festival in Niagra-On-The-Lake.

A visiting friend inspired this post with the gift of the charming blue pitcher above. Perfect for my niche, so I told her its origin.

When we were creating our kitchen, the question of tiling in back of the stove arose. Bulging cornucopias and della Robbia opulences and painted little Quimper figures are available for such kitchen landscapes. Since the shelf-life of tile is nearly eternal, we pored over choices. I finally realized no matter what we installed, after years of standing and stirring, I would tire of looking at it.

But what if we could renew the view?  I proposed a niche, for a shifting display of art.  So, as the saying goes, we made a niche for ourselves.

Ironically, art rarely shows up there. It belongs to flowers, which I change almost as often as the menu.

In a world where we’re told to carve our own niches, or find our niche market, we’re often advised to keep doing the same thing to fill that niche.  But why display the same inert behavioral cornucopia? The ultimate nature of niches is space for a change.

(Thanks for helping me find this cozy writing niche.)



What’s your favorite niche?

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