Category Archives: smells

delicious autumn recipe

The air was still cool, but the sun was already drawing the smells out of all the plants along the bike path when I walked along the creeks this morning. We had rain the last couple of days, so the leaves and grasses that have been drying to a crisp got washed and mixed into a good kind of stew.

My first impression, though, was auditory, the sound of ducks, and crows, and Canada geese, all commenting on the morning. Then a flash of silent white against the golden brown background, an egret, not squawking about anything, a quiet fisherman.

The paths are littered with piles of leaves, mostly brown now, like the live oak, which I was glad not to be sweeping off a patio. Their thorn-rimmed cups turn upside down and hold on to concrete surfaces for dear life. That last phrase will be my mnemonic from now on helping me to remember the name of at least one oak.

Mr. Glad wondered at my bringing home a redwood branch, when the tree behind us is dropping similar ones into our yard and pool every day and making hours of work for him to collect the prickly things. When you know you will have to retrieve each one from the bottom of the pool or the decking, it seems that the rich brown sprays are falling constantly, but the trees remain evergreen.

The little redwood cones is darling, isn’t it? Less than an inch.

I leaned over a bridge and breathed in the essences of a thousand bits of living things, carried in the air still moist from the rains, and stirred together by the breeze. The dominant herb in the mix was the wild fennel, fallen down heavy with water, dried brown and mildewed black, and in a tumbled mess with blackberry brambles and grasses and everything I don’t know the name of. The beauty that used to be visual is now distilled into heady scents.

It was reminiscent of an anisekuchen I have made at Christmastime, but the recipe for this nourishing treat includes a multitude of mysterious and essential ingredients. As I was whiffing my fill it seemed I would never want another bite of white-sugary anise cake or any kind of cake again — can’t I just run down to this creek bed and breathe? Oh, but it’s a seasonal dish, and you never know just how long it will be served. But come back tomorrow and something nice will be on the menu for sure!

Asian pear

Oregon – Granite Man, Pennyroyal, and Deer Brush



An hour before the race began

On the first of June Mr. Glad competed with other members of the family in the Granite Man Triathlon in southern Oregon. It was one of several events and meetings that formed the outline of a little trip around our neighboring state.

My husband was doing the swimming leg, as was the other grandpa of our Oregon grandchildren, and the two of them were the team captains. Our son and three grandsons made up the remainder of the teams, with the younger athletes compensating somewhat for the slowness of their elders. We womenfolk and some out-of-town kin were the support crew and also played with the baby (cute boy even if he isn’t one of my grandchildren).

My favorite swimmer left of center with his hands on his hips

Perfect weather, and a lovely setting, with trees leafing out, flowers beginning to bloom. As we stood around on the grassy slope of Applegate Lake waiting for the race to start with the swimmers’ portion, I had my first botanical experience of the trip. It started with a smell that only gradually broke into my consciousness enough to make me look down and search out what source my feet were tramping on.

pennyroyal – or not?

Pennyroyal was my first thought, as I picked off some of what was growing in the wild lawn, and in case you aren’t familiar with it, I outlined one cluster faintly in red, in the photo above, in the lower right corner. Even so, you may have to click on the photo to see it.

But it doesn’t exactly look like pictures of Mentha pulegium, though that pennyroyal is considered mildly invasive in California and Oregon. It doesn’t even look like pictures of the Oregon “field mint” Mentha arvensis, which I looked at in case my sniffer is not able to distinguish between members of the mentha family.

Pennyroyal has what I’d call a sharper aroma than most mints, and this one under my feet had that distinctive smell that I have met many times in my life, often in the mountains. Was I mistaken? Its leaves do look in some ways more like Monardella odoratissima, whose common names include “Mountain Pennyroyal” – but not exactly.

This Applegate Lake variety looks like a cross between it and another mint, as I study it further. And that impression might not be too far from reality, because it turns out that pennyroyal has an ability to hybridize with other mint species, adding to its troublesome weediness. It may crowd out native plants and even threaten Oregon’s commercial peppermint and spearmint crops, as I read in this article.

I learned a new word while reading it: allelopathy: a biological phenomenon by which an organism produces one or more biochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms. I am familiar with this kind of influence from my experiences in gardening, but I didn’t know the name for it. The latest instance is the way nothing much grows under my manzanita bush because of its negative allelopathic qualities. The authors of the article experimented by treating seeds of a rare Oregon plant with a weak extract of pennyroyal root, and found that the germination rate dropped.

Deer Brush near Applegate Lake, Oregon

I didn’t know all of this bad stuff when I was lolling about in such a bucolic place; I was only pleased to have found a plant to check on as soon as I got home.

When we went out to the parking lot after all our guys were done (and some were done-in) I found another, a bush covered with honey-scented flowers. I thought it might be a type of Ceanothus, and I was right. But about the common name, I was wrong. I guessed Mountain Lilac, and it is in fact called that by some people, but maybe by mistake…? It’s officially known as Deer Brush.

The flowers come in shades of light blue and white, mostly, and it’s native to the western states. All of its uses are positive: animals eat it, the Indians made baskets from it, and it fixes nitrogen in the soil. Everybody likes this one!

Ceanothus integerrimus

Funny Stories, Stew and Rescue

I’m having a good week, in spite of the Giants being behind in the NLCS. Today was 90°! so we opened the window to the front yard and for a few minutes, as I stood watching my favorite baseball players at bat, the aroma of sweet olive wafted through the window. Heaven came down.

I made brownies for my husband, took a walk, bought some groceries and did laundry, caught up with a dear friend, and even worked on a book review that’s giving me a hard time…and now I’m passing on to my blogging friends some fun things I found in my blog treasure box. Yes, thanks be to God.

The funniest story I have read in a long while, at Bread and Roses, about a kitchen wall.

An oh-so-practical and realistic, encouraging list of Ways to Rescue a Bad Day for mothers with children at home, from Like Mother, Like Daughter. I think it could also serve nicely for menopausal women, those recovering from the flu, or just generally low-energy homemakers.

A chicken stew that sounds like an easy way to use my Costco boneless chicken thighs, and that includes Persian spices, walnuts, AND exotic pomegranates, some of my favorite foods.

a smell worse than skunk

How lovely to shop at a farmers’ market and buy peaches and green beans fresh from the farm — how icky to bring the produce into my kitchen and notice an awful stink! It is coming from the plastic bags that the farm stand provides handily just above the bins of appetizing fruits and vegetables.

The bags themselves make me sick to my stomach if I keep them around very long, so twice or three times I have quickly emptied whatever it is into a different (reused) bag, and taken the disgusting plastic with its smell directly outside to the garbage can or recycling bin.

What on earth is in these bags that can make them reek much worse than an old garbage truck? It reminds me of the horrible stuff you can get to use systemically on rosebushes to prevent bugs and diseases.

On every successive trip to that market, I have completely forgotten about the bags until I’m already loading one with beans again! Tonight when I got home I held my nose and took some pre-disposal pictures. Then I checked out the URL.

The only grocery bags listed on this website are made in China, but the bags say they are made in the U.S.A.

I think it was at Trader Joe’s in San Francisco that I was given similarly odiferous bags that advertised themselves as completely compostable; printing on the bag instructed me to re-use the bag and then when I was finished with it to put it in my yard waste bin. (In my county, however, we are not allowed to do this.)

Why would I want to carry around a bag that makes me smell like a toxic waste facility? There are plenty of bad smells around on the earth without me contributing more by being that Green, and after all, a significant aspect of our environment is olfactory. Many people these days would like it if we all went perfume-less. Would they really be o.k. with everyone toting their anti-perfume around town as they did their errands?

Somehow it didn’t occur to me to talk to the farmers about the offensive bags. I did find that at the other end of the table, above the peppers, they offered a traditional bag that now seems innocuous by comparison. So next time I will try to avoid the sickening ones, maybe bring paper bags from home to weigh my beans in, and I will be bold enough to ask the farmers if they aren’t bothered by that foul smell?

After I had removed the bags from the house, the stench still clung to my hands, but thank goodness I had just opened a bottle of geranium-infused soap at the kitchen sink. I lathered up and the air began to smell like flowers. Now everything is nice here again, and I can end this post on a sweet note, in the category of Things I Like.