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‘Tis The Season

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It must be spring. The Woodstock Snowball Stand is open.

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They opened yesterday. Today, I almost stopped just to see if they had hot cider as the weather isn’t cooperating for a need to have an icy cup of goodness. I saw later on the Facebook feed that they were offering 40% off since it was snowing at the snowball stand. OK, so there were flurries.

They always seem to open when we are doing spring grounds clean up. Today, our two day massive clean up and mulch fest happens in our yard. Today clean up. Tomorrow mulch. If only the guys weren’t out there in three or four layers dealing with the wind and the cold.

Today I finally got motivated, after our community garden kick off meeting, to do some indoor seed starting. With the cold this winter, the garage wasn’t warm enough to sustain growth so I am starting now.

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Recycling egg cartons to start leeks, romas and Thelma Sanders squash. Putting some cilantro in the pots to transfer to the deck planters in a few weeks. If we can ever have a week that stays warm enough. I will cross my fingers and get the arugula under row cover out at my community plot right after Easter weekend.

Arugula is one of my absolute favorite greens. Spicy, peppery, full of flavor. Last week, three of my local sources provided me with a vision of warmer times to come.

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The baby arugula came in my weekly Lancaster Farm Fresh basket this week. It took the place of basil in my close-to-Caprese salad. The Hummingbird Farms hydroponic tomatoes were in my Friends and Farms basket. The mozzarella. Picked up at my last visit to Breezy Willow farm store on a Saturday morning when they are open.

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These tomatoes actually have taste. Not like my summer tomatoes, but much better than those weird cardboard tasting things in the stores. I used a drizzle of Secolari Olive Oil and some Wegmans balsamic. Salt and pepper to finish.

Makes me want to go out and plant something.

America’s Main Street

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Second in my series of posts on where to take visitors to Howard County. This post focuses on one of the two historic roads that travel through the county. US 1, the original “Main Street” from colonial times onward in the development of the United States.

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Inspired by the book I found at my mom’s a while back. I decided to head out yesterday and document some of my favorite places, present and past, along the stretch of US 1 from Savage to Elkridge. Including Jessup, the third location located in our county. As usual, I will include some of my favorites to get breakfast, lunch or dinner, to keep my recommendations in line with my locavore tendencies.

US 1 isn’t the prettiest road in America, but for those of us born and raised here before the advent of super highways, it was certainly familiar to us for trips and for services. I lived within a few miles of Washington Blvd, in Baltimore. From a business standpoint, there were many places we frequented using that road. I even worked for a while after college in a bookkeeping and tax accounting business in Elkridge. Proximity to Baltimore and Washington. Elkridge was a convenient midpoint.

But, I am going to start with Savage. You could easily spend many hours with friends in Savage. One of the mill towns. It is home to a very significant historic landmark, the Bollman Truss Bridge.

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The bridge is adjacent to Savage Mill. Restored and now a destination. Home to a few spots I enjoy, like the Bonaparte Breads and Renata’s Tasty Bites. Renata is only there a few days a week. Her savory pastries are awesome. I discovered both these vendors at farmer’s markets. Bonaparte at the Dupont Circle market, and Renata at the Owen Brown library market.

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The Mill also has many shops to browse. Check out the Family Game store. For those inclined to work off those pastries, outside you can partake in Terrapin Adventures.

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On the river side of the mill, there are walking trails. You can walk across the Bollman Truss bridge.

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North of the Mill, Savage Park has wooded trails and is also connected to the Patuxent Branch Trail, which can be hiked all the way to Lake Elkhorn in Columbia. This is a very popular site in the summer, and parking can be a bit tricky. For us, we like to go there in the off season.

Getting back on US 1 and heading north, you pass through Jessup. Lots of wholesale food companies here. Including a newly reopened seafood market, which used to be Franks Seafood. Now, according to our friend HOWCHOW, it has become Wild Seafood, but still retains many of the former employees. Getting fresh crabs here, to serve to out of town guests, is another great thing to do.

Breakfast or lunch at the only Food Network covered “Diner, DriveIn or Dive”? Can be had at R&R Taqueria. If you have any relatives that are fans of the show, you can take them for some of the best grilled lamb tacos we have ever tasted. Or, maybe breakfast like their huevos rancheros or chilaquiles con huevo. Numerous times we stop and grab tacos to go. One of us staying with the car in the adjacent lot while hoping a legal spot by the Shell station opens up. We have been warned not to leave a car in the crowded strip mall lot. It may be towed.

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R&R is technically in Elkridge, as Rte 175 is the dividing line for Jessup/Elkridge. Yes, hard to get in to the deli sometimes. This is our second gas station favorite in the county. The other one is Town Grill in Lisbon, that I mentioned in my previous post. Don’t count out these small family owned sites. Way better than a Taco Bell taco.

Further up just before crossing the Patapsco River into Baltimore County, turn right onto Levering Avenue to head back to the Elkridge Furnace Inn. Civil War History Marker just before the parking lot.

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The Inn itself is now a fine dining establishment, where we tend to celebrate major milestones. They also have afternoons teas periodically, and are open for lunch. A good place to celebrate a special event with out of town relatives. OR, for history buffs they often have suppers with a speaker, like the upcoming 150th anniversary Lincoln dinner.

And, speaking of the Thomas Viaduct. The B&O railroad, so important in the development of this area, is highlighted again in the Patapsco State Park area reached from just across the county line by way of South St. $2 a car to enter. The Viaduct looms ahead of you as you enter, the oldest multi-arched stone railroad bridge in the world.

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There are miles of trails in the park. My favorite is the loop to the Swinging Bridge and back. Half in Baltimore County and half in Howard County. This park, when I was growing up, was the location for school picnics, for reunions, for birthday parties and much more. River Road unfortunately was never fully restored after Hurricane Agnes, but it is still a walking trail for those who love the river as much as we do.

If you’re lucky you even get to see the commuter trains on the viaduct, proof that when it’s built right, it can last for centuries.

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US 1 may be a hodgepodge of many “flavors”. It still inspires us to get out on those lesser traveled roads. I haven’t even touched on Ellicott City, or the other national road in the county — US 40. More to come this weekend.

Happy traveling!

Spring Visitors

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Just a while back, the local online papers, Columbia, Ellicott City and Elkridge Patch asked readers to recommend places to take out of town visitors to Howard County.

Want a locavore take on this? I thought of so many great places not included on their list. After all, how could you not recommend Clark’s farm? Or Larriland? Or Brighton Dam? Or Oella? Or, the other dozen I will cover in some future posts.

Let’s start with Clark’s Farm. Adjacent to Centennial Park. The walk through the Enchanted Forest Tree Maze is worth the price of admission. As well as the petting zoo, the wagon rides, the “Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe” and much more. Nora and Martha have made this place special for children, and adults who carry that sense of whimsy found in those old fairy tales.

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I did a post the day I visited the farm in April 2013. The farm is open April through October.

My second favorite springtime place to take friends is Brighton Dam. On the county line. The azalea gardens are legendary. Part of the Triadelphia Reservoir land, the 5 acre gardens are the place to go in late April and early May. The water authority, WSSC will publish a news release on their home page that documents status of the azaleas. You can picnic below the parking lot on the downstream side of the dam. The gardens have trails that work well for strollers, but a little tricky for wheelchairs. Still, this place is full of couples, families, individuals, bird watchers, photographers, and those just wanting to take a stroll on the beautiful spring days.

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It doesn’t get much better than this.

Moving on to May, strawberry picking at Larriland. A trip to this family owned farm is a real treat. Weekends there will be wagon rides, food, things for the families to do. We go out to Larriland at least six times a year. We do strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, tomatoes and apples. Sometimes more. Like flowers. Or beets. After picking fruit, we head up to the Town Grill to sit outside and eat their wonderful messy barbecued pork.

Berry picking. We love to do. Bring them home. Clean them. Freeze whole berries to add to a glass of white wine, and it feels like spring no matter when you have them.

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Finally, in this post, head over to Oella. Walk the Trolley Trail. Visit the Banneker Museum. Have lunch at BricknFire Pizza, at the Breadery.

Pick up Angus beef steaks at JW Treuth, a traditional butcher shop just down the road from the Breadery. Wander the tiny roads that lead down to the Patapsco. Just across the river from Old Town Eliicott City. Which will be the subject of my next post later this week.

Oh, and if you want cherry blossoms? Howard County has those too. Check out Blossoms of Hope events. And, we haven’t even made it to summer yet. You have lots of exploring to do.

Spring Cleaning

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Inside and outside. Finally we feel we have turned the corner and spring really is coming. We paid a bit of attention to sprucing up the outdoors today. Pruning and raking.

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We have these lovely kousa dogwoods that bloom every spring. Today I spent the time to clean out those vertical shoots. It’s a bit late to prune but they haven’t started to bud yet, and it is still cold enough to take off those small shoots that shouldn’t remain.

I also did a quick inspection of the rhododendron.

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I love these rhododendron and they did quite a bit of drooping this winter. I am crossing my fingers to see if they recover once the weather warms up.

As for my final inventory today. I wondered whether this will be another winter where the herbs get devastated. It looks like most of the rosemary didn’t make it. The sage up at the community garden may still be alive but that has me worried also. The thyme is still alive. As is some of the lavender. This was a brutal winter.

Coming up this weekend. The massive clean up and the new mulch laying in. We have a two day clean up scheduled with a local landscaping company. There will be large amounts of mulch put down. Pond clean up. Some final pruning.

All in all, this property takes a bit of time to maintain. The living things that surround us here are important and make this yard a real oasis all summer. I don’t mind getting out there and cleaning it up. Makes us ready for those lovely spring cook outs. And scenes like this.

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Winter’s Last Gasp

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It may have been the day of the Equinox but winter didn’t want to let go.

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The view from the kitchen in the morning didn’t look promising. It probably didn’t make the school children happy that they didn’t get a day off, with us getting only 2.5 inches of snow.

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It’s all gone today, but it was pretty yesterday. My kind of snow. Gone in 24 hours.

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Those tulips peeking out of the snow are quite a bit behind previous years.

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Those same tulips on MARCH 20TH 2012.

I can’t believe how far behind we are when it comes to temperatures. To the ground defrosting. To the grass returning. Well, maybe I should be happy we won’t be cutting grass in late March like we have done quite a few years here.

We have our annual community garden kick off meeting next weekend. We are supposed to have our plots cleaned up by April 1st. If it ever stays warm enough to want to be outside, we hope to make that date.

I haven’t started my seeds yet. Far behind. It was way too cold in the garage, where I normally put out my potting plants. So, I guess I am buying more plants this year. I will start my squash seeds, for my heirlooms.

I did get to the Ellicott City Southern States and bought my onions for planting. This year, red, white and yellow. I have to find the shallots and the leeks. These three are the backbone of one of the rows in my garden plot. I can never have enough onions or tomatoes in my garden. I will be hitting Sharps Farm greenhouses when they open in April (opening day is the 21st of April).

Finally thinking that winter is gone. Planning the garden. Can’t wait for the trees and flowers to bloom. Come on springtime.

Illusion of Springtime

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Compliments of our weekly food baskets. Which are changing slowly into springtime items. Like arugula.

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A pound of baby arugula. Also known as rocket. Peppery. Fresh. Just the perfect green to evoke memories of last spring. Too bad it’s going to snow tonight. We still think we are getting closer to springtime around here.

Then there’s microgreens.

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I swear microgreens are one of those prized items created by farmers. You know, “hey, let’s thin the seedlings and sell those thinnings for major amounts of money to unsuspecting consumers.” I have a garden. I know all about thinning the greens. Still, I do love the intensity of them.

How about lamb?

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An Easter tradition in my house. Lamb always reminds me of springtime.

This week, here was the total Friends and Farms basket.

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I had the salmon marinating even before I took the pictures. It ended up like this.

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With the green beans from my Lancaster Farm Fresh basket. Corn from the freezer, and a cut up carrot.

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My favorite thing this week. That lovely ham steak. I am thinking of saving it for Easter. I may be waiting for snow tonight, but there are definitely signs that spring is coming.

There’s An App For That

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iNaturalist.

For the Belmont Bioblitz. Did you know we have a project on the iNaturalist website? Populated by Howard County Public School Middle and Elementary School children. The first blitz. Last fall.

What is a BioblitZ? How do I help with one? How do I record the species observed? How do I document what I see, and identify it? This May two more Howard County 7th grades will descend upon the Belmont site, in Elkridge, and with the help of dozens of volunteers and subject matter experts will spend four days adding observations to the expanding collection to document the species found on the historic grounds.

Belmont is a treasure. In many ways. Historic. Relatively pristine. And, located where the coastal plains meet the Piedmont plateau.

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If you ever wanted to volunteer to do something absolutely positively fun, exciting, rewarding and important, check out the possibility of becoming a volunteer at the Howard County Conservancy. As a naturalist, we learn along with the children, more and more about our local environment.

Today my small training group, armed with our smart phones and the iNaturalist app, went out to train and get a chance to record what we found in four of the zones on the property. We found quite a bit of fungi on the trees in our zone. Like this one.

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Which we uploaded and will monitor to see who may identify it for us.

The school children have such a great time with this event. They become citizen scientists. They learn to observe, to record, to research, and to monitor scientific data taking and sharing. This year the two schools participating are Ellicott Mills and Thomas Viaduct Middle Schools.

More info to learn how to volunteer here. Yes, I am shamelessly recruiting volunteers. I can see on our data sheets that we have an incredibly busy April and May, with dozens of opportunities to lead hikes, lead activities and to support those hike leaders. Training is taking place this month.

Come take a few walks with us. The views are awesome, and so are the people.

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