Posts Tagged 'Winter'

undiluted joy

Holy winter did we get snow last week. The fifteen or so inches that fell isn’t a particularly unusual accumulation for the Lake Superior snow belt, but it was a wee bit early. I think we can all agree on that. The storm caught almost all of us off guard. Climate change is so unsettling, isn’t it?

cold-guy

Needless to say, it took almost twenty four hours for me to remember my bees. My bees! The electric fencer is still plugged in and is now shorting out! The bottom air vents on the hives are buried in snow! My bees need me! Clearly I was going to be late for work.

That’s the thing about winter that I always forget. Everything takes LONGER. Getting dressed takes longer – stripy tight season, long underwear, and multiple layers. Getting out the door takes longer – which coat, what scarf, and where’s my hat? Warming up (please start) and scrapping the car takes longer. And the commute. The commute is a lesson in patience that takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Eventually this all becomes second nature. But the first week is brutal.

I did make a detour to the bee yard on my way to work, but I was frazzled by the time I got there. I donned my snow pants (more layers, yea!), grabbed my green shovel, and tromped through the snow to unplug the electric fence. I scraped out around the hives and snuggled up close to have a listen inside. The moment I heard their low, sweet buzz, I sank down in the snow and sighed. It gets me every time.

Suddenly I wasn’t late for work. I wasn’t ticked offed by winter’s early onset. And I didn’t care that my entire left sock was half way down my heel. I was just with my bees. It was that simple. Eventually I pulled myself away and landed back in the reality of Wednesday. But for a good minute or two I was in a state of undiluted joy. Which may not sound like much, but I’ll take it. Those two minutes carried me through the rest of a very long week, thank you.

hive-cap

As luck would have it, I also have a stack of honey comb in the pantry to help carry me though the brunt of winter. There’s plenty of extracted liquid honey too, which is nice for cooking and baking, but for almost any other use, I reach for comb honey. It’s like regular honey, only supercharged with texture and flavor. And it’s laced with enzymes and pollen to boot.

Comb honey used to be the honey of choice among consumers because it was guaranteed 100 percent honey with no additives. But once bottled honey became a regulated commodity in the early 1900’s, comb honey gradually fell out of fashion. It’s slowly becoming trendy, but even so, a lot of people just aren’t sure what to do with it. And I don’t blame them. Because really, you’re asking them to eat wax. Nowhere in the food pyramid does wax appear.

comb honey

I initiate people by suggesting they dip a knife into the comb honey and spread a thin layer onto warm buttered toast. This comes with the caveat that doing so could lead to an excessive desire for toast and honey. Which really, in the scheme of things, isn’t so bad. Is it?

Comb honey is also melts deliciously into oatmeal and hot cereals. I like it in my tea too – most of the comb dissolves, but there are usually a few mini honey rafts floating about that I quite enjoy. It’s terrific sliced thin and served with cheese and fruit (blue cheese and crisp pears are a favorite). Very dark, bitter chocolate and a dab of comb honey is a duo to write home about. And it’s an unbeatable, natural sweet pick me up when eaten straight by the spoonful – chewy and soothing.

I use comb honey liberally in the kitchen. I like to experiment and see what it does to flavors. My only rules are to slice it thin and use it sparingly. I want it to complement, not overshadow.  When I needed a fast appetizer a few months ago, I stuck some feta cheese under the broiler for a few minutes, opened a box of rice crackers and assembled little baked feta honey bites. It was so easy and good that I’ve repeated it a half dozen times since. It’s got that sweet, salty, savory mix that I love.

Winter may have come earlier than expected, but its chilly winds bring a welcomed kick in the pants to get back in the kitchen and play. Eat well and keep cozy!

honey bites

P.S. The bees had a marvelous summer and I do have extra comb honey and bottled honey for sale. Comb honey is tricky to ship, but if you live in the Chequamegon Bay Area, I deliver! More info here.

Roasted Feta Honey Bites

These are dynamite served while the feta is still warm, but they are mighty fine at room temperature too.

feta cheese
olive oil
comb honey
crackers

Slice the feta into pieces about 3/8” thick. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet or cast iron skillet. Drizzle very lightly with olive oil.

Broil the cheese until it is just beginning to turn golden brown on top, about 5 minutes, depending on your broiler. Watch it closely! It will get a little bit melty, but once it cools it holds it’s shape nicely.

Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes. When it is firm enough to handle, use a spatula or knife to transfer cheese pieces to individual crackers.

Top each with a thin slice of comb honey.

baked fets

last hurrah

The transition from fall into winter can be brutal in the bee yard. It’s the time of year when the drones (the larger, sort of bumbling, non-stinging male bees) are literally dragged out of the hive. The female worker bees preform this task as a way to bring the hive’s population down. Fewer bees in the winter cluster means fewer bellies to feed. And not taking risks with the food supply is a sure way to increase a colony’s odds of making it through the long Wisconsin winter.
I hate to say it, but really, the drones wouldn’t stand a chance with any plea they might make to stay. They just don’t have a whole lot in their favor. Drones don’t forage. They don’t participate in making honey. They don’t work as nurse bees – tending larvae, or as guard bees – protecting the colony. They don’t do any comb construction. To make matters worse, they defecate in the hive, leaving the females to clean up after them (the ladies are fastidious and exit the hive to do their business). And to top it off, drone larvae is the preferred breeding ground for the deadly varroa mite.
When it comes right down to it, a drone’s only “job” is to circle high in the air some distance from the hive, waiting for rogue, unmated queens to come by. A queen only makes one mating flight in her life, so I have to think it is pretty lonely work for the average drone. What’s worse, should they actually get the chance to put the moves on a queen and pass on their lineage, that’s it – death is soon to follow. This doesn’t seem to get them down. Nor does getting chucked out of the hive to meet their end with the winter chill. Maybe it’s because I can think of no worse way to go than freezing to death, but I tend to have a lot of sympathy for the drones. I cringe to witness this annual ritual.
Sadly, I think we might have just seen the last of our languid fall days with that signature slanty afternoon light. But I cherished every last  one of them – not only selfishly, but for the drones’ sake too. This quote I stumbled across in one of my bee books couldn’t express my sentiments better:
“If skies remain clear, the air warm, and pollen and nectar abound in the flowers, the worker, through a kind of forgetful indulgence, or over-scrupulous prudence perhaps, will for a short time longer endure the importunate, disastrous presence of the males.”
I snapped this photo on Friday – just before the snow set in. Two drones standing side by side (their larger eyes and slightly burlier builds set them apart). At the risk of sounding anthropomorphic, I like to think they are enjoying one last fall afternoon on the front porch – remembering a summer well spent. One last hurrah.

bring it!

One has to admire the sturdiness of a garlic clove. That it prefers to spend its winter wrapped in a shall of frozen soil is beyond my line of thinking. Why not hang out in the dark cool pantry for the winter months and bide yourself some time? I could plant you in the spring – on one of those glorious drippy late March days. But with the exception of only the smallest cloves, anything lingering past February is generally a sad shriveled site.

I’ve always considered myself a winter person. Sort of. I ski. I walk the dog. When the snow is right I populate the garden that I know is under there somewhere with snowmen. I do my best to get out. Some of the most spectacularly stunning days occur in winter. And the January sunsets off our western ridge typically set the sky aflame.

But to say I wrestle with the cold is putting it gently. I’m cursed with poor circulation. This past August I stood in front of an infrared camera on a 90 degree day and the large screen it was projecting onto turned a remarkable shade of blue. So on these fall mornings when my bare feet go numb after even the shortest of journeys outside, I literally cringe at the thought of the ensuing winter.

But these are also the days where the mid-day sun warms the soil up just enough to tease me back outside. I’ll just put in one more row, I reason. After all, if a 2 inch clove of garlic can bare the brunt of our Wisconsin winter, then so can I. “Bring it!” I say – as I march triumphantly inside to warm up by the wood stove.