First Snowfall

IMG_7988

Snow on red berries by my neighbor’s fence

Wrong day for scooters.

Wrong day for scooters (Rome, winter of 2010)

Flora in the Villa Borghese park gets a rare taste of a colder sort of winter

Flora in the Villa Borghese park gets a rare taste of a colder sort of winter (Rome, winter of 2010)

Days ago I heard that the area of Virginia where I live was in for some winter weather yesterday: temperatures in the 20s (that’s as cold as -6 Celsius), some snow in the morning and freezing sleet and rain in the afternoon and overnight. For someone who’s lived in a clime that is relatively tropical for the last seven years (well, Rome is tropical in comparison with Moscow, Prague, Bucharest and Bavaria – places to which I am more accustomed – so bear with me), this rather bland weather report sounded very exciting.

While I was living in Rome, I was lucky enough (well, I considered it good luck, though many of my Roman friends felt it to be quite the opposite) to be there for the first snowfall the city had seen in about thirty years. It appears that was the beginning of a trend, though, for it snowed twice more in the two following years (once for each winter). Still, one meager snowfall which barely sticks to the ground long enough to take a picture of it (these are a couple I was lucky enough to snap on those occasions) doesn’t really satisfy the longing for real winter weather that resides in the heart of a girl who spent the winters of most of her formative years in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Palm trees with a light dusting of snow on them were a rather magical sight, but what such scenes mostly did was make me nostalgic for the winters and Christmas holidays of my childhood.

You can imagine, then, how I felt when I woke up this morning, opened my blinds and found these scenes awaiting me through the upstairs windows:

Snow-dusted roofs in the early morning

Snow-dusted roofs in the early morning

A hint of white and a promise of more to come

A hint of white and a promise of more to come

I hurried to make myself a cup of coffee, throw on some warm clothes and head outside with my trusty camera to document the first real winter snow I’d seen in a very long time:

Frosted foxglove, caught by surprise

Frosted foxglove, caught by surprise

This morning saw a pitched battle between the resident family of sparrows and some bluebird invaders. The outcome is not yet clear.

This morning saw a pitched battle between the resident family of sparrows and some bluebird invaders. The outcome is not yet clear.

Our garden sleeps until spring

Our garden sleeps until spring

Hardy rosemary

Hardy rosemary

The neighbors have strung up their Christmas lights

The neighbors have strung up their Christmas lights

IMG_7961

IMG_7994

IMG_7974

IMG_7952IMG_7978 IMG_7971

Wearing their holiday finest

Wearing their holiday finest

Bare tree fingers rake the frozen sky

Bare tree fingers rake the frozen sky

A little help for our friends

A little help for our friends

IMG_7983

The snow continues until mid-afternoon when the weather report is proven right and it turns to a sort of freezing rain. Still, the snow and ice are not going anywhere. We don’t expect the temperatures to get back above freezing for several hours. Until tomorrow, at least, I can enjoy my winter wonderland.

Snowy pines

Snowy pines

Squirrel tracks on the back porch

Squirrel tracks on the back porch

A tail makes a lovely umbrella

A tail makes a lovely umbrella

Mr. Fuzzy leaves the snow to the squirrels

Mr. Fuzzy leaves the snow to the squirrels

I hope you enjoyed this first glimpse of a satisfyingly white winter. Be safe and stay warm. See you next time!

– Jennifer

And here’s what everything looked like the next day: my own personal Ice Garden.

 

Where the Bike Trail Ends (and an Epilogue of Turnip Soup)

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, just before the temperatures dropped to freezing and the rainstorms hit,I braved the first winds of winter to follow my favorite trail farther than before. It was clear from the first that, despite the deceptively bright sun, winter was well on its way.

The stream runs cold under bare boughs, and I follow it down through the woods towards the old mill

The stream runs cold under bare boughs, and I follow it down through the woods towards the old mill

Ragged yet radiant refugees of autumn

IMG_7821

IMG_7818

This time, when I arrive at Cadell’s Mill, I decide to cross over Surrey Road and see where the path leads on the other side. I’ve been leery of crossing on my bike, but the park map shows the trail continuing. My curiosity leads me on.

On the other side of the road, what was a paved path becomes a dirt track ridged with roots and strewn with stones. Remembering the map’s advice, I take the left fork. My trusty steed is no mountain bike, but she gets me as far as Walney Pond, which the map had told me was only a short distance away. There are no cattails or water lilies in this season, but the reflections of the bare-limbed trees on the water have a strange, stark grace.

IMG_7817

IMG_7816

There are benches, and I’m sure this place will be lovely, come spring, but it’s no place to sit and pull out a book today. The only reason I’m not freezing is because I’m not standing still very long. I get back on the bike and go back to the fork to see where the other trail leads. I come to a bridge…

A tantalizing bridge leads to an unknown forest

A tantalizing bridge leads to an unknown forest

…and I am thwarted.

The end of the trail for my trusty steed

The end of the trail for my trusty steed

Definitely for feet only

Definitely for feet only

A lovely place for a picnic, just not in November

A lovely place for a picnic, just not in November

My trusty steed can go no further on this road

My trusty steed can go no further on this road

It’s been a long, cold ride. Once my bike is safely back in her cozy garage, it’s time to think about how I’m going to warm myself up. What’s in the fridge? Hmmm… turnips. I know just what to do with those.

When peeling turnips, make sure to cut off the darker ring beneath the skin, leaving only the white inner flesh to cook with

When peeling turnips, make sure to cut off the darker ring beneath the skin, leaving only the white inner flesh to cook with

Peel and cut turnips and potatoes into rough chunks (I used one potato per turnip as a ratio).

IMG_7782

Chop one onion and put it in a soup pot with about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Simmer onion until transparent.

IMG_7757

Then add the turnips and, a few minutes later, add the potato as well as some rosemary. I used about 3 tablespoons worth of fresh rosemary from my herb garden.

IMG_7785

I added four cups of water. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of pre-prepared stocks. If you salt and season generously, water is all you need, and this way you never end up covering up the delicate flavors of your own ingredients with the stronger taste of a soup stock.

Bring to a boil and then simmer both the turnips and the potatoes are tender. Once this is done, let the soup cool a little, and then put it in the blender and puree (you’ll probably have to do it in two parts).

Once the soup is pureed and back in the pot, add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, as well as a generous shake (or four) of ground nutmeg.

Let it sit covered on the stove for a few hours to maximize flavor, then reheat before serving.

Below you can see it on the table, garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary and served with my new favorite spinach salad on the side (recipe coming soon).

Turnip and potato soup

Turnip and potato soup – less humble and much more delicious than one might expect

I really felt like I was bringing out my Slavic peasant roots while preparing this. It seemed like something the infamous Russian witch Baba Yaga might have served to unwary visitors in her hut in the woods. I must say, considering the humble nature of the raw ingredients, the end result was, indeed, magically good.

I can’t take the credit for this one, though. I adapted it from a recipe on the lovely website Tales of a Kitchen. Here’s a link to the original recipe.

Well, this post was scheduled to go up this weekend but I didn’t expect the weather to change so drastically when I was preparing it last week! It’s going up now, even though the first snow is falling. Those last traces of autumn may be gone now, but the turnip soup is as apropos as ever.

See you again soon! Thanks for stopping by. Stay warm and don’t scorn the turnip.

– Jennifer

A Hidden Stag

A furtive movement seen from the corner of my eye as I coast down one of the smoothest portions of the wilder part of my bike trail is enough to make me hit the brakes. I peer into the tangle of bare tree branches and I spy…

First glimpse

He is watching me too, stock-still. He is only about twenty feet away (that’s about six meters, for my foreign friends), but the fact that there are a lot of dense branches and bushes between us emboldens me to back my bike up to a better spot and snap another shot or two. This one’s my favorite:

IMG_7799

Hiding in plain sight

We watch each other for awhile. He’s starting to look kind of irritated, and I’m starting to notice how flimsy those branches between us are, after all, when he loses interest and walks away. I follow him (with my eyes alone, of course. I may be a recently-transplanted city girl, but I’m no ninny) until I lose him amidst the trees. I’m about to ride away when I realize that the trajectory I last saw him on would bring him right out onto the trail where I’m waiting, albeit farther away (which would be far enough for comfort). I decide to stay.

I only have to wait a couple of minutes before my guess proves to be correct, and I am rewarded with the chance to take these shots. Forgive the blurriness, but it’s the best my trusty little pocket camera can do with such a distance to zoom over.

Look both ways before crossing the trail, Mr. Stag

Look both ways before crossing the trail, Mr. Stag

Glorious

Glorious

What a magical moment. I feel like a kid again, all full of wonder. What a gift this ride has been.

I’m glad you could come along.

-Jennifer

Fall’s Last Hurrah

Clouds cover the sky in an opaque shroud of white. Still, here and there, trees and bushes cling to their last, colorful foliage, unwilling to succumb to the inevitable change of season.

IMG_7751

IMG_7752

Moonrise

Moonrise

The next day dawns cloudless and blue, but the sunlight that gilds the last, tenacious leaves is as cold as the gold it resembles. It will not do more than brush us with a reminder of warmth until this winter has come and gone.

IMG_7731

The feathers of a cardinal provide camouflage amongst the last reds of autumn, but will soon stand out brighter than holly berries against bare white branches, frosted ground and whiter snow

IMG_7691

The last golden foliage persists, fragile and tenacious, for a little while longer yet

Winter Is Coming

IMG_7748Towards winter…

A deer trail buried in a blanket of fallen leaves leads deeper back into the woods

A deer trail buried in a blanket of fallen leaves leads deeper back into the woods

Fallen trees stripped of their finery raise bony fingers towards a wintry sky

Fallen trees stripped of their finery raise bony fingers towards a wintry sky

Autumn fading

Autumn fading

A bleak treescape

A bleak treescape

Winter is coming

We begin to see the forest’s bare bones. Winter is coming.

 

I hope you enjoy these links to other posts from bloggers around the world who’ve already felt the first winds of winter nipping at their toes. Have a cozy Sunday, everyone, and see you again soon. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Jennifer

Wilder Woods Await

Wilder woods

Wilder woods

For the first few weeks that I had my bicycle, I was content to limit myself to riding the portion of the Rocky Run Trail that runs through the woods behind my house. It’s three miles (that’s about 5 km) there and back, and that is not a short way, especially since it had been years since I’d ridden a bike with any regularity (Roman traffic was a little too scary for me to want to brave the busy streets around my house long enough to reach the cycle paths). However, I recently discovered that the trail continues on the far side of a large road about half a mile from my house – a fact I’d missed since the trailhead has been closed for construction ever since I moved here. So, I loaded my camera with fresh batteries, pumped up my tires and headed out to see what waited for me in the wilder woods on the far side of the big road.

The little stream I'd become accustomed to is no longer narrow enough to clear in one leap over on the far side of the road

The little stream I’d become accustomed to is no longer narrow enough to clear in one leap over on the far side of the road

What I found out was that the path I knew was twice as long as I had thought: nearly eight miles, there and back. The trailheads on the two sides of the big road were both closed, so it took me a while to find an entrance where I could pick it up on the other side. However, there were enough knowledgeable dog-walkers around to point me in the right direction, and I soon found myself in a much larger and less tame wood than the one I’ve gotten to know.

IMG_7592

Beavers at work along the Big Rocky Run

IMG_7600

A crimson cloak

This must be where trees from Tim Burton movies come when they retire

This must be where trees from Tim Burton movies come when they retire

Roots reflected

Detail of roots reflected

From the trail on the near side of the road, you can always see a house or two, somewhere off through the trees. However, in this new forest, there were places where I couldn’t see anything beyond woods and water. I road further on, and soon I found myself entering a place I hadn’t known existed, the Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.

This is the face of a happy explorer who's just made a new discovery (well, new for me, anyway)

This is the face of a happy explorer who’s just made a new discovery (well, new for me, anyway)

The Ellanor C. Lawrence Park's Walney Visitor Center, located inside an 18th-century farmstead

Cabell’s Mill, built circa 1753

I thought the deer I see when I’m out riding were the extent of the local wildlife. However, a sign on the board near the park’s visitor center, located in what was once the house of the miller who operated Cabell’s Mill, told me I shouldn’t be surprised to come across beavers, coyotes, foxes or copperheads (I wouldn’t mind avoiding that last one, but believe me, if I see any of them when the weather warms up again, you will be the first to know).

Here are some of the scenes from my ride back to the main road.

IMG_7632

IMG_7634

IMG_7639

IMG_7640

IMG_7641

Dad watches our faithful steeds so I can document the moment when we arrive at destination

Dad watches our faithful steeds so I can document the moment when we arrive at destination

Of course, I had to share my discovery. Besides, I didn’t want Dad to feel left out after having seen the photos from the walk I took with Mom the other day. So, we had a weekend bike ride back to the farm a few days later.

This time, we saw some wildlife too, but of the tamer variety.IMG_7677

Thanks for coming along! That will be the last of the fall foliage bicycle rides, I think. The leaves are mostly brown now. I’ll keep going out – until I’d need snow tires, anyway – but I doubt there will be much to photograph. I hope you’ve enjoyed our excursions through the autumn woods, and that you’ll come back and visit soon to see what other adventures are in store.

Yes, my dad and I are goofballs

Yes, my dad and I are happy explorers – and goofballs

Until then, here’s wishing you some glorious adventures of your own.

My faithful buddy prefers to stay home and explore the backyard

My faithful buddy prefers to stay home and explore the backyard

-Jennifer

A Saturday Morning Walk in the Woods

IMG_0077We’re going to take a little break from the bike today and use our feet instead. On the first Saturday in November, I decided to take my mom – another veteran expat and fearless adventuress – on a walk to see some of the places in the woods that I’d been telling her about for so long. We got up early and slipped out while Dad and our faithful pooch were still sawing logs (dear foreign friends, that is one of the strangest English idioms, I know, but it means they were sleeping very soundly).

We ventured down into the forest, hoping for some perfect leaves for pressing, some fine morning sunlight for pictures, and perhaps even some encounters with the local wildlife. We managed to get all three.

IMG_7471

A garland of oak leaves

The stream is gilded in the early morning light

The stream is gilded in the early morning light

Mom tries out my favorite bench

Mom tries out my favorite bench

When we reach our halfway mark, we stop to rest at one of my favorite spots.

Remember the deer from my first post about the golden woods? I’d been telling Mom about them, and we were lucky enough to encounter them again. This time the doe was standing on the side of the trail, keeping watch while her young ones (too big to be fawns, too small to be full-grown) browsed the bushes down by the stream.

Our friend comes out to visit us again

Our friend comes out to visit us again

She ignores us pointedly, hoping we'll go away, but we're forest tourists, so we stay awhile anyway and snap photos

She ignores us pointedly, hoping we’ll go away, but we’re forest tourists, so we stay awhile anyway and snap photos

When she thinks we're gone, she decides to cross the trail and see what the neighbors have growing in their back yard. Oh deer, you're going to get yourself in trouble this time.

When she thinks we’re gone, she decides to cross the trail and see what the neighbors have growing in their back yard. Oh deer, you’re going to get yourself in trouble this time.

Since we’re well-mannered forest tourists, we’ve got our cell phones switched to silent, but we figure Dad and pooch are probably up and wondering where we are by now, so we decide to head for home. We haven’t even gotten to the front door yet but we can already smell the breakfast cooking.

My dad makes a mean waffle

My dad makes a mean waffle

My dad is a master of all things brunch, and it’s just what we need after a walk in the cold November forest not long past dawn.

There was also bacon. Need I say more?

There was also bacon.
Need I say more?

Thanks for coming along! I wish I could send you along some those waffles and bacon, but I’ll have to settle for wishing you a great brunch, sometime this weekend. See you next time!

– Jennifer

Formerly expat gals are intrepid

Formerly expat gals
are always intrepid