By Elizabeth Speth
The bees should be here.
I know this because my rosemary plants are blooming in wild profusion, a dusky mass of purple only a few shades lighter than a ripe plum. They smell heavenly, and usually I cannot get near them because they are swarmed with bees, buzzing around, rifling through the tiny blossoms, swilling pollen, busy as — well, you know.
This, multiplied by one billion bees, is what the rosemary looked like last year on January 26:
This is what it looks like this morning, February 26, one year and one month later:
Naked and bee-less. I am very worried. The bees are missing the purple party, and I’m not sure what this means for the future of my vegetable and flower gardens, but I’ve got a pretty big uh-oh feeling about the whole thing.
I brought up the subject on my community’s Facebook page, looking to stir up some outrage over the situation, maybe galvanize a grass-roots ‘Bring Back the Bees’ campaign. Barring that, I hoped for reassurance. Maybe all the rain we’ve had has delayed things. Maybe last year’s drought is the culprit. Maybe my neighbors will see my post and fess up to crop dusting with bee-killing poisons during the night. Someone must know something. The answer is out there, and maybe it’s not scary.
“It’s too early for bees,” someone finally wrote.
“Too cold,” said someone else. I felt marginally better.
Then this popped up.
“I’ve got yer bees,” (I’m paraphrasing, but, trust me, the words seemed menacing.) “My plants and flowers are filthy with ’em.” Or something to that effect. So what was I doing wrong?
Maybe my rosemary flowers aren’t as attractive as everyone else’s. Maybe it’s because I wear unflattering clothing in the garden. Sometimes I think uncharitable thoughts when I am weeding and, I admit it, I swear and yell at the dog sometimes for digging. Once I thinned a whole row of carrots while slightly tipsy.
How do I clean up my act, become a Bee-Pleasing Zone? How do I call them home?
Maybe put up some ‘Free Pollen’ signs?
Think, Elizabeth, think. Calm down and ask yourself: if you were a bee, what would attract you?
Stop it. That’s not helpful. What would lure you in, if you just happened to be buzzing by, looking for a place to land and tickle flower petals with your delightful bee feet.
Well, the smell of something baking.
What? Now you’re being ridiculous.
No. I mean it. If the flowers alone aren’t enough to attract these darned hoity-toity, highfalutin bees, then what if we upped the ante, and baked them? I know! Put them in cookies!
No, wait. Bees are dealing with sweet stuff all day. Something savory. Bread. Bingo. Who can resist the waft of homemade bread?
And I love rosemary bread, with a nice crust of salt on top.
Just to make sure I don’t kill anyone, I did Google it, and according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, rosemary blooms are perfectly edible, not poisonous, but they do have a very strong flavor.
Now, because you have stuck with me so far through this laborious narrative, here is your reward. My favorite and easy-enough-to-use-every-day bread recipe.
Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread, Courtesy of Your Food Processor
3 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant or bread machine yeast
1 cup of water, or more as needed.
Bittman advocates throwing all of this together in your food processor, whirling it around for thirty seconds and calling it rising time. I’m not kidding. And it works.
But. I like to proof the yeast, or, as my daughter used to say, ‘poof’ it, which is not actually a bad description. I can’t bring myself to skip this step, this puffy, bubbling, frothing grand gesture. Maybe I just don’t have enough drama in my life. Well, I didn’t have enough drama in my life. Now, with the bees and all…
Still, I poof it, mixing the yeast with a little warm water, a tiny bit of honey in honor of all the missing honey-makers all over the world (honey gets yeast very excited), and I let it come to life before adding it to the other ingredients and whirling it around electronically.
The dough is very sticky and ragged. It doesn’t look bee-worthy at all at this stage, but just wait. Every great undertaking, every world-saving crusade, has an awkward phase.
It gets plopped into a bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a towel, and it doubles in size in an hour or so.
I go outside and harvest the rosemary and some flowers, and chop them up finely. I taste a flower, and they are indeed very strong. They are like, well, like a bee sting in your mouth. I decide to use them sparingly.
By this time, my dough has plastered its face against the window of my plastic wrap.
It’s time to knead the dough a second time, incorporating the rosemary and flowers. It rises quickly a second time while I pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
I sprinkle the top with sea salt.
And in it goes, until the loaf is brown and lovely and sounds hollow when tapped.
I let it cool and slice it. It smells heavenly. I open all the windows, so the bees can smell it.
I put out ‘Free Butter’ signs.
And I wait.