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The Land of Milk and Honey

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This is the ninth installment of Sunday Dinners, a biweekly column from our own Tom Hirschfeld featuring his gorgeous photography, stunning Indiana farm, and mouthwatering family meals.

Today: Tom gets into a tight spot with some bees -- but makes the most of his situation with a honey granola tart.

"Crazy-drive, Dad, crazy-drive," both girls yell in unison from the back seat of the car.

So in the soft yellow light of a warm spring morning, I do. I weave the car back and forth, fishtailing and tossing gravel from the drive into the tall prairie grass all the way up to the bus stop. If it wasn't so fun, it would be an offense to the quiet of first light.

In the back seat they crash and fall into each other, laughing.

It has become a ritual of the long gravel drive. There is not a time when we set out to go somewhere but that Vivian or Lynnie yells this out as we leave. We do it to get to the bus stop, to go check the mailbox, or on our way to the grocery.

I don't always oblige. I like the element of surprise, and sometimes I answer their calls of wild abandon with excuses about how "the car can't take it" or "we have groceries in the back."

The routine is that Vivian goes to the bus stop, after which (and only on Tuesdays and Thursdays), Lynnie is dropped off at preschool. On preschool days, after Vivian gets out of the car and onto the bus, it has also become habit for Lynnie to tell me she has to go to the bathroom. She wants an extra bit of crazy driving all to herself. Inevitably, we head back up the drive on a bathroom run.

It is on one of these bathroom trips that I see the black ball.

Plain as the day is long, there on the same apple tree as two years ago sits a swarm of bees.

"Not today," is what I think to myself. I have too much other work to do. But then I know without a doubt that this swarm of honey bees is the royal party to my best queen, ever. I can't let her be whisked off to some tree in a woods far, far away.

Bees, for those who don't know, swarm in the spring. Usually around Mother's Day. A swarm is how a hive propagates -- to me it is a sign of hive health but to others it is a catastrophe.

When a hive becomes overpopulated, the worker bees will take a couple of cells and convert them into queens. The new queen stays behind and the old queen leaves to find a new home. More often than not, she takes about a third of the colony with her for the trip.

The big worry is that neither hive will grow fast enough in time to survive through the winter. Beekeepers don't like it because the hive will be too small to produce excess honey for the keeper to harvest. Many beekeepers try to manage swarm behavior, which needs to be done well in advance; if the bees make a decision to swarm it is too late to do anything.

Still, with the exception of getting Lynn to school, everything else is going to have to wait.

I have nothing ready. I am totally disorganized, but not so much that I can't pull something together in order to make the bees comfortable. A couple extra frames of honey, some frames with drawn out honey comb for the queen's new eggs, and some frames that are empty to give the workers something to build upon.

This should be a simple operation. At the orchard, I pull a wagon up close next to the apple tree then take the lid off. I gently bend the pliable young branch loaded with the bees down a little in order to get everything into position. Adjusting the wagon, I pull the branch down further this time. When it is close to the empty hive body, I give the branch a short jerk and the entire ball of bees falls into it.

Well, that is what should have happened. Instead, I missed the target. The sound of the swarming bees is as loud as the spinning prop on a biplane.

The only bee I care about getting into the hive is the queen. I have no idea if she is in there but I will know in the next half hour: because she is emitting pheromones like crazy, worker bees will cluster around her immediately.

It turns out that I missed.

The queen is now under the wagon. The huge cluster of bees is there too, hanging from the axle.

After two more attempts, I still have not got the queen into the hive. I decide three is either a charm for me or else the bees' lucky day -- I'd rather let the queen go then accidentally kill her. I place the hive on the ground, lift the front wheels of the wagon over, and then brush all the bees into the hive using a paintbrush. This time, I get the queen.

As I pick up the hive to put it back in the wagon, I am just getting ready to pat myself on the back when I feel the beekeeper's nightmare.

There is a bee crawling up my leg on the inside of my pants. My options are few and all I hear in my head is, "Crazy-drive, Dad, crazy-drive!"

Honey Granola Tart

Makes 8 slices

For the crust:
1 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup oat flour
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon

For the tart:
1/4 cup pecans
1/4 cup sliced almonds
3 tablespoons sprouted quinoa
3 tablespoons hulled buckwheat groats
1/4 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
1 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup ricotta
1/2 cup honey, plus 2 tablespoons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon teaspoon salt

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Honey