Monday, May 22, 2017

Strawberry jams and goslings "hams"

90 degree + heat and humidity notwithstanding, we've been spending a little time down by the water.

Todd has been working on cutting up the tree that fell a few weeks ago.

Thankfully a local resident is cutting up/taking most of it!  Down by the pond, I have to make loud, sliding steps, because the ground is covered by teeny tiny southern toads, no bigger than my thumb nail.

I've seen "the goz" down there several times, too.  Oh, they're getting so big!

Borga hangs out on her chain...

...or staring with adoration at "Daddy" when he takes a break from work.

I saw a single magnolia in bloom here last week...

...but we have lots of gardenias blooming now.  Especially in this heat, the fragrance is intense!

A friend gave me 3 pounds of fresh strawberries recently.  Aren't they gorgeous?

I made sorbet with 1 pound, but decided to make jam with the other 2 pounds.  All the recipes I found, though, called for FOUR CUPS of sugar per 2 pounds (or 4 cups) of strawberries.  Although I understood that sugar affected not only the taste, but the texture as well, I only added 1 1/2 cups.  I threw in some lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and 2 TB unflavored gelatin to help with the structure. Thirty minutes later - perfectly sweet, perfectly "jellied" jam!

I also (re)discovered the wonders of coconut milk ice cream.  Todd doesn't eat dairy, so when I read you could throw chilled coconut milk, raw honey, salt, and vanilla into your ice cream machine and get actual ice cream, I was thrilled.  I pulverized some chocolate chips to throw in at the end and got the most amazing chocolate coconut ice cream ever.

It is just as caloric as dairy ice cream, but much healthier.  And supposedly your body metabolizes the coconut fat in a different way than animal fat, so win-win!

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can freeze the mixture in ice cube trays and toss the frozen cubes into your blender for a similar effect.  The recipe is here if you want to give it a try.

Have a great week!

Monday, May 15, 2017

(G)Oz Fest

It's been quite a week for our feathered friends.  Finally, birds have found our clear trough feeder!  I love to watch them.  So far we've had house finches, cardinals, sparrows, and titmouses (titmice, apparently, is frowned upon in the avian community).

Not to be outdone, squirrels have finally cracked the code, too.  First, a cautious look from a safe distance.

Then, the eyeball.

Finally, the leap of glory and ultimate reward for daring.

But alas, the stinkeye, given after he'd been rousted from the feeder.

In other "feather" news, I found these cool red-tipped ones outside while working in the yard last week.

Aren't they pretty?  They're secondary feathers from a cedar waxwing.  It's not known exactly what they're for, but apparently they're likely used by males to attract females.  They're the most beautiful birds and I'm so glad to find evidence of them around the yard!

Finally, second-generation "goz" have just entered the picture!

Sadly, the parents have nested at the far end of the pond, so I've only seen them once - with the wrong camera lens on hand.  Still, we hear the geese calling daily and I'm hoping that they'll start making the trip down to our end of the pond soon!

I almost walked past this mating pair of anoles on our porch this week.  So much of their activity takes place in the shadows, so this was an amazing treat.

There's always a bit of tension when it comes to nature photography.  I want to get the close shot, but I don't want to disturb my subject.  I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but once the female started dragging the male away, I had to back off and forfeit the great close-up.

Later, I found a sole anole in one of my ferns.

I love their tiny scales, beautiful coloring, and strangely intelligent eyes, but I know that when I get close, they get anxious.  I can see their sides expand and shrink like tiny bellows, and I try to get a shot quickly, sometimes sacrificing a really great and crisp shot, so that their stress is minimal.

Another example is our turtles.  There are a seemingly endless number of them, sunning on fallen trees.  I love to photograph them...

...but when I get close (and not really even that close), they do perfectly synchronized dives into the water.

I am constantly refining my technique, but ultimately my goal is to get a great shot, but not at the expense of my subjects' safety or comfort.  Hopefully I'll get better with time!

Our last little bit of wildlife from this week:  Todd called me from the driveway yesterday, muttering something about "hounds from Hades."  I went outside and found this little fellow:

It's just a black rat snake, totally harmless.  This one was about four feet long ("Six! Eight!" Todd insists), and moving slowly into the woods when he was spotted.

I love their skin.

Real beauties, and great to have around.

Looking forward to many more months of wildlife around here, now that we've got hot weather (low 90s all week, ugh) and the sun is officially OUT for months.

Have a great week!

Monday, May 8, 2017

A confetti storm, plus a real one

We had another one of those crazy, 5-minute micro storms last week.  Another storm, another 100-foot tree down!

Thankfully, Todd is pretty handy with a chain saw.

We carved out a little time to go hiking this weekend.  We love to hike, but hate humidity. Thankfully, we've had a little cool snap here, so we were able to stretch our legs in comfort.  I'm annoying to hike with because I'm always stopping to examine things on the trail.  I can't help it...there are so many wonderful things to see!

The beautiful loose lace of this insect-eaten leaf.

The repeating curves and points of this lovely brown pine cone.

The unusual tips and colors of this young leaf.

The steady unfurl of this fern frond.

Can't you imagine this to be the setting for a tiny village?

The chaos of an old spider web, like some sort of woodland constellation.

A mushroom, pushing up through the leaves.

The splintering of some shaggy-bark tree.

The iridescence of this tiny fly's wings, sitting in a small patch of sunlight:

The unusual twist and hook of an old piece of grape vine:

The steady progress of this tropical buckeye caterpillar:

Check out those spines!

And we can't forget the beauty of woodland flowers:

It's so pleasurable to be catch a little glimpse of this hidden world!

In other news, I've definitely been in a sprinkles mood lately.

I made Smitten Kitchen's Confetti Cookies this week.  The addition of cream cheese to a standard sugar cookie dough gives a real richness and softness to the resulting cookie, and rolling the dough balls in sprinkles before baking adds a very satisfying crunch.  These cookies don't need a bit of frosting!  And they're so cheerful.  I highly recommend them.

Have a great week!