Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Walk in the Park

As much as I like spending time in my yard, crouched in the bushes with camera in hand, I decided to expand my horizons this week. My knee still has a limited range of motion and needs to be forced out of its current comfort zone, so I decided to limp over to the local city park to stretch my legs...literally.

I like to walk in the early morning hours, before thumping stereos and noisy families mar the tranquility. Early morning means less humidity and more opportunities to see things that might not be visible later in the day.

This fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) was busily nibbling a walnut when I approached. Fox squirrels can weigh as much as three pounds and are much more brazen than their grey counterparts. This little fellow scolded me loudly for my interruption.

Why was this carpenter bee (Xylocopa) hiding beneath this zinnia instead of gathering pollen from above? He was just having a quick rest. Bees have been known to nap multiple times a day for up to twenty minutes at a time!

Coneflowers (Echinacea) are the real workhorses of the garden. They're perennials that require little care and thrive in the Midwest's relentless summer heat. Bees and butterflies love them, and they're so beautiful. I was charmed to read that the word Echinacea comes from the Greek word for hedgehog. It's easy to see the connection when you look at this flower's bristly center.

Coneflowers provide a perfect backdrop for this patch of Liatris, another workhorse that brings bees and butterflies in droves. If you look closely, you can see a carpenter bee visiting a liatris stalk on the right side of the photo.

When I first saw a mulberry tree, I was amazed. The fruit looked just like blackberries, but was growing on a tree! Mulberries are edible, but they don't have the acidity of other fruits so need a little lemon juice to enhance their flavor.

I have Endless Summer hydrangeas in my yard, but I've always had a soft spot for oak leaf hydrangeas. They are not for the organized gardener, as the branches sprawl untidily in all directions, but they have a special beauty that makes up for this indiscretion. The flowers are delicately veined and come in pale green, cream, and pale pink. I never get tired of looking at them.

There's a beehive at the park, and I love watching the bees at work. I'm biding my time until I can become a beekeeper myself. Bees are endlessly fascinating. At first glance they seem a busy tangle of wings and stingers, but watch! They communicate with each other by performing intricate dances. Incredibly fastidious, they remove dead bees from their hives to maintain cleanliness, dropping them neatly on the ground below. They use their wings to regulate the temperature within the hive. They are remarkable creatures!

The highlight of my day was capturing a shot of this strange-looking creature.

At first glance, I thought it was some kind of spider. But after counting three sets of legs, I knew it was an insect of some kind.

It's an assassin bug (Heteroptera). As you could guess from the name, they are very aggressive insects that lie in wait for prey and then use a long tube called a rostrum to impale their hapless victims. They can inflict a very painful bite to humans, but are good to have in the garden for pest control. They generally don't bother people unless provoked.

All in all, a very pleasant and productive way to get my physical therapy hours in!

Some frustration on the knitting front. I worked feverishly to finish my final knee sock, shaping the long gusset and finally binding off the softly rounded toe. When I held it up to the first sock, though, I discovered that it was a good two inches shorter in length!

I'm mystified, since I followed a numbered pattern. Aggressive blocking gave me another inch, but the difference was still very noticeable. After a panicked Ravelry consultation, I made the decision to snip off the foot of the too-short sock, put the live stitches on holders, frog back and then re-knit the leg, and finally, graft the new leg onto the disembodied foot. I'm steeling myself for this procedure and hope I have the courage to "make the incision" next week.

Incidentally, do you know why knitters refer to the ripping-back of knitted fabric as "frogging"? It's because you have to take your work in hand, look at your mistake, and then rip it back. Ribbit, ribbit, just like the frog says. It's nice to have a charming term for this, because it can be very unpleasant to frog days or weeks worth of work in this manner.

I've been fairly inactive in the kitchen. I did make two rustic sourdough loaves that rose beautifully and produced a wonderful 'crumb' when baked.

This makes a fabulous sandwich bread. Yesterday I grilled two chicken breasts and diced the meat. I mixed it with chopped onions and a homemade spicy chipotle barbecue sauce, heaped it onto slices of my freshly-baked bread, and topped it with organic lettuce from the garden. A nice treat for my husband!

I have another treat for him today. He has been working on his dissertation from home most days, but commutes to work once a week for meetings. Today was another lengthy commute, followed by meeting after meeting. I decided to make him a tasty little morsel for dessert tonight.

I made an old-fashioned skillet cake. Pears, apples, almonds, and spices are sauteed in butter and enveloped in a sweet batter, then baked until the batter puffs golden brown. This is similar to a dutch apple pancake. The real secret to this recipe is nutmeg, and lots of it. The kitchen smelled so good while this was baking!

This recipe is adapted from The Ultimate Cooking Course.

Apple and Pear Skillet Cake
Serves 6

1 apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 pear, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, toss the apple slices, pear slices, and almonds with the cinnamon and nutmeg. Melt the butter in a skillet and then add the fruit mixture. Cook until lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. While that's cooking, beat together the eggs, flour, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Pour batter over the fruit and transfer skillet to oven. Bake about 30 minutes.

You don't need a fancy cast iron skillet to make this...I used a regular pie pan.

I hope you enjoy it...I know my husband will!


  1. I have to say I LOVE your blog~! You take fantastic Photos by the way. And this Apple Pear Cake looks so yummy~! I will be checking in on your blog for sure ~! BTW my name is Vanessa I am on Ravelry lol.

  2. I love those socks - and I had the same sort of experience when I made some booties for my daughter's stuffed bear - of course this was years ago but I still remember it well. And I always knew I had a little frog in me ;)