Tuesday, May 3, 2011


I'm anxiously awaiting the blooming of one of my very favorite flowers: the peony.

I'm anxious, but not nearly as anxious as this guy.

Ants and peonies have a lovely symbiotic relationship. The peonies produce a sweet nectar that ants love, and the ant traffic helps the buds to loosen and open easily. Win-win!

My patience was rewarded this week in another part of the garden. I know I've raved and raved about columbines in the past, and it's true that I just can't say enough about how wonderful they are. They have dense, well-shaped foliage that hugs the ground, with tall stalks rising above in late spring, topped with the nodding, colorful flowers. They love the shade and they take no work at all. They re-seed with ease. In short: Columbines. Garden. Must!

Two weeks ago, my columbines put up stalks.

First came the buds...

...and then the buds grew and expanded as the flower prepared to unfurl.

This flower waits patiently for just the right conditions. It's nearly ready...

Then we had a few warm days and they popped! This particular variety is Aquilegia brevistyla.

The flowers are sometimes white, sometimes pink, and sometimes purple. Beautiful.

I never get tired of seeing these graceful beauties. I'm going to collect bags of seeds this summer, so that we can enjoy them at our next house.

From magnificent buds to mag-"nymph"-icent bugs...the mantis nymphs hatched this week! Every morning for the past 2 months, I've given the ootheca a quick once-over as I walked by. Every morning, it's been exactly the same. But Sunday, as we were dashing through the rain, late for church, I saw a change. The ootheca had a dangling trail of what looked like clumped-up sawdust - that's where the mantis nymphs burrowed out. I can't help but think that it looks like the confetti and streamers that droop from a party favor after it's popped...and the mantises were likely in a celebratory mood!

There seemed to be thousands of them. They clung to the lilac branches...

...and clambered from leaf to leaf. It looked like a busy miniature city.

They're quite small...less than an inch long...but already, they have that distinctive mantis profile (shudder).

Already, too, they're watching me with one eye as I circle around with my camera.

I think the rain inhibited their movements a bit. Many of them were perfectly still on top of leaves...

...or underneath them.

They remind me of teeny, tiny shrimp. Our temperatures have dipped into the 30s again, since the hatching, and I found several black, withered carcasses. However, several have survived and are continuing to monitor the yard from their lilac bush vantage point.

I convinced Todd to bring the empty ootheca inside and cut it open.

Inside, you can see the papery layers that held the developing nymphs. I can't imagine how they all smashed into this small space, after seeing the swarm that came from it!

These busy days have left little time for knitting, but there's always time to squeeze in some baking. A friend was having a rough week recently and I decided to make her a dessert. I couldn't leave Todd empty-handed, though, so I made two miniature desserts for us to have later!

I got this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which I love. It was my first foray into brown butter!

Cherry Brown Butter Pie
From Smitten Kitchen
Makes 8 servings

7 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup + 1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, diced
1 12 ounce can sweet cherries, drained

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To make the crust, mix butter, sugar, and vanilla together, and then add the flour and the salt. Mix well. Transfer mixture to greased pie pan and press firmly until the dough is spread evenly. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool.

Place cherries evenly on browned crust.

Now comes the fun part! I had a lot of anxiety about making brown butter. I'd read about how great brown butter is...about how it has a rich, nutty quality that enhances the flavor of your dish. Everything from asparagus to chocolate chip cookies is now being made with it. Could I do it?

First, slice your butter into a skillet. It's best not to use a teflon-treated one, because it's hard to see your butter turn brown against a black surface. Melt and cook over medium high heat, whisking continually. First you'll see a lot of foaming, but in just a minute or two the foam will cook away and the milk solids in your butter will start to brown. As soon as you see brown flecks, remove from heat and continue to whisk. You'll smell the nutty aroma, and your butter should be the color of apple juice. This takes around 5 minutes.

Make your filling by whisking together the sugar, eggs, and salt. Add the flour and vanilla and combine. When your brown butter has cooled a bit, whisk it in to the mixture. Pour over your cherries.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, until golden brown.

This was amazing! I could taste the nutty brown butter in every bite. I'm resisting the urge to add brown butter to my mashed potatoes today...it's that good.

I hope you give it a try.

Have a great week!

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