Monday, May 23, 2011

Sleepy Cat and a Jester's Hat

Many of our spring flowers are going to seed. My columbines, which looked so graceful and healthy last week, are beginning to shed their petals and leave limp, naked stamens drooping in the breeze. The weather has been a real factor in this development. We've had torrential downpours in the last week and several plants have gone under a bit prematurely.

I do like their next stage of development in the seed-forming process. They form little hats that look increasingly... court-jester hats. Minus the jingling bells, of course!

The lovely purple flowers on our sage plants are fast disappearing. Deep in their throats you find tiny, egg-like clusters that will swell and darken before dropping to the ground in hopes of finding a good place to germinate.

My violas are going to seed almost faster than I can deadhead them. I love the seeds, which look like small, creamy pearls.

Pull down a section of the seed pod and you'll see them neatly in a row, like the world's smallest pea pod.

As the spring flowers fade, the summer flowers gather force. This tight green hydrangea cluster will, in a few week's time, be lush, pink flowers.

Three or four months ago, after several nice blooms, I put my amaryllis plant in the basement. Plants like the amaryllis need a 6 - 8 week "dormant period" in a cool, dark place in order to bloom again. I meant to bring it up months ago, but forgot about it. What a surprise to find this ghostly, anemic shoot coming out of the dessicated bulb! I promptly brought it upstairs and repotted it. New life!

Last but certainly not least, the peonies are finally about to pop. Some are just barely unfurling...

...but others are just waiting for a good hot day to really open up. Lush, extravagant, decadent...I am mad about peonies and have had a hard time waiting this year for them to bloom!

Earlier this week, because the weather was so nice, I decided to sit out on the back steps. I haven't taken too many "wildlife" shots so far this year because I haven't really seen anything. But just a few minutes of sitting quietly, and things began to happen.

Directly in front of me, in the row of columbines along our back fence, I saw a small orb weaver spider making a meal of a gnat.

Taking a closer look, I realized that he'd strung tiny threads of web all around the plants. He snared this little gnat easily.

I saw a type of aphid, bustling down a flower stem, looking for the best place to plunge his long, narrow rostrum into the stalk to access the juices.

I was delighted to see a daring jumping spider peeking out from between two fence boards. These are probably my favorite spiders. Not only do they have a cool name, but several distinctive features, as well! They can see better than any other spider and have the ability to jump from ten to thirty times the length of their bodies. Daring jumping spiders also have iridescent green chelicerae, or mouth parts. You can see them faintly gleaming here.

Another tiny brown spider scurried by my shoe...

...and a leaf hopper dozed on a neighboring plant.

I was impressed by this mosquito that rested on a nearby lilac leaf. It had feathery antennae, which means that this mosquito is male. Male mosquitoes aren't blood suckers. They feed on nectar and plant juices. They use their antennae to attract females. If a female happens to be in the vicinity, to the right of the male mosquito, it will rapidly vibrate its right antennae. If on the left, the left antennae will vibrate. I was hoping to see a live performance, but no such luck.

While examining this mosquito, I heard a loud buzzing. I didn't see anything at first, but then noticed this small hole in a fence board by the back door. You guessed it - carpenter bees.

It wasn't too long before a bee approached the hole...

...and crawled right in. They dig straight back for a bit, and then make a sharp 90 degree turn and burrow to the side. This helps prevent predators from reaching their nest.

Male carpenter bees can't sting, but they are definitely curious of strangers around the nest. He buzzed by several times. So did a hummingbird!

All this activity, in a tiny 4 x 4 square of yard by the back steps! I love our 'wild' back yard. :)

Indoors, Todd has been working on his dissertation and recovering from a tumble on his bicycle...

...Bosewichte has been deciding where to nap...

...and Tabitha has already chosen her spot.

The 'cat' days of summer are almost here!

I've been knitting a bit on a small project, but have nothing to show this week. I haven't done very much cooking, either. Business has been brisk, plus I've had to plant and re-plant in the garden. I've been wanting to post this recipe for a while, though. It's not a light springtime dish, but don't let that stop you from making it. It is delicious!

Stuffed Focaccia with Sausage and Onions
Adapted from The Italian Dish
Serves 6 - 8

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon yeast
3/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon yeast
1 cup water
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sponge (see above)
3 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage
2 cups sliced onions
salt, pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped parsley or 1 - 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 cup grated cheese

Don't worry about the many steps here! It goes quickly and it's so worth it. First, you'll need to make your sponge. Just mix the yeast and warm water together and stir in the flour. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, humid place until it has doubled in size, which takes 45 - 60 minutes.

Next, you'll make your dough. To the risen sponge, add the yeast, water, and olive oil listed in the "dough" section of the ingredients. Give it a good mix, and then add 3 cups of flour and, using your dough hook, mix until incorporated. Slowly add the additional 1/4 cup of flour if needed. Your dough shouldn't be wet and sticky, but it shouldn't be dry, either. It should pull away from the sides of your mixture and be tacky but not sticky. Mix for about 5 minutes and then cover and place in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours.

When your dough is just finishing its rise, make your stuffing. Add olive oil to a large skillet and cook onions (salted and peppered) until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sausage and cook until done. Remove pan from heat and add parsley and cheese, mixing thoroughly.

Once your dough has risen, it needs a second rise. Punch it down and split into two even balls of dough. Grease a 9 inch springform pan and spread one dough ball into the bottom of it, making sure you've covered it evenly. Spread onion and sausage mixture on top and then cover with the second ball of dough, spread out into a disc. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. This is a good time to preheat your oven to 425 degrees!

After the rise, 'dimple' the top with your fingers and top with olive oil, salt, and parsley. Bake for about 3o minutes, until the top is golden.

It almost looks like a very large hamburger...

...but when you cut it open, oh my!

The bread is fabulous, the filling is fabulous, and you don't mind that it took a little while to put together. All it takes is a little planning. You could always assemble the focaccia and meat the night before and the refrigerate. The next day, let it sit out at room temperature for about an hour or so...this is the second rise...and then it will be ready for baking!

I hope you give it a's so good.

Have a great week!

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