Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Glove Love

It always amazes me that squirrels in the yard let me get so close. Country squirrels are so skittish, but these city squirrels are little 'street toughs' and not afraid of a pesky human. This little fellow nosed around beneath my bird feeders...

...had a nibble...

...and then fixed me with a look that said, "I know you're here, and I don't care. I'm tough." At least, that's what I think it said. It also might fall into that 'blank stare' category.

I've seen some other really cool things in the garden lately. I was really interested in this little insect that looked like it was trailing toy stuffing from its bottom. It's a young Acanalonia bivittata, or in other words, a leafhopper nymph. These young leafhoppers brush their 'tails' forward to cover their bodies when they feel threatened. It helps to protect them until they get a little older and are better able to escape an enemy.

This one has just dropped his tail!

Another curiosity: this carpenter bee, which appears to have just had a major pollen binge and passed out in this false dragonhead blossom.

I was happy to see this American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) on one of my bushes. I haven't seen many butterflies at all this summer. It's time for the tiger swallowtail caterpillars to be out and about, but I've only seen one tiny caterpillar.

When she opened up her wings, I could see that she didn't have much time left. Most butterflies only live three or four weeks, and when they develop these tattered wing tips, you know they're at the latter end of that time span.

She's still a beauty!

Here's an interesting creature! I saw these two mating insects - were they wasps? Hornets? Some type of bee?

I took note of his coloring and markings and later determined that he was an eastern cicada killer. They burrow into the ground and search out nesting cicadas before stinging them and laying their eggs within their bodies. I've been seeing these everywhere lately. Last week I was walking in the park with Todd and saw a cicada killer straddling a downed cicada on the sidewalk. The cicada killer stung the cicada repeatedly and then released a stream of venom into the air, like a nurse who pushes the air and extra medicine out of a syringe before administering an injection. Then the cicada killer grasped the cicada, who easily outweighed it, and carried it off to his den.

In more mundane news, my marigolds are finally blooming.

My cosmos, who've looked like this all summer:

..have started to look like this:

They're going to seed rapidly. Every other day, I have to deadhead the spent blossoms faithfully in order to get nice blooms through the fall.

In other news, I've indulged my rubber stamp addiction with a few more purchases from Nora Jane's etsy shop. I love her stamps, because they look so old-fashioned, and are reasonably priced.

I especially love the animals.

The stamps make beautiful, clear imprints on paper.

I love them!

Recently, I tried something new. I used a design that has a lot of white space...

...and used colored pencils to brighten it up a little. I like the result and am going to try watercolors next!

I finished my gloves and I'm really pleased with them. I like their stretchy, knobby look.

I knit up a matching hat with just a bit of yarn. I had just enough in one skein of the Misti Alpaca to make both hat and gloves. You can't beat that!

I'm looking forward to getting to wear them this winter!

I made a cake for a visiting friend a week or so ago. It's Dorie Greenspan's Perfect Party Cake. It didn't turn out quite like I'd hoped, but I was able to improvise.

First, the batter was supposed to make two 9" cakes that could be split in two to make four layers. But my layers were flat...really flat.

There's no way that those layers could safely be split. I had to make another batch (four cake rounds total) in order for the design to work.

I also made homemade buttercream frosting (3 sticks of butter!!) for the first time...heating the sugar and egg whites in a double broiler, whisking until cooked, then beating mercilessly with my KitchenAid until it resembled slick marshmallow cream. I had no trouble the night I made it, but when I took it out of the refrigerator to ice my cake, it looked like this:

I tried heating it up and whipping it again, but it was a complete loss. That's all right...I felt a little odd about eating so much butter, anyway. I made a basic cream cheese frosting instead.

So you stack your layers, with frosting and lemon curd (or jam) in between each layer...

...then ice the rest of the cake and press coconut into the frosting.

It was a lot of work, since I made the lemon curd from scratch and had to make 2 batches of cake and an extra batch of frosting. The cake is a basic white cake, so you can use a mix, your favorite recipe, or Dorie's recipe.

Dorie's Perfect Party Cake
Makes 2 9" cakes

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp lemon or vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Mix together your flour, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, whisk your egg whites and milk together. In another bowl, add your sugar and lemon zest. Mix together, pushing down on the zest, until the sugar is moistened. Add the butter and mix well. Add in the extract.

To this mixture, beat in half of the flour mixture and half of the egg mixture. Repeat and beat until well-combined.

Bake in greased and floured cake pans for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Assemble as described above.

For all the time it took, this really was one of the best cakes I've ever had. Cake + lemon curd + cream cheese frosting + coconut = sugar nirvana.

If you've got a special occasion coming up, I hope you'll give it a try!

Have a great week!

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