Monday, October 24, 2011

Lurky Turkey (Vulture)

First came the rain...

...and then came the frost.

The temperature dropped so quickly that the dew literally froze on the grass blades.

Just one crispy, chilly day of frost, with a promise of many more to come.

This time of year, Todd always gets the call from my mother: her gutters need to be cleaned out.

I like going down to my mother's, because her new house stands on the site of the house where I grew up, in the country. She's adopted lots of cats, who always come running when company comes.

Most are pretty skittish, almost half-wild cats who spend most of their time outdoors, but she has a few spoiled indoor cats who drowse indifferently when you bend to pet them.

They know they're going to be fed soon!

My mother has an incredible green thumb that I can only hope to develop with time. The front of her house is a showcase for her hanging plants. She has the traditional ones, but also some unusual jade plants. Some are twisted...

...some look like peas on strings...

...and some are jagged and stick-like.

But what I'm really envious of is her flowers. While my marigolds turned brown, my zinnias flopped over, and my indoor house plants always on death's door, her flowers have thrived. Even after a frost!

She has mums of all colors.

Her Christmas cacti are budding out, right on schedule.

Unbelievably, she has huge mounds of columbines flourishing in the back yard...mine have been dead since mid-May.

Roses twine and bloom everywhere.

Her ruffled petunias are still opening faithfully. Mine? Dead since June. I can't seem to deadhead quickly enough to keep them blooming.

Masses of sweet of my favorites...bloom sturdily in pots.

The whole back of the house, and the garage, have a long, lush border of impatiens.

Really, it's not fair! I guess I'll have to try harder next year.

As we were driving down the road after finishing, we saw something that we never see in the city...a turkey vulture.

These scavengers can weigh up to five pounds. Interestingly, they don't sing like most birds. Instead, they make a low, unearthly hissing noise that reminds me of a propane torch. A good recording is found here: Turkey vulture sounds

I hope we can go bird watching in that area soon!

With the weather changing, I wanted to knit a cover for my hot water bottle. I'm a bit of an addict. To me, there's nothing cozier than heating up the hot water bottle and putting it in my lap, under a blanket, when I'm snuggling on the couch, or at the foot of the bed at nighttime. It creates a heat that's penetrating and long-lasting. The rubber is too hot to place against skin, though, so a cover is needed.

It was quite a journey. First, I selected a pattern that required you to knit two halves of the cover and then sew them together at the end. I avoid sewing when I can, so I decided to try Judy's Magic Cast-On. By weaving the yarn around two needles, you create a cohesive twist that you can knit up from. I've never tried to cast on 60+ stitches this way, though, and in the end, it fell apart.

I moved on to a crochet provisional cast-on. They're use a crochet hook to "knit" a chain of stitches with waste yarn...

...and then, using your main color,you knit into the waste yarn stitches and continue with your project from there. At the end, you remove the waste yarn, put the live stitches on needles, and graft them together to seamlessly close the space.

I then knit the entire cover in Misti Alpaca baby alpaca. It's wonderfully soft and the colors are so vibrant.

The pattern utilized bobbles to form a "berry tree" on the front of the cover.

It was perfect, and soft, and beautiful...but I ended up frogging the project. I had selected the wrong yarn. As beautiful as the alpaca was, it didn't have any 'give' and didn't cling to the hot water bottle. Instead, it hung like a sack, and a bit too loosely.

I knit another cozy with a simple cable pattern - in wool.

It was knit top-down, and the bottom was closed up tidily with a 3-needle bind off.

I made an i-cord string for the neck.

A long journey, but some good lessons learned!

It was another long journey that brought me to a recipe staple that I now make twice a week. I traditionally have disliked scones. They're too dry and crumbly, and I've never been fond of the taste. However, I thought a scone with a redeeming ingredient, like pumpkin, might be tasty. I tried several recipes before combining two of my favorite and coming up with a recipe that I am very pleased with. It's tender, moist, and not too sweet. It's almost like a pumpkin cake, but without all the eggs and oil that moisten most pumpkin recipes.

Spicy Pumpkin Scones
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
Makes 8 - 12 scones

1 1/2 cups white flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
7 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cardamon (optional)
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk

2 ounces cream cheese
1/4 - 1/2 cup powdered sugar
pumpkin pie spice (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon milk

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Mix together dry ingredients.

With all these spices, it has to be good!

Once combined, cut butter into mixture until pieces are pea-sized. In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients and fold into the flour/butter bowl. The key is to barely handle the dough. If you over-mix, the scones will be tough. I use my hands to mix it just until it holds together. There will still be a lot of flour showing. That's all right!

Dump your dough onto your baking stone or cookie sheet and carefully pat it into a circle. Your dough should be about an inch thick. Use a pizza cutter to lightly score the dough into triangle shapes.

Bake for 15 minutes. Mix up your frosting and thinly spread it over the top.

Truly, this has become my favorite pumpkin recipe. It's so quick to throw together and the taste is just amazing. One batch lasts a little over a day in this house...if I'm lucky!

I hope you'll give it a try. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Fall Ball

Despite the cool temperatures, my tomatoes are continuing to ripen. Twenty-five tomato plants can produce a lot of tomatoes.

I've been making soup, soup, soup, especially my favorite: homemade chicken noodle soup with wheat garlic breadsticks.

And, happily, I've started putting up my fall decor. I set up a pretty display of branches on my window seat in the living room. Unfortunately, the bright light makes it difficult to photograph!

I put the ends of the branches in a mason jar weighed down with rocks, and put the whole thing in a little wooden candle holder that I may have gotten at IKEA years ago.

Moss is my favorite, and I love to scatter it around. I've got a sheet of it under the candle holder, and have put a few pumpkins and gourds around it.

Out come the plaids!

It will take me weeks until I'm finally satisfied, but until then I'll keep dragging in tree branches, leaves, and seeds!

I recently had a little get-together for my mother's birthday. I set up a fall-themed display on our table, with chrysanthemums...

...pumpkins and gourds...

...these fir tree seeds that look like miniature pine cones...

...and some fall flowers from my garden.

Using some of my scrapbooking supplies, I cut out squirrel shapes and made place cards for each setting.

I tied up some pretty leaves and placed the name tag on top.

I think it made for a very pretty table!

My mother always requests carrot cake. I tried out a unique recipe for her a few months ago and she said it was the best carrot cake she'd ever had. I didn't like it as much, but she sent the recipe to some relatives in California and they raved about it, too. I made some minor modifications when I made it this time and was more satisfied with the result.

Taking the idea from my sister- and brother-in-law's wedding, I peeled some carrot strips for the top. I like the way it turned out!

Zingy Ginger Carrot Cake
Adapted from Sweetapolita
Makes one layer cake

5 cups of grated carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2/3 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9 inch cake pans and set aside. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices together in a bowl and set aside. Cream your butter and then beat in sugar. Beat for at least 3 minutes, until creamy. Beat in eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Don't worry about its curdled appearance! Fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk. Repeat additions, ending with flour. Stir in carrots and crystallized ginger. Do not overmix!

Divide batter evenly between your two cake pans and tap them lightly to ensure that you don't have any air holes. Bake for 30 - 35 minutes, until centers are set. Cool and then ice with your favorite cream cheese icing.

This cake did not last too long around our house!

I finishes a knitting project for a special friend recently. I wanted to make something light and pretty, so I matched up two complementary purple wools that I had in my yarn stash. The dark purple that makes up the body of the shawl came from Germany, and the lacy edge is Malabrigo Lace in Pearl Ten.

I really like how it turned out. I still don't know how to wear over-the-shoulder shawls, but this is the perfect size to wrap around your neck a few times to keep out the wind.

The pattern is Cladonia by Kirsten Kapur, but I modified it a bit. Instead of the large, loopy picot edge, I made it smaller and daintier. I like it so much that I think I might make another, even though the bind-off of 300+ stitches was pretty painful!

Have a great week!