Monday, April 30, 2012

Container Crazy

I have a confession:  I have not been knitting.  I have not been baking or even cooking much.  A pile of library books is staring at me accusingly because I haven't given them proper attention.  I can't help it...every spare second I have, I'm studying gardening books and catalogs.   I'm visiting garden centers and plotting spaces in my 'someday' garden.  At night, I dream about flowers.  I'm completely obsessed.

How can I help it, though, when I get so much pleasure out of my garden?  I love digging in the dirt and finding creatures like this asiatic garden beetle (Maladera castanea):

Now, these are major pests and do a lot of damage to perennial plants...but I'm so happy to see insects after a long winter that I'm turning a blind eye.  I love seeing earthworms, too, and these funny little brown worms that remind me of tiny snakes: 

I also caught up with a daring jumping spider on our back steps.  They have the best vision of all spiders and are incredible jumpers (up to 50 times their length!!), so I hesitate to get too close.  This spider is a can tell because of his iridescent chelicerae  (a much nicer word than fangs!).

I have company, too, with the almost domesticated squirrels around here.

Of course, I have my intrepid dog...

...and my dignified cat... keep me company, too.

This week, it was time to put the first batch of seedlings into the ground.

I spread them out in the garden.  They always look so little and naked at this point, but they grow really quickly.

Even though I have planted thousands of seeds and am putting seedlings in the ground...even though my perennials are starting to come up...and even though we might be moving soon, I just can't help buying things at garden centers.  This week, I got a nice variety...some ranuculas, lavender, lemon thyme, creeping jenny...

...and a flat of vintage mix stocks, which I'm really excited about.

I also picked up some dahlias...



...and a maidenhair fern "Little Lady"...which I adore.

I potted everything up.  I've got plans for a really big container garden this year!

I also harvested some radishes from our garden, which was incredibly satisfying.

I started some more herbs and veggies from seed:

...and got those stocks in the ground!  It was so lovely to plant them, because they have what is referred to as a 'sweet, spicy' scent.  I planted them next to my purple blooming sage bush, which also smells amazing. 

They're small now, but they'll reach almost 2 feet high by mid-June!

My lilacs are done for, but my columbines are still blooming.

This is just one patch of them.  I've never had them bloom so long, or cluster so thickly!

Reluctantly, I've torn myself away from the garden from time to time to try some new recipes.  I made cream puffs recently.  I'm not a big pastry fan, but, well, Todd...

Basic Cream Puffs
Adapted from Joy the Baker

Cream Puff Ingredients:
1 cup water
5 1/3 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 to 5 large eggs

Whipped Cream:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache:
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Then, in a sauce pan, combine water, butter, sugar, and salt.  You're going to cook your dough!  It's referred to as pate a choux.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat and stir until butter is melted.  Lower the heat a bit and then add your flour.  Combine and continue stirring until the mixture becomes thick and forms a mass.  You're going to cook the dough for about five minutes, stirring constantly.  Moisture will evaporate, allowing the dough to absorb more fat when you add your eggs...yum!  When your dough smells nutty and is steamy, you're done.

Now, transfer the dough to your mixer and beat on medium speed for about a minute.  Add 4 of the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  The mixture should be thick, but pourable.  If not, beat in the fifth egg.

Ladle this mixture into a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the tip cut off.

Pipe the dough onto your greased cookie sheets.  The circles should be 1 1/2 inches across and almost an inch tall.

Bake for about 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350 degrees.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Watch them oven runs hot, so I only baked mine an additional 5 minutes after reducing the heat to 350 degrees. 

Make the whipped cream by beating the cream and the powdered sugar until combined and then adding the vanilla.

 For the ganache, heat the corn syrup and cream until simmering, and then pour over chocolate.  Stir until melted. 

Take your baked cream puffs...

...cut them in half, and layer them with strawberries and whipped cream.  Top with ganache.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

spring is growing on me!

It's almost harvest time!  About 5 weeks ago, our container gardens looked like this:

We're keeping it simple this year, because we might be moving.  So, I just bought a few seed packets:

And contributed some of my own, like these red bell pepper seeds, saved from the veggie itself:

My sister-in-law bought me these lovely garden tools for Christmas.

They're based on a William Morris design.


I love working with them in the garden.  It's made great progress and now the radishes and the lettuce are nearly ready for consumption!

I've got a little company in the garden now.  While Tabitha is content to lounge around the house all day in any spot...

...Bosewichte is only truly happy when rolling in the sun.

I haven't wanted to bring him outside because the yard isn't completely fenced in...but he finally wore me down.  I had to commit to keeping an eye on him.  He rolls in the flowers...

...peers through the plants...

...observes the world from beneath the lilac bushes...

 ...and stalks prey (i.e. shadows) mercilessly.

It's only after an hour or two outside that he's ready to come back inside and take a nap to recover from his strenuous morning...preferably in Todd's office!

 Our irises are coming up.  They're so beautiful!  First we had the stalk.

Then, the buds pushed through the crackly covering.

At last!

I think irises are so pretty.

 I added them, and columbines, to my usual lilac bouquets this week.


The salvia is spiking...

Yarrow leaves unfurling...

The wild strawberries are ripe, too.  The birds are very happy!

 Lots of worms around, too...

...including these little grub worms that I often unearth when working in the soil.

The carpenter bees are out and about...

...and I discovered something amazing when following him to his hollowed-out nest.  A praying mantis ootheca...just getting ready to hatch!  Last year the oothecas hatched in early May. 

You know it's empty when you see the sawdust-like streamers coming out of the bottom.

The ants are bustling about.

Leafhoppers are everywhere!

I love sitting and waiting for the little things to come to life.  At first, when sitting among the flowers, you won't see anything.  But if you're patient, little things will creep out of their hiding places, or at least become visible, like this gnat.

We're still walking at the park, too, which is greening up by the day!  

I don't have space for a recipe today, so I'll leave you with a photo.  Todd's birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and I made Martha Stewart's six-layer salted caramel chocolate cake.   


I was originally going to cut the three layers into six layers like the recipe indicated, but I accidently put my hand through one of the layers to prevent it from falling on the floor.  No hope of sawing it in half, so I just made this a three layer cake.  Still delicious.  The icing contained a pound of butter and a pound of melted rich!  The recipe is available on her web site.  

Have a great week!