Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

Because of the drought, my garden looks like this:

...instead of this:

So, I'm supplementing our indoor bouquets with grocery store flowers.  One that I've didn't use to like, but now do, is astroemeria.  The flowers can look 'plastic' in the wrong setting, but put them in the sun...

They're one of the most inexpensive flowers you can buy, too!  Lovely!

Several weeks ago, I bought a few ornamental pepper plants for their bright, cheerful leaves.

Soon they flowered...

And then the flowers closed up as tiny peppers started to form.

Now my pepper plants are covered in tiny purple peppers.  I'm so glad I bought them!

We are definitely in the dog days of summer, and most of the time we feel like this:

Our situation was greatly improved when a friend brought me an almost-new machine from the thrift store.  It was originally $11...

...but she had a coupon.  So, I got it for $5...

My very own ice cream maker!  It was barely used and worked perfectly.  Making ice cream from scratch is ridiculously easy.  Make sure your ingredients are cold and the ice cream maker's inner canister is frozen.  Pour in your ingredients and hit the ON button.  Wait 25 minutes. You then have the equivalent of soft serve ice cream.  If you like your ice cream firm and 'scoopable', just freeze it for a few hours.  Done!  

 For my first batch of ice cream, I decided to go DECADENT...rich chocolate ice cream made with 5 egg yolks, making it taste like rich, creamy gelato.  

It was wonderful, but I couldn't help but think of just how fattening a half cup was...and that took away a bit of the enjoyment.  I decided to find something a little healthier.  I discovered that putting chocolate pudding and some evaporated milk into the ice cream maker yields something that tastes a bit like a Wendy's Frosty...that's a good thing when you use all low-fat ingredients and make your pudding from scratch.

But I decided to compromise between "healthy" and "coronary" with the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Book.  First, I took the eggless cookie dough recipe from this blog entry and mixed it together, rolling it into indecently large balls and putting them into the freezer while I made the ice cream.

I took one of B & J's basic vanilla recipes and substituted egg beaters for the eggs.  Once it was done churning and had reached the soft serve stage, I stirred in the frozen cookie dough balls and ladled the ice cream in to a large container to freeze.

Best. Ice cream.  Ever.

I've made two batches in four days and it hasn't lasted long enough for a staged photo, just a photo of us scraping the bottom of the container for the last remaining spoonfuls.

I love making my own ice cream with my own pure ingredients, no worries about additives or preservatives.  The ice cream only has five ingredients, too, which you probably already have sitting around!

Ben and Jerry's Vanilla Ice Cream
Makes one quart
Slightly modified

1/2 cup Eggbeaters (or 2 eggs)
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (NOT imitation, this will keep it from freezing!)

Mix together...pour into ice cream maker...stir for 25 minutes...stir in your cookie dough balls...ladle into a bowl...and enjoy!

I'm already thinking of other stir-ins...brownies?  Oreo cookies?  Fruit puree?  The sky's the limit.  I HIGHLY recommend getting your own ice cream maker (this model retails for around $40) and starting your own experiments.  Just don't forget to pick up a gym membership while you're at it!  ;) 

Have fun!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

a bout of scout(ing)

Last week, Todd and I drove to Kentucky to retrieve some merchandise being stored in an uninhabited 101-year old farm house.  While Todd "wheeled and dealed" with the merchandise owner, I prowled around the property, trying to keep the sweat out of my eyes in the 103-degree heat. 

The buildings have fallen into dilapidation, for the most part.  Nature is slowly but surely reclaiming the space.  You can see the vines sneaking up the edge of the roof on this barn.

Similar vines stretch across the front porch...

...and up the walls.

A trumpet vine threatens to strangle a small shed. 

Trumpet vines are beautiful plants, much loved by butterflies and hummingbirds. 

They can be very invasive, though, so plant them on a trellis but never against your house.  They will take over!

I saw wild grapes on an ancient arbor, almost invisible in the weeds.

Bright purple ironweed lit up a dark corner...

...and wild meadow daisies made a cheerful show in an otherwise parched meadow.

This odd weed reminded me of a flower...

...except for the gangly stalks that grew out of its top.

These strange rainbow-colored spikes were clustered around the front porch.  What were they?

I did some research later and discovered that they are arem italicum, or the Italian Cuckoo Pint plant. They aren't supposed to be up until fall, but the drought and heat caused them to spike prematurely.  Also known as "Lords and Ladies Plant", the roots of arem italicum were boiled and then powdered and made into a starch that stiffened the ruffles and collars of 16th and 17th century clothing. 

I'm going to file this away for future reference...they make beautiful late fall and early winter-interest plants!

I saw maple bladder gall all over these maple leaves.

Tiny mites that have overwintered in the bark of the tree cause these bumps.  They feed and then lay eggs there.

Another strange growth or gall is affecting these leaves, but I don't know what kind!

A type of boring insect caused the holes in this tree. 

There are a few fruit trees there that still produce.  This mystery tree was just starting to fruit...

...but this apple tree had been producing for a long time.

The apples were shriveled in the heat, but are still tasty to local wildlife.  Some deer scat underneath the tree indicates that this is probably a favorite feeding spot.

There were other signs of life, too.  Lots of little skippers were visiting the still-green clover plants.

I spotted an old ootheca...

...and soon enough, one of its former occupants.

 There were lots...and lots...of googly-eyed grasshoppers.

Some were brown but most were green...

...with black-striped backs.

I saw these red paper wasps swarming around a tree and burrowing under the bark.

They shred the bark from trees and use it to build nests in abandoned buildings.  I did not go looking for one of those!

Lots of beautiful spider webs hung in buildings and even in the trees.

Try as I might, I was only able to spot a solitary spider, hidden except for one or two legs.

It's interesting what you can see if you're willing to look closely at something that at first sight, seems devoid of life!

There's no "knitting" or "stirring" on today's post.  Unfortunately, we're entering our 12th week of no rain and 100+ temperatures, and our A/C unit is in need of repair and is not putting out much cold air.  It's being serviced today, so hopefully I'll be able to make more than the perfect glass of ice water soon!

Have a great week! 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Needlework Perk

Even though the weather hasn't changed, the summer season is slowly progressing.  I saw a pair of goldfinches the other day, a few weeks ahead of schedule.  I also saw several cicada killers buzzing around.

Strange for them to be out when I hadn't seen or heard any cicadas, but the very next day...

Right outside the back door!  He was still enough that I could lean in and admire his wings...so beautiful!

Speaking of wings, this katydid nymph hasn't got much to speak of in that department...

...but those tiny nubs will grow to look exactly like leaves, covering his whole body.

I've seen so many bees this year.  The old standbys...honey, carpenter, and bumble, and a whole range of other bees that I've never seen before.

And still more wasps, too.  Quite a mystery!

Our Rose of Sharon bush with the ridiculous, floppy flowers and comically large leaves is in bloom again.  The flower stigmas are boldly thrust out...

...and it's a strange draw for carpenter bees.  I love to see them dancing there.

I've been able to salvage some of my hormone-rooted plants and have them in one big pot under a shady tree in the back yard, as the 100 + degree temperatures and the blazing sun is just too much for them.  I just noticed a stranger growing there.

I believe it's a pumpkin seedling.  How did it get there?  It's a mystery.  But with all this scorched grass and wilted flowers, it's nice to see something growing robustly.  I repotted it and brought it inside to grow on a sunny window sill.

Could it be...pumpkins this fall??  :)

I've finally gotten some knitting done, mainly gift knitting for Christmas.  I finished these raccoon gloves for my little nephew.

That's right...the thumbs are the tails!  Very cute.  And they have nice, expressive faces.

A quick and enjoyable knit! 

I've also been studying needlework and embroidery, particularly Elizabethan to late 1800s needlework.  The Elizabethan needlework is so symmetrical and detailed...I love it. 

I'm really in love with some of men's clothing from the 18th century, however.  How could you resist a man in this morning glory-embroidered waistcoat?

Or what about this incredibly detailed jacket?  Swoon!

A sketch of part of the pattern shows the detail:

Just lovely!  My embroidery skills are very poor, but I'm determined to get better. 

Modern embroidery has its bright spots, too.  Look at this skillfully-wrought bee, done in gold thread:

Amazing!  I'm partial, though, to Helen Stephens.  She embroiders incredibly detailed nature scenes.  Having the skill to embroider even part of her work is one of my goals.


It's been too hot to bake too much.  I did try a recipe for chocolate cupcakes that didn't turn out very well.  The cupcakes were a basic recipe, baked and then dipped in chocolate ganache.

I'm trying to avoid using artificial products like PAM, but just greasing cupcake tins with olive oil causes a lot of sticking, so I lost a lot of cupcake 'heft' from the beginning.

I then mixed peanut butter, butter, and powdered sugar until it made a thick dough, and rolled/flattened it like peanut butter cookies.  It made a nice hat for the cupcakes as a replacement for traditional frosting.

However, I thought the peanut butter taste completely overpowered the chocolate...again, that could've been because my cupcakes were too small.  I didn't like them very much, but I'll try again with something new this week.

Have a great day!