Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ore-oh, yeah!

The recent rains have cooled things off a bit, and I've been more active in the yard.  I've really enjoyed watching the little creatures there...something I haven't done for a while because of the heat.  

Moths are especially prolific in late summer.

There are endless varieties of moths - much too many for me to be able to identify by sight (yet!).  So far I either identify them as "bushy-headed" or "needle-nosed".  This one, of course, is of the bushy-headed variety.  I love the feathery antennae.

It's easy to see them clinging to screen doors and windows, but I can usually find their natural hiding places.  Moths love to hide behind blades of grass...

...or under large leaves, like this "needle-nose".

Of course, we've got the omnipresent carpenter bees, which nap on the Russian Sage at night...

Grasshoppers get bigger, browner, and more sluggish as the season moves on.  They've lost their jaunty hops and seem to have a staring, harassed look.  It's definitely grasshopper mating season.

I've found a few insect nests, too, like this strange marble-sized mud nest built in the branches of our pine tree.  

I wonder who lives there?
The rains have brought my nasturtiums back from the brink.  I love their bright, saturated colors.

Nasturtiums are edible.  What a beautiful salad they'd make!

I cut back my stocks earlier this year and they've finally rebloomed.

Stocks have an amazing scent.  I planted them along our back walkway so their delicious smell wafts up as you brush past them.   Ahhhhh!

They're annuals, but I believe they re-seed nicely.

My snapdragons have gone strong all summer long...

And believe it or not, one of my lilac bushes is blooming again!

I made the mistake of planting morning glories years ago, and spent the subsequent years ripping up transplants all over the yard.  This year I decided to pot one of them up.  It was an interesting experiment.  I got the same blue flower as the parent plant...

...but the blooms are much smaller.  Also, instead of the large spade-shaped leaves, this plant has jagged, fuzzy leaves of a completely different shape.  

I think I created a monster!  It allows me an opportunity to use one of my favorite words:  transmogrify.

trans·mog·ri·fy [trans-mog-ruh-fahy, tranz-] 

verb (used with object), trans·mog·ri·fied, trans·mog·ri·fy·ing.
to change in appearance or form, especially strangely or grotesquely; transform.

I think it fits!  This is the parent plant's sinister cousin.

Anyway, I can't break my flower-buying habit, but since we're moving soon, I stick to bouquets.

I can't wait to plant rose bushes at our new house!

A friend of mine was recently talking about her love of Newman's Own Oreo-style cookies, and I remembered a recipe tucked away in my collection.  After she left, I pulled it out and preheated the oven.  Could homemade Oreos taste as good as store-bought?

In my opinion - they taste even better.

Homemade Oreo Cookies
makes 16 - 24 cookies
Annie's Eats

For the cookies:
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
10 tbsp. (1¼ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg

For the filling:
4 tbsp. (¼ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable shortening
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F and grease your cookie sheets.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Add the butter and mix briefly to incorporate.  Next, beat in your egg and mix until the dough forms a mass.  

Take a small ball of dough and roll it into a ball.  Flatten it slightly and place on cookie sheet.  

Bake for 5 - 7 minutes.  Remove from cookie sheet and cool on wire racks.   What a beautiful cookie!

While they're cooling, make your filling by combining your butter and shortening and beating until smooth.  Add your powdered sugar and beat 2 - 3 minutes, then blend in the vanilla.  **My filling seemed too thick to pipe at this point, so I thinned it out with some milk.  It was still quite thick!

 For cookie assembly:  pair up your cookies by size.  Fill a pastry bag with cookie filling and pipe frosting onto one cookie half.

Put cookies together and press so that filling is evenly distributed.

This recipe makes some gorgeous stacks of cookies! 

They taste like Oreos, but are softer in the middle.  They are amazing and I'm sure I'll never buy store-bought Oreos again.  They didn't take any time to whip up, either!  Truthfully, you can cut the sugar down quite a bit in this recipe and still have a great-tasting cookie.  I feel great about adding this to my roster of kitchen DIY recipes, and I love having the excuse to say:  Ore-oh, yeah!  :)  

Hope you give them a try.  Have a great week!

Monday, August 20, 2012

a walk down memory lane

I don't need to look at the calendar to know that fall is coming...all I have to do is look at the insect activity in our yard.  Big grasshoppers are very active in early autumn, and they're everywhere right now.  Clinging to the fence...

...or to plant stems.

They're unlikely beauties, but look closer.  I've always thought that they have an almost military appearance, from their camo-patterned faces to the armored plating over the necks.  Besides that, I like their tidy antennae, little segmented feet, and their big eyes, shiny as a piece of glass.  Yes, I think there's beauty here. 

I've been a bit nervous about the black swallowtail caterpillar this year.  They feed on my bronze fennel and queen anne's lace, but the drought completely decimated those plants.  The recent rains have rejuvenated them a bit, but they're still a pale shadow of last year's offerings.  Today, though, I saw a single black swallowtail caterpillar.  It's a start!

And, what do you know...I also saw a black swallowtail butterfly.

I've been slowly getting back into knitting again.  I bought some beautiful grey yarn...

...and am putting the finishing touches on a Christmas gift.  I won't show the whole thing, but here's part of the stranded knitting...a motif of little birds.

When uploading some photos today, I accidently scrolled back to late August/early September 2011.  It was interesting to see what I was doing a year ago. 

I was just starting a project...

...that became one of my favorite finished knitted pieces ever.

I was making fortune cookies...

...and jam!

Tabby was still svelte enough to chase her tail though the slats of our kitchen chairs...

...and I was bringing in big bouquets of fall flowers.

Todd was in the home stretch for his dissertation...but he wouldn't be Dr. C for another two months!

Those things seem so long ago...it's hard to believe it was just last year.  Now, let's come back to the present, because in the here and now, we have pie.  I'm not talking about weak, crumbly, now-what-kind-was-that-again? pie - I'm talking about rich, flavorful, decadent pie that you'll be thinking about for weeks after you've eaten it...or am I the only one?  :)  This recipe comes from my favorite new cookbook, and once again, I highly encourage you to check it out - every recipe I've tried has been a winner.

Coconut Cream Pie
Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook
Makes one pie

Pie ingredients
6 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons corn starch
5 egg yolks, beaten
2 cups half-and-half
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes

Pie crust ingredients
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (16 crackers)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

Fresh whipped cream ingredients
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 - 1/2 cup powdered sugar

First, make your pie crust.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Blend together the graham cracker crumbs and the sugar, and drizzle your melted butter over the mixture.  Combine and press into a 9 inch pie pan.  Bake for 6 to 8 minutes and set aside to cool.

Pie time!  Combine the sugar, salt, cornstarch, and egg yolks and blend well.  In a saucepan, heat your half-and-half to the boiling point and remove from heat.  Whisk a cup of it into your egg yolk mixture, stirring constantly.  Keep whisking and add the remaining half-and-half.

Now, the cookbook asks you to to stir this mixture over a boiling pot of water for 5 - 7  minutes, until it thickens.  I've been making my own pudding for years and it's a cinch to do in the microwave.  Just microwave for a minute, stir, and repeat until it's thick.  I tried following the boiling pot method and my mixture was still soupy after 15 minutes.  Three minutes in the microwave?  Done.  Take your pick! 

After your mixture is thickened and cooled for a few minutes, whisk in the butter, vanilla, coconut extract, and 1 cup of coconut (I like a lot of coconut so I stirred in a bit more!).  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the top so that a 'skin' doesn't form and put in in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, until it's room temperature or cooler.  Then, spoon into your cooled crust.

 To make fresh whipped cream, pour your heavy cream into the mixing bowl and whip on medium speed until it starts to thicken.  You can add the powdered sugar and whip until you reach the desired consistency.  Spread a thin layer on top of the pie...

You can just spread the whipped cream on top, or put it in a pastry bag with an M1 tip to make stars.
I like stars, so that's what I did.

It only takes a few minutes to cover the whole pie!

Toss a handful of toasted coconut on top...

Slice...and enjoy.  It's so good!  You're only an hour from the random thought, "I'd love some great pie!" to this:

Just try to fit in an extra class at the gym.  :)

Have a great week! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fabric Maverick

I didn't notice it at first.  Since the drought had so dreadfully scorched our yard and wilted our flowers, I didn't like to spend a lot of time outside.  It was just too depressing.  I gave the flower beds an obligatory daily watering and thought about other things, not paying attention to their progress (or lack thereof).  But a couple of weeks ago, the drought broke.  We've had regular, steady rainfall, and temperatures have fallen from the hundreds into the low eighties.  And...things have been happening outside.

Somehow...miraculously...the scorched, crispy, completely dead lawn started to regenerate.

Plants that were long-dead suddenly showed new life, like this creeping geranium.

Some plants had already gone to seed and are hopeless this year, like the yarrow...

...but plants that I diligently cut back, like my zinnias, are blooming wonderfully again.  All zinnias will come back if you deadhead them, which make them great for bouquets.

My green zinnias...

And my multicolored mixed zinnias...looking great!

My nasturtiums have rallied...

And my cosmos are going strong.  In April, I'd planted all pink and white cosmos along our walkway.  Immediately after, we got a downpour, and I was afraid that the water had pooled the seeds.  I decided to plant over the ruined beds with orange cosmos.  As it turns out, BOTH colors bloomed.  You wouldn't think that pink and orange were complementary, but you just can't go wrong with cosmos.


Unbelievably, I had two cleome plants that sprang to life.  Cleomes are also called 'spider flowers', and they're wonderful flowers to have at the back of a bed.  They are pink and white explosions at the top of a tall stem.

The long stamens thrust out from the heart of the flower, inviting bees in.

The bees seemingly glide in on their tummies, down the long stems, like out-of-season sledders.  It's quite charming!

Speaking of bees, we still have swarms of honey bees and carpenter bees...

...lots of wasps...

...but, happily, a few of these little guys, too.  I caught someone hiding behind a plant stem yesterday.

Always glad to see grasshoppers!

I've been doing a lot of baking lately...two loaves of pumpkin bread, a chocolate layer cake containing four full cups (!!!) of sugar, and a cherry chip layer cake with 7 minute (marshmallow) frosting.  Thankfully, we had gatherings to take everything to, so we suffered from only minor sugar overload.  I was so busy, though, that I neglected to take photos.  I'll move onto a craft project completed last month!

My nephew was turning two, so I turned my attention to making a colorful card.  I got some inspiration from Pinterest and headed to my craft room. 

I used my Martha Stewart ornament paper punch turned upside-down to cut out lots of circles from scrap paper.  The upside-down ornaments looked just like balloons.  I quickly attached string to each balloon and bound them together at the bottom.

I let the string hang down below the edge of the card for effect.

Voila!  A balloon bunch!  I really enjoyed making it, too.

I also made his birthday gift this year.  I took the idea from the Purl Bee:  The Purl Bee's Fabric Memory Game

I encourage you to check out their website for more detail!

I loved the idea of making a fabric memory game, because you had the sensory bonus of using soft fabric pieces, and the recipient could match fabric squares based on colors and shapes.  He's only two, so he can start with 4 squares and try to match up colors, and gradually expand.  I think it's a great learning tool.

This was my first sewing project with my new machine! 

First, I gathered twenty different prints and cut each pattern into two 2 1/2 inch squares (making 40 total squares).  I cut 80 3 inch squares from light-colored felt, and from fusible interfacing, 80 3 inch squares and 40 2 1/2 inch squares.  Phew!

Next you have to fuse the 2 1/2 inch interfacing to the fabric pieces.  Also, the 3 inch interfacing to the 3 inch felt pieces.  I'd never heard of interfacing before but apparently it's a special type of fabric applied to other fabric with an iron that 'stiffens' the piece to give it more stability and weight.


Next, I cut windows into the remaining 3 inch felt pieces and pinned everything together.

Now for the scary sewing part!  I carefully sewed around the square once...

...and then again.

Once I got done with the cutting, the sewing went by really quickly...even for a novice like me!

Of course, all the squares had untidy edges, where the fusible interfacing peeked out.  I took some sharp scissors and gave the pieces a good trim...

...and they were done!  Colorful, soft squares with all sorts of different patterns and colors, and all securely sewn.

Hooray for conquering my sewing fears!

Have a great, fear-conquering, try-something-new week!