Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Drought Pout

We're in the middle of a drought here in Indiana.  We haven't had any rain for two months...meanwhile, the temperatures have climbed into the mid to upper 90s.  It is hot.

This is our 'second' living room, which serves as our bedroom in the summer.  For reasons unknown, the A/C vent in the master bedroom upstairs was filled with cement before I purchased the home, so it is very hot up there in the summer.  The other bedroom is also upstairs, and the downstairs bedroom has been turned into Todd's study.  So, with upstairs temperatures reaching into the 90s by July, we drag our mattress downstairs and recline in the blissful A/C.  "The kids" love it and maintain a near-constant state of drowse nearby. 

 Tabitha in particular loves it when we move downstairs.  Instead of sleeping in the windowsill above our heads like she does when we sleep upstairs, she claims the chair next to the bed and spends 90% of her time there (the other 10% is spent at her food bowl).

She grooms...


...and then goes back to sleep.  Repeat as necessary.

The garden suffers in the heat.  We water for 30 minutes a day, but some things just can't handle the heat.

Our hydrangeas are crisping up...

...and our creeping thyme has broad swatches of brown.

The grass is...dead.

In this heat, some container plants need to be watered twice a day.  Sometimes I just don't get to it.

We exercise and run errands in the morning, and by the time we get home, it's just too hot to weed.  The hot weather keeps some weed growth down, but we're seeing a lot of this in the cracks of our sidewalk and patio:

It's not all bad, though!  Living in Indiana, I knew I had to prepare for this type of summer.  With heavy clay soil and frequent droughts, you have to plan accordingly.  Portulaca (moss rose) always grow well in the heat.  It's a type of succulent, and flowers in a variety of bright colors.

Herbs usually grow well when it's hot.  I'm growing chives, dill, catnip, mint, sage, lavender, and basil.

You can't beat zinnias for hot-weather flowering.  I didn't plant too many this year, but I've still got a nice group of them!

Cosmos grow well in the heat, but have to be frequently deadheaded.  If you're up for the challenge, go for it!  This year, I grew light pink cosmos...

...hot pink cosmos...

...and orange cosmos, which haven't bloomed yet.

In the area bordering our back slab,  I planted two other heat-lovers in mixed groups:  white geraniums and yellow osteospermums, which are a type of miniature sunflower.

They are unfailingly cheerful!

In the impossible-to-kill category falls Russian Sage.  From June to frost, it blooms in fragrant, purple spikes.  I planted Russian Sage years ago and the bush is now huge!

No one loves Russian Sage more than bees.  My bush is absolutely bee-covered...carpenter bees, honey bees, and other mysterious flying creatures that congregate to gather pollen.

Oh, we've got one other sun-lover:

All in all, I'm not really pouting over the drought.  Every gardener knows that sometimes you've just got to go with the flow and hope for better weather next year!  As long as I'm still able to pull enough flowers every week for my bouquet spread...

...although these beauties came from Marsh, not from my yard.  Aren't they beautiful?  Sigh!  I love peach roses.

Some purple Russian Sage and white Queen Anne's Lace really set them off nicely...all ready for the table!

I made something a little unique recently.  Normally I restrict myself to one sweet dessert a week, but I'm always casting about for that magic dessert that's virtuous enough to be consumed daily.  I had high hopes for this high-protein treat, but I just couldn't get past the fact that I was eating - beans.  Yes, these are the notorious Black Bean Brownies of circa-2000 Weight Watchers fame, made without a brownie mix.  You read the ingredient list right...these chocolate brownies are made with black beans and without flour.  

Black Bean Brownies
from allrecipes.com

1 15.5 ounce can of black beans, rinsed and drained
3 eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
1 teaspoon instant coffee (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease an 8 x 8 baking dish.  Place all ingredients into your blender.

Blend well (gag):

Pour into baking dish and bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until edges are browned.

Here's the deal on these brownies:  they look like regular brownies, but the texture is light and whipped, almost like mousse.  You truly can't taste the beans, but there is a bit of a strange, almost tangy taste that didn't appeal to me.  To help, I made a quick cream cheese frosting for the top and made sure to chill these well before eating. 

I would say that if you're trying to avoid flour, these are a fair brownie substitute.  My husband really liked them, but as I was watching the beans whirl around in the blender, I was already thinking:  this is not a good idea.

But maybe you aren't as fussy as I am!  It's worth a shot...give it a try this week!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Whole Lotta Love

Things I'm loving this week...cupcakes for two, with sprinkles...that we've had three days in a row.

Pollen-covered bees.

Tiny bouquets made up of flowers from the garden.

"Things" that resemble other "things", like seed pods that look like pointy-hatted gnomes...

 ...and this emerging fennel umbel that resembles an acrobat, twisting backward to grasp a pole.  Do you see it?

Also love...flowers grown from seed.

Color...lots of color.

When a plan comes together...like a walkway bordered by feathery cosmos that are just starting to open up.  

Yard sales steals...like this handmade miniature covered bridge I found for $5.00.

I love doll-free dollhouses and the tiny wooden furniture inside.  One day I will indulge that love, but for now I'll stick to this miniature covered bridge, which may become a trailing shade plant holder, or a bird feeder...or maybe just something to sit on a shelf and admire.  It's got both puppy and kitty seals of approval.

Another $5.00 steal...this was the price for three vintage wooden dough bowls found at Goodwill recently.  Not $5 each...a total of $5 for all three bowls.

They were in pretty rough condition.  Lots of scratches.

Because my arms are usually aching from the gym, I slowly sanded them down over time.

Then I used mineral oil to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.

It's a beauty, isn't it?  I found other, nearly identical vintage wooden dough bowls online ranging in price from $35 - $250 -  per bowl.  

In the midst of so many good deals, I've been feeling a bit guilty for paying full price for some items that I don't even use...like my tart pans.

I decided to make mini fruit tarts this past week, to assuage my guilt...and because they're so tasty.  I don't use a set recipe for these...it all depends upon what you like.

I mixed up my preferred recipe for pie dough (Smitten Kitchen's all-butter pie dough) and placed the  dough in the refrigerator to chill.  I preheated the oven to 350, greased my tart pans, and placed them on a cookie sheet in case of mid-cooking spillage.

Once my dough was chilled (to be honest, I only chill mine for 15 - 30 minutes), I rolled it out on a floured surface and used a tart tin to cut out the pie bottoms.

Of course, this only makes enough dough to cover the bottom of your tins.  

I took leftover dough, sliced it with a pizza cutter, and made sides for each tart.  

An alternative is to just cut a larger circle of dough that covers bottom and sides all at once.  That's the easiest way...I just wasn't thinking when I was making these!  But this method worked just fine and didn't take much more time.  

This is just a miniature version of my favorite three-berry pie.  I measured about 3/4 cup sugar and mixed in 2 tablespoons of corn starch.  I stirred this mixture into 3 cups of frozen fruit, and spooned it into my tart containers.

Since I just threw these together, I didn't pay much attention to time...I just baked these until the crusts were golden...around 20 minutes, I think!  

The tarts are a bit runny when they come out of the oven...

...but they firm up as they cool.

These can be whipped up in no time and it's a perfect summer snack.  Great for picnics!  Each tart is equivalent to a half piece of pie, so it's a small, guilt-free indulgence.


Monday, June 11, 2012

A June Boon

Our first wave of cool-season crops (peas, lettuce, and radishes) finally fizzled out, so I removed the spent plants and replaced them with tomatoes, chives, and dill.  However, I left a few of the radish plants out, even though they'd "bolted"(threw up a stalk, rendering them basically inedible).  I left them up for two reasons.  First...aren't they beautiful?

Second...they can still provide pollen for the bees, and I want to help them out as much as I can! 

And, of course, the radishes will eventually form seed pods in place of the flowers, and I will gather the seeds for next year's planting.

While working in the beds, I noticed a praying mantis nymph in the dirt.

Minutes later, I spotted another one on the side of one of the container gardens.  They must have recently hatched, but for the life of me I couldn't find a single ootheca this year. 

Happily, there are lots of insects in the garden now.  Grasshoppers...


Long-legged flies (Diptera: Dolichopodidae)...

 Your garden-variety flies...

...and lots of mystery insects that I can never seem to identify.

 Of course, the bees are very active in the flowers.

He's been busy...check out that pollen packet on his hind legs!

As you can see from the above picture, the larkspur is flourishing.

The snapdragons that I've been babying since seed-hood are finally coming into flower, too.  I planted the tall kind (2 - 3 feet) and a wide variety of colors.  The very first snapdragon plant to open has amazing, rich colors that remind me of a sunset.


My ruffled daylilies are opening up, too.  I have a confession:  I never used to like daylilies. But I've since learned that you can buy a succession of daylilies in any color you'd like that will bloom from spring 'til fall.  They are beautiful bright spots in the garden.

And I love those ruffles!

I always grab a few daylilies when I make my weekly trip to the yard to gather plants for my bouquets.

I split them up between several small vases...

...and scatter them all over the house.  The real secret to a great bouquet, just like to a great garden, is the green you choose to set off your flowers.  For these bouquets, I use parsley.  The leafy foliage and airy umbels are the perfect neutral background.

I didn't plant parsley this year, but I had a large crop last year, and one plant re-seeded in a cement crack between our container gardens.  That one seed grew a plant almost as tall as I am, and now I have enough parsley for weekly bouquets all summer long.  I will never again make the mistake of not planting parsley.

Here's one of the stars of the show...

It only takes one to really brighten things up!

I cut pretty heavily from my Russian Sage plant, but it can take it.  Russian Sage makes a fabulous bouquet, with its tiny purple flowers and its heady scent.  It lasts forever in a vase, too.

Speaking of "heady scent"...I recently made what may be my favorite cupcakes ever.  Everyone in my gym classes knows about them...and my friends...the clerks at our local post office...and maybe the grocery store, too!  I just can't stop talking about how good they are.  Are you ready for this?  They're brown sugar chocolate chip cupcakes, stuffed with (eggless) chocolate chip cookie dough, topped with a brown sugar buttercream frosting.

Can you say RICH and DELICIOUS? 

They're fairly quick to put together, but be sure to plan a jog around the block afterwards...they're a teeny, tiny bit calorie-laden.  ;) 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough-Stuffed Brown Sugar Cupcakes
Annie's Eats
Makes 20 - 24 cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups light brown sugar, packed
4 large eggs
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (semisweet or bittersweet)

For the filling:
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tbsp. light brown sugar, packed
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
7 oz. sweetened condensed milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

For the frosting: 
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
2 1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract

First, make your cupcakes!  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease two cupcake pans.  With your mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar for three minutes, until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. 

In a separate bowl, combine your flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Slowly add this to your wet mixture, alternating with the milk, until just combined.  Blend in vanilla and fold in chocolate chips. 

Fill cupcake tins and bake for about 18 minutes, until golden brown.

While your cupcakes are baking, make your cookie dough.  Cream your butter and sugar for two minutes, and then beat in your flour, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla.  Stir in chocolate chips, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about an hour.

Now, just as your cupcakes are cool, your cookie dough will be ready!

Take a knife and cut a "cone" out of the center of your cupcake.

Spoon in some cookie dough...

Cut the bottom part of the cone off and place the top of the cone 'lid' back on the cupcake.

You'll have a pile of leftover cones, but I daresay you'll find a way to dispose of them.  Ahem.

To make your frosting, beat together the sugar and butter and then mix in the powdered sugar.  Beat in your flour and salt, and then the milk and vanilla.  Combine until smooth.  Pipe onto your cupcakes.

Just to see what you did, cut a cupcake in half and marvel at the cookie dough perfection.

Then eat.  Repeat as desired.

I hope you'll give them a try this week...doesn't everyone need some cookie dough goodness sometimes?