Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm Lichen This

Ever since the weather's improved, Todd and I have been thinking about finding a new place to hike.  We miss Eagle Creek in was a huge, beautiful park with many different trails, and we never got tired of hiking there.  Unfortunately, there are only 2 parks within 30 minutes of our new house, and they're both small and sedate.  Driving an hour will take us to the Blue Ridge Mountains, though.  We found an interesting trail called the Foothill Trail that begins in Oconee State Park.  We decided to give it a try.

Once we reached the park and started hiking, I was surprised at the lack of vegetation.  At this time of year, I was expecting some early woodland flora, but the trail mainly held remnants of last year.

Dried leaves...

Dried grasses...

...and old pine cones.

It was a nice walk, though. 

 We saw many different types of trees and observed the interesting barks...

The path was leaf-covered, but under the leaves we saw lots of small, flat stones.

We took a closer look.  The stones were sparkly and reminded us a bit of mica.

There was some green.  These plants were sprouting up everywhere, en masse.  They reminded me of wild ginger but weren't quite the same. 

Ferns were growing...

A few branches were leafing out...

Small starts of trees were showing, too.

But my very favorite discovery?  Large patches of moss and lichen.  Now, although they may seem like the same thing, they're very different.  Lichen is a fungus, while moss is a plant.  They're both beautiful in their own way, of course. 

I used to think that moss was green and lichen wasn't, but of course there are many varieties of green lichen, like this fruticose lichen:

This shag moss is a nice shade of green...and reminds me of shag carpet!

 I love when moss sends up stalks.  Their tips contain spores, which help the moss spread more easily.  They look like tiny alien landscapes, I think.

Lichen spikes too.  When I saw these pale grey lichen spikes, I named them "corpse fingers".  Now, I know I'm addicted to The Walking Dead, but looking at them, doesn't the name seem appropriate?

I did some research, though, and found out that they have an even cooler name than "corpse fingers":  Lipstick Powderhorn.  When I moved on to the next patch of lichen and saw a more mature group, I saw why.

The ends of the stalks look like they've sprouted big, red lips.  So cool!!!

Since the weather's been turning warmer, I've changed my baking a bit to be more season-appropriate.  What says spring like lemons?  I bought a bag of lemons at the grocery store and decided to make lemon curd...especially since I found a microwave version.  Now, I'm not a baking snob and I'm all for workable shortcuts.  I've been making my pudding in the microwave for years.  Last year, when I was gnashing my teeth over a coconut cream custard that would not gel on the stove top, it was a virtual lightning bolt to discover that I could skip the stove top and go straight to the microwave.  It gelled instantly, of course.  Even with this knowledge, I've never thought about making microwave curd.  I was skeptical when I found the recipe. worked! 

Microwave Lemon Curd
modified slightly from

3/4 cup of lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter, melted

Whisk the sugar and the eggs together, and then stir the rest in.  Microwave in one-minute intervals, stirring after each, until mixture thickens slightly.

Now, some people reported that their mixture thickened after two minutes.  It took about 8 intervals before I noticed a slight thickening, and I was sure the curd was ruined.  I decided to go ahead and refrigerate it, though, just in case.  Miraculously, the curd firmed up nicely.

I baked a quick, 'rustic' batch of scones...

...and made the best, brightest snack I've had in a long time.  It was amazing...I 'curd' you not!  (Too far?)

It is absolutely delicious and so easy to make.  I hope you'll give it a try this week!

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