Tuesday, August 27, 2013

the fungus among us

So I'm sure that I have mentioned our near-constant rain this summer...

Well, it suddenly stopped.  We haven't had any rain for three days, and it's been nice and sunny.  Mushrooms have been popping up all over...

Even my houseplants have been getting into the action.  First I saw this yellow fungus:

A few days later, he was joined by two friends.

The sun, too, has brought out new flowers.  A large plant that I had designated a type of hosta earlier this spring budded out...

...and bloomed.

The leaves and stalks resemble canna lilies, but these flowers don't really look like cannas to me.  They survived in the ground all winter, too, unlike cannas, which you have to dig up.

Whatever they are, they're lovely!

Insects have been more active in the hot, sunny weather too.  Hornets have been nosing around the base of a large tree by our driveway.

Our tree has a wound, which is oozing sap.  Hornets are drawn to it.  We've been careful, though, and haven't had any stings. 

I brought in some leaves and flowers recently, and noticed some debris underneath the bouquet.

I'd accidently brought in a Yellow-Striped Army Worm along with the greenery.

He was easily relocated to greener pastures.

The deer, too, have suddenly become incredibly active, jumping our fence and decimating my hosta garden (grinds fist into palm).

If anyone has a good deterrent, let me know!

I've been doing some crafty things, too.  I'm knitting again.  I'm trying to use my paper cutters when I write letters, instead of notebook paper.

I'm embroidering, too.  I'm not very good at it, and I prefer knitting, but I do love the pre-stamped pillowcase kits.  That way you can embroider around the lines, which magically dissolve in the wash.  A slow start...

...but I'll eventually get here:

It's a gift for a childhood friend who's getting married.  I hope it turns out!

I've done some baking, too.  Actually, I've been meaning to post this recipe for a long time.  This is my new favorite bundt cake, and the only time I've ever said, "Wow, this is good without frosting!"  Of course, if you feel motivated, a cream cheese glaze would be delicious.

Blueberry-Lemon Buttermilk Bundt Cake
From Brown-Eyed Baker

2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1¾ cup granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup buttermilk (or 3/4 cup regular milk soured with a tablespoon of white vinegar)
3 cups blueberries or other mixed fruit

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour your bundt pan.  Whisk together the 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a separate bowl, zest your lemon and pour in your sugar.  Use a rubber spatula to press the lemon into the sugar until it's incorporated.

Add butter and cream for about 5 minutes, until very fluffy.  Reduce your mixer speed and add your eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla and mix.  Finally, add in 1/3 of the flour mixture and barely combine.  Fold in 1/2 of the buttermilk, mix, and then add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and repeat.  Separately, mix together your fruit and the held-back tablespoons of flour.  This will keep your fruit from sinking to the bottom of the bundt pan and tearing off the top of the cake when you try to remove it from the pan.  After your fruit is coated, fold it into the cake mixture.

Spoon into prepared pan.

Bake 50 - 60 minutes, until golden.  Let it cool a bit, and then pop out your cake.  Give it a light dusting of powdered sugar.

It's sweet, lemony, fruity, and delicious.  Try a slice soon.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

a lively place

Our summer of guests has come to a close!  The house seems awfully empty, and our dog, Borga, is depressed that no one is fussing over her.  Meanwhile, Tabitha is grumpy because all the extra bedding has been put away.

It was fun to visit, and take people to local places that we hadn't even been to yet.  Of course, I loved decorating for visitors, too.  The purple spike is from our Liatrope, which I've discovered lasts forever in a bouquet.

Besides our scheduled guests, we had an unexpected visitor last week.

Thankfully, this four-foot snake wasn't poisonous.  It's a Black Rat Snake, or Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta.  As the name implies, the snake is almost completely black...

...except for that little white patch under their mouths.  When threatened, they move their tails against leaves to mimic a rattler.  They can also release a foul-smelling fluid to deter predators.  They primarily eat rodents, including chipmunks and squirrels.  They spend a lot of time in trees.  I'm glad that this one was on the ground...even knowing that they're harmless, I wouldn't want to brush up against a 4 - 6 foot snake of any kind!

I've said it before...this is a very lively place for insects and 'critters'.  I hadn't been outside for a long time because of time constraints and terrible weather, but yesterday I decided to take Borga out on a leash instead of letting her romp in our little side garden.  I saw an amazing sight...a Spiny-Backed Orb Weaver (Gasteracantha cancriformis).

They are so named for their large, spiky abdomen.  Here he is in profile:

I think they are lovely spiders.

They add little bits of extra silk in bundles around their web to show low-flying birds where they're located, so they can avoid ripping through them.  No one is sure why they have those spiky backs.  Like most spiders, they're totally harmless and good to have in your garden.

On this same little expedition with Borga, I came across a flighty skipper (Hesperiidae)...

...and a shy katydid (Pseudophyllinae):

 I love the night noises here, with the crickets and the cicadas, and the katydid certainly contributes.  You've probably heard this before, right?

I'd noticed earlier in the summer that we had a lot of dried flowerheads in the back bed. 

I crossed my fingers and hoped they were alliums of some sort...and now they are starting to open up.  They are Allium maximowiczii alba, a fancy white allium.  Unfortunately, black aphids have ripped into them and I'm probably too late to save them.

Some have managed to open, despite the infestation.

Look closer...do you see another little fellow?

What about now?

It's a tiny crab spider (Thomisidae), waiting to ambush some unsuspecting fly.  That's why I get such a delight from nature...there's always another layer waiting to be peeled back.  You're never seeing everything.  There's always another surprise around the corner.

Speaking of surprises...sigh.

This is Whitetail Deer scat.  They didn't need to leave this calling card, because I noticed their presence when my hostas and hydrangeas were mysteriously eaten to the ground earlier this week.

There's no cessation of rain, but I'm going to take advantages of those in-between moments to find more beauty outdoors!

Miracle of miracles, too, I've done some baking.  When perusing the Smitten Kitchen blog last week, I was surprised to see a recipe for a homemade ice cream cake.  I adore ice cream cake, but it has never occurred to me to make one from scratch.  She advocated making your own cake, cookies, frosting, whipped cream, and ice cream (from scratch!), which felt a little overwhelming to me.  I put the idea out of my mind until I read a Cookies and Cups blog post, where the baker used store bought everything and pieced it together in no time.

I decided to do a combination of the two.  Using a 9 inch springform pan, I baked my favorite dense, fudgy brownies.  After they cooled, I frosted them with store bought frosting and then put them in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, I put a quart of store bought ice cream on the counter to soften.

After 30 minutes, I layered on the ice cream and put the cake bake in the freezer for another 30 minutes.  Then I made my own sweet whipped cream with heavy whipping cream and powdered sugar.  Ahhh....there's nothing like homemade.

After the final 30 minutes, I layered on the whipped cream, and the cake was done with minimal effort.  In this instance, I decided to leave off the crushed cookie layer, but it would be easy to crush up some Oreos and layer them anywhere you'd like. 

The cake comes easily out of the springform pan, and I have to say that it's amazing and delicious, and that I will never, ever buy another ice cream cake again.

Just think of how this cake can be customized!  And you can go the whole store bought route and have the cake layered together in no time.  Surely you can think of an occasion for homemade ice cream cake, right?  How about celebrating making it through another Monday?  :)  I hope you give it a try...it's really good!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

a stroke of good fortune

I have to admit it - I'm a slacker. I have totally ignored the yard.  Between the rain, mosquitoes, and lack of flowers for bouquets, I've let the weeding go (not that many weeds grow in complete shade) and just enjoy the view of the water from inside the house.  I feel guilty, but not guilty enough to rouse myself into action.  I know that come November and December, the mosquitoes will be gone and the flowers will be starting a 6-month bloom fest.  So, I enjoy my summer indoors and leave the outdoors for a later season.  Todd, however, does go outside several times a day with our dog, Borga.  If he sees something interesting, he'll call me out.  I always get a few itchy mosquito bites, but it's usually worth it. 

This weekend, Todd called me outside to see an amazing spiderweb that stretched several feet across our driveway.  It was lovely, and I had a hunch that once the sun came out, we'd see an even better show.  I was right!  Mid-morning, I caught the spider taking down and busily consuming his web.

Spiders expend a lot of energy making webs, and this is one way to recoup it  See him rolling up the web against his mouth parts?  So cool!

While I was outside, I noticed a little more activity in the yard.  Several azalea bushes are blooming in the front yard. 

More blooming in the side yard, too!

It was so, so nice to see a bee in the flowers.  I can't remember the last time I saw one!

The evergreen grass planted in clumps all around, liatrope, is sending up purple stalks.

Two bushes that look a bit like Rose of Sharon are blooming.  One white...

...and one purple.

This mystery bush has had small white trumpet-shaped flowers on it for a month now.  It seemed so delicate that I didn't expect them to last so long!

The oregano has flowered...

...and a new plant is coming up in regular intervals at the side of the house.  I wonder what it is?

Todd had another great find this weekend when he discovered a cicada coming out of its shell by the garage.

What a beauty!

Todd and I celebrated our five year anniversary this past week.  Because of his crazy work deadlines and plain poor planning on my part, we just stayed in, split a chocolate-chip cookie cake for two, and played some games.  He gave me a Dutch ship model kit with real linen sails and wooden parts that need to be cut out and assembled.  I'm pretty excited about it!

One of the things I decided to do for him was make him a batch of paper fortune cookies that were ostensibly from the week before we first met.  They're easy to make!

If you have a big circular punch you can use that for your fortune cookies, and plain brown paper to match their typical shade.  I have an adjustable Fiskars circular cutter that did the trick.

I wrote out my fortunes...some silly, some serious.

I put a piece of double-sided tape at one end of the circle, folded my fortune in half and slid it into the cookie, and then pinched it shut.

I used my finger to make a crease in the middle.

They don't look as much like fortune cookies as the homemade cookie ones I made a couple of years ago...

...but they worked. 

Todd got a big kick out of it.

Hope you're able to make something crafty soon.  Have a great week!