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!

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