Monday, November 25, 2013

Duck, ducks, goose

For some reason, Todd and I always get lost when we try to find the prime hiking trails around here.  It's a challenge to find a forest that isn't full of potentially trigger-happy hunters.  More often than not, we end up back at the SC Botanical Gardens.

Most of the leaves have dropped...

But the many varieties of Japanese Maples are still going strong. Some are a deep red...

Some are a rich golden color...

And some are a mix of both.

We visited the big pond there, but it was mostly empty.  We saw a duck...

Three other ducks...

...and a goose.

Borga made some new friends.

I can't believe she was wearing was 38 degrees!  Todd and I were both well-bundled.

Some plants were definitely experiencing the post-freeze droop.

Some plants had completely died and left a dried shell behind: 

A big beautyberry bush was still going strong!

I look forward to seeing what the landscape looks like after the chilly and rainy week we're supposed to have!

I've been baking a lot, but my baking has taken on a bit of a frenzied tone.  I have a big list of things to bake:  today, an apple pie and a 4-layer pumpkin cake with chocolate, dulce de leche, and pecans.  Next week, my own birthday cake and a gift basket for a friend.  The next week, at minimum, several batches of cookies for two gift baskets, and then there's the upcoming Christmas baking.  Therefore, I'm only feeling slightly guilty about posting a really cool cake idea today, without a photo of the finished product.  I had contemplated making another one just for the photo, but it's just not going to happen.  You'll have to use your imagination!

I saw a post on Pinterest about using edible dough (?), a mystery product found in craft stores, to craft tiny letters to hide inside cakes.  That just didn't sound appetizing to me, so I was glad when I found the Project Denneler blog, where I discovered that you could use regular cake to make your letters, as long as they were frozen before being re-baked. 

First, I decided that my cake should say "YAY" inside.  I made it for a friend's son, who had just started his first job.

I found small-ish cookie cutters:

I baked a standard pound cake, but tinted it pink.

After it cooled, I cut it into thin slices.  I used my cookie cutters to cut out many Ys and As.

You see where this is going!

After I'd cut out as much cake as I could...

...I stacked the letters randomly on sheets of wax paper and put them in the freezer overnight.

The next day, I whipped up a chocolate pound cake.  I poured a little bit of batter into a standard loaf tin and carefully placed my frozen letters.

My original YAY was in the center, and then I worked outward toward the tin ends.

I had enough letters to fill most of the tin, all but the very ends.

 After it was full, I covered the letters with the rest of the batter, using a knife to make sure I had even coverage on the sides.

I was worried that some pink might show through on the sides and ruin the surprise, but the resulting loaf was completely innocent-looking.

I used Smitten Kitchen's Everyday Chocolate Cake recipe, and it stayed deliciously moist for days...which was good, because this cake had to travel with me from South Carolina to Indiana, and not always with the benefit of refrigeration.

I didn't have my camera with me, but I can tell you all about this.

1)  I was worried that the "twice-baked" letters would be tough, but apparently by the time they thaw out in the oven, the cake is done, so they're still delightfully tender.

2)  I was worried that the letters might separate a bit, leaving some slices YAY-less, but that wasn't the case.  They actually seem to have expanded, so every slice (other than the very ends) had a cheerful pink YAY right in the center.

Think of the possibilities.  BOO for Halloween?  Using shapes instead of words to hide inside cakes for various occasions?  Using smaller cookie cutters to make longer words...names, CONGRATS, or whatever else you can think of?  I know that I'll make this again...just not this week!

Hope you give it a try...have a great week! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

love it or leaf it

Oh, you beauties!

As much as I love the fall/winter flower season here, it's a little sad to see our few summer perennials go down.  The bee balm is done...

...and the orange ginger lilies have wilted.

Insects have all but disappeared, leaving traces of webs and long-empty egg cases behind.

I love this season, though.  While those things are gone, I love seeing the camellia trees loaded with buds...

...and the berries on the bushes here turning a deep, rich red.

It's nice here on the pond.

The leaves are so beautiful!

Another nice thing about fall is that I'm really inspired to bake.  Last week I made hand pies, which are so easy to throw together.  I used my favorite all-butter pie crust recipe...

...and mixed 2 cups of frozen berries with a tablespoon of cornstarch, a pinch of salt, and 1/4 cup sugar.  I pulverized the mixture in our blender to make it easier to fit into the pies. 

I rolled out the dough and used a large biscuit cutter to get a uniform size.

I filled the dough circle with a heaping tablespoon of the fruit mixture.

I ran a clean, wet finger around one edge and folded the dough over.  I used a fork to neatly crimp the edges.

I usually don't, but decided to give the pies an egg wash to add some color.  It's as simple as scrambling an egg, adding a tablespoon of water, and brushing it over the dough.

I baked them at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.  YUM.

I have to be careful - very careful - with sugar, because I'm such an addict.  One hand pie was only 150 calories, so I enjoyed a single pie and sent to rest to Todd's work to avoid temptation. 

Of course, speaking of temptation...this is the latest cookbook I'm going through.

Lord have mercy!

Have a great week!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Freezin' Season

The hot air balloon festival happened last week, which marks one year in South Carolina for us.  I love watching all the different balloons drift over our house.

They come so close!

Our first freeze is supposed to happen tonight, so all of the outdoor potted plants need to be brought inside.

Thankfully, Todd and I finished our fall planting in time for the cold weather.  I'd ordered lots of live plants...

...and lots of bulbs.

Digging around outside, I saw a lot of interesting insects.  This pretty one is a a webworm moth, a rather destructive pest.

Here's a little millipede...

I found a chrysalis, too!

I'm not sure what type of butterfly resides inside, however.

A little snail...

...and a creature that looks like a very long pill bug.  I'm not quite sure what it is!

A leaf-mining insect made this pretty design on a leaf.

I spotted this webbed nest in one of our backyard trees.  I haven't seen any worms...

...but there's certainly evidence in the nearby leaves.

They might be tent caterpillars, but I'm not sure!

Todd found some beautiful fungus, too.

Look at those cool water droplets!

We've been trying to keep up with the leaves.

The roof is cleared off, at least!

Happy fall!