Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Flux, Slime, and Cookie Time

My goodness, I never knew that trees were so high-maintenance.  But our arborist has informed us that one of our front trees has a bacterial infection called slime flux.  It's not serious, but the tree is seeping an almost yeasty-smelling liquid that is attracting all sorts of insects.

European hornets.

Beautiful June Beetles with their iridescent exoskeletons.

Dainty butterflies... stacks!

The hornets tried to drive off the butterflies and other insects time and again...

 ...but the lure of the slime flux was too strong!  They settled back into place just seconds later. 

Treatment is optional with slime flux, but we're so paranoid about losing trees that we went ahead with the recommended treatment - a diluted bleach spray.  We'll keep a close eye on things to see how it goes.

Speaking of slime...look at this beautiful chocolate tube slime mold from a branch in the back yard!

A solitary yellow mushrooms is sprouting in the shade under our sun porch stairs...

...and this blue-grey lichen adorns another fallen branch.

Our shasta daisies are blooming.

One of our azalea bushes randomly burst into color.

A single coneflower made it.

Even our rose of sharon-ish bush, with its spent blooms, is pretty.

I caught some "Wild America" action earlier this week, when a cardinal got ahold of a female imperial moth just outside of my office window.

First he shook the wings free...

...and then helped himself to some of that juicy protein and fat!

Soon there was nothing left but the discarded wings.

Truly, I haven't been going outside much.  July and August are my least favorite months...I'm just not a "summer" person.  I've mainly been staying inside and using my camera strictly for the cats:

I've been in a major baking slump.  Last week I made a batch of coconut oil molasses ginger cookies.  Failing to follow the directions properly (a notation frequently written in my elementary school report cards), I only chilled the dough for 2 hours instead of three.  The cookies melted into soft saucer-sized disks.

Then, I got a telephone call from a neighbor earlier this week, wanting to know if I could make a same-day dessert for another neighbor's gathering.  It was unplanned and very last-minute, and I was absolutely swamped with work, but I figured it wouldn't take too long to whip up something simple.  I decided to make "death by chocolate" cookie cups with fleur-de-sel chocolate filling.  In a hurry, I overfilled the muffin tins.  They were raw in the middle and didn't "dent" properly in the middle due to the excess of batter.

I decided to make a quick chocolate chip cookie cake instead.  Whipped up the batter, put the pan in the oven, and FORGOT TO SET THE TIMER.  A cookie cake is not like a 'normal' cake and can't be checked for doneness with a toothpick in the same manner.  I flew back and forth from my office to the kitchen, anxiously patting the top and fussing with the temperature setting.  In the end, I didn't want to risk the middle being too soft, or possibly burnt to a crisp.  Gnashing my teeth in frustration, I made a batch of my no-fail oatmeal cookies, somehow managing to burn my upper arm with an oven rack. 

At least we were left with the cookie cake.  It was a little crisper around the edges than I preferred, but - silver lining! - I was able to use a really cute milk glass I'd bought on clearance at Michael's a few weeks ago.

It has a cow etched in the glass, and says "dairy."  Win win.

Cookie cake recipe here.  Have a great week!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Foxglove Love

First, let me get this out of the way.  BEAVER BABIES!

All right, now that I've got that out of my system, I can move on to the main event:  I finished my cardigan.

The pattern is FOXGLOVE by Kate Davies.  It's knitted in the round, bottom up, until you get to the armpit.  Then you put those stitches on hold while you knit up the arms and attach.  Finally, you knit some connecting rows and begin the chart for the foxgloves. Then the neck, and finally, the steek.  Steeking, remember, is where you reinforce stitches on either side of a center stitch so that you can cut through the fabric without any ends unraveling.  That's the theory, anyway!

Here's the cardigan pre-steek:

There are many ways to steek a sweater, but I chose a crochet steek.  Basically, I found the center stitch (not easy in that sea of maroon), and crocheted up one side and down the other, securing the right stitch leg and then the left stitch leg of the center stitch with the leg of the neighboring stitch on either side.  It's not pretty, but it doesn't have to be - it will never be seen. 

Basically the steek pulls the stitch apart and reveals the ladder center.  This is where you cut.

My steek held, except for two places that started to unravel.  I quickly reinforced them with matching thread and they held nicely.  How exactly does it work?  I'm not sure.  It seems impossible that one crochet stitch would hold in all of those tiny unraveling threads.  It does, though!

 After the frightening experience of the steek, you move on to the relatively easy creation of the button band.  You pick up and knit X number of stitches along the front edge (well in from the steek) and do a simple ribbed stitch for 12 rows.  Repeat on the other side.

The steek edge naturally folds under and is hidden.

Then all you have to do is sew on buttons, weave in ends, and block.  I was a nervous wreck about the fit.  The 2 sweaters I knitted earlier this year are both poor-fitting.  One has wonky shoulders and a fiddly, unraveling v-neck, and the other is just too small.

This sweater, though, fits pretty well!

Here's some detail of the yoke:

I'd prefer it to be slightly more fitted, but I guess it will be perfect to layer with this winter.  I think it will be a long time before I knit another sweater out of such fine yarn, but I'm looking forward to making another one soon, but with thicker yarn.  I have been drooling over Stonecutter, and it's knitted, thankfully, with pleasingly thick worsted weight.

After having lost a total of 5 trees and many branches and limbs, the work here is about finished.  Our tree guys have been amazing and regularly put in 12 - 14 hour days.  I made them some cookies to thank them for their hard work.  Since we're out of all chips and I only had peanut butter in the house, I decided to make Averie Cooks' Big Soft and Chewy Peanut Butter Crinkle Cookies.  They're huge - only 6 per cookie sheet!  They bake up crisp on the edges and soft in the middle.  Nice peanut butter taste.  Beautifully crinkled tops.  I worried that the centers would be too raw, so baked each batch for 12 minutes.  Next time I would go down to 11 minutes.  I prefer the less crisp version.

Have a great week!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Boulevard of Broken Trees

When we first moved to South Carolina, I bemoaned the fact that we didn't have nearly as much direct sunlight as I'd expected to have.  Almost two acres, and no sunny space for a garden?  But I've grown to absolutely love our trees.

Not only do they draw all sorts of interesting wildlife, but they keep the house nice and cool in the summer, providing much-needed shade.  We have a wide variety of trees, giving us all sorts of nuts and interesting seed pods in the fall and flowers in the spring.  I love the different textures in the bark, the shapes of the leaves, and the sound the wild makes in the boughs.  In short, I'm now head-over-heels in love, and can't imagine our space any other way.  

Unfortunately, that microburst a couple of weeks ago did more damage than we originally thought.  The big two-trunked poplar with the broken top must come down, the arborist said.  It's already going into shock.  Not only that, two other trees had been hit by lightning and significantly cracked.  Another tree, too, had some sort of it must come down damage that we didn't anticipate.  Four of our beautiful 100 ft plus-tall trees, all around the front and side of the house, are now in the process of being cut down.

Here are a few pictures of the 'before' (in azalea season):

It's a pretty grim scene now.

Chainsaws, every day.

They started with the big poplar.  Just one of the two trunks provided a significant amount of wood.

Unbeknownst to us, a ten-foot beehive resided in one of those limbs.  It was a rather unpleasant surprise for the man who cut it down, and our neighbors couldn't leave their house for at least a day because of the angry swarms.

After consulting the Extension Service and several local beekeepers, we learned that this hive and these bees couldn't be saved.  It's been a really tearful experience for me, with both the trees and the bees, and I know that the worst part will come when all the trees are down and I'm faced with that barren landscape.

But, life goes on around here.  The squirrels don't seem too bothered by the commotion.

Herons still squawk at the edge of the pond.

While we were away for the 4th of July, the beavers finished denuding the downed tree of bark.

I was worried that they might not come back, so I went down to the water's edge at dusk yesterday.  I climbed over the trunk, scooted down among the leaves, and waited. 

At first it was just me and the water skippers.

Augustus came out.  He's moderately cautious, so he did a few laps around the pond before climbing out of the water.  He kept a close eye on me at first.

Before long, though, he was dragging branches through the water...

...and giving them a good shake before settling in for a nice nibble.

Pepita is much more cautious.  She circled for a long time before going to Augustus for reassurance with her funny beaver grunt (heard here).  She didn't stray from his side until I left.

It's moments like these that help me through the very real grief of losing our little sanctuary in the front. 

In other news, I've been doing quite a bit of baking, but not really posting it here.  Last week I pitted two whole pounds of fresh cherries... make a cobbler.  The recipe calls for less than a cup of sugar.  I thought it was not quite sweet enough, but Todd is typically cherry cobbler-averse because of the overwhelming sweetness, and he absolutely loved this.  I left out the star anise and added a big handful of oatmeal to the crumb mixture.  Also, I didn't bother to make the cookie base.  I just divided the crumb mixture in half and it was plenty for a nice bottom layer and plentiful crumb on top. 

It was a nice compromise for both of us, and it didn't last long around here!

I hope to complete a big knitting project by next week and look forward to posting pictures soon.  Have a great week!