Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Red Lentils Without Soda Bread

Well, the recipe, here actually has the dish with soda bread, but I didn't feel like making it, already have good wholewheat in the house anyway.

So since I had various bags of lentils around, when I found this recipe on twitter, it seemed like a good idea.  Fast, good food, not too laborious. 

Here's the makings

The recipe talks about cilantro, a handful, but I didn't have any on hand, so I subbed a handful of mixed spearmint and rose scented geranium leaves, worked fine.  And it's a brit recipe, in metric and in ounces, so I just guessed as I went. 

And here's the result

This resulted in quite a bit of extra water, seen here in the background, as well as lentils.  I spooned off the water, then mixed with the leftover lentils, blended with the immersion blender, and now I have two containers of lentil soup in the freezer for some time when I fancy them.  I'll probably add in some coconut milk when I reheat, too. This dish was a bit low on salt and other flavors, so I'd use more salt next time and probably a lot more garlic and chili pepper. And maybe some curry powder.

It's done with red lentils, which as you know, cook down faster than the other kind, because they're the peeled version.  So they make a nice cooked sort of mass in about half an hour.  The other sorts of lentils tend to keep their shape, which is okay if that's what you want.

While all this activity was going on in the kitchen, I noticed right outside the window a praying mantis hard at work in the Russian sage 

Haven't seen one this season, and it's always a welcome sight.  They are deadly on mosquitoes, and since I provided a snack for same on my brief trip out for the herbs, I'm glad to know she's at work on the issue.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse 2017 or as near as we got

I've been thinking about trying my hand at growing my own ginger, and today finally got a piece, and decided to plant it in honor of the eclipse.  Who knows, might be a good omen. 

So here it is waiting to be settled into a mix of coco fiber and organic potting soil.  This was originally one piece, with lively looking potential shoots. Shouldn't be too hard to remember when I planted it, so I didn't make any notes, other than this one.

 And I'm not sure if I should have waited till the break scabbed over, but oh well.

Then this afternoon, the local library made an event of the eclipse, and we had a traffic jam.  Seemed as if everyone outside of walking distance was trying to get there.  They distributed glasses, but I was too late to snag a pair.  Didn't matter. The crowd was friendly and people lent, so I still got a couple of glimpses.

Definitely good to get into a crowd for this, very cheerful happy people.  The chess players weren't deterred from their giant game. 

We're out of the main path, but it got as dark as twilight, and much cooler.  Interestingly, the people who had been in party mood all afternoon, fell silent at 2.48, our totality.  Birds, too.

 Then as the sun began to return, I left, and got home in time to hear the birds suddenly start up again, and see a monarch butterfly wake up and get moving among the neighbors' flowers.

Odd how reassuring it was when the sun came back, even though nowadays we know it will, most likely.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Friday dinner on the way

Tomorrow evening, Handsome Son will be free to come for dinner, seize the day when he's able to, working a lot of hours these days.

So the menu will be:  lovely fresh canteloupe chunks, with sprinkle of either amchur powder (dried mango powder, citrusy taste) or ginger powder.  Right from the farm, and the scent of the canteloupe in the kitchen is lyrical.

Then chicken thighs pounded flat, rolled around hot sausage, roasted with melted butter and panko crumbs.  

Here's the chicken wrapped around the sausage, background onion and garlic cooking for the side dish, and tomatoes in next pic, cooking down for the sauce.

Side of a tomato bean idea I got from Splendid Table, involving tomatoes (they say buy sauce, and I say, nuts, I have plum tomatoes from the farm and homemade pesto) butter beans, and fresh herbs.  If you like the sound of it, go here

This was specially nice since I have the requisite thyme and rosemary growing right outside the door.  

Beans, tomato sauce and herbs before adding panko and other herbs

And here's the complete dish.  It bakes a treat in cast iron, bubbles up nicely, crisp on top.
After I chopped up enough herbs for this recipe, I put the rest of the twigs on top of the chicken dish, and the smell of the roasting is heavenly.  Mostly roasted it tonight, and I'll finish it off tomorrow evening. And with any luck have enough left for several dinners for moi next week.  I used up all the sausage and chicken in one roasting, save time and heat.

Dessert is chocolate cake.  With pot of tea and some video or other, whatever HS scrambles up from my collection. 

You'll notice I've started to give links to recipes, where they're not my invention, that is.  It occurs to me that to save people emailing asking for the recipe, I may as well just offer it right off.  So I am. Only took me a few years to think of this.

Escape reading and noshing

In terrifying times, after we've done all the resistance work available to us, we need a bit of self care.  

This can be reading comic mysteries, like the Mrs. Pargeter series by Simon Brett, pic in poor lighting, so focus not so hot, but you get the gist

and making a batch of Crazy Chocolate Cake, iced with chocolate/walnut/peppermint icing.  

This is that dead simple recipe
 Both books and cake are failsafe! Both are recommended.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sometimes, after you're done protesting and acting, you need to just breathe

And let nature help.  I was about to cut back these spent flowers, since they don't look so good, and a little goldfinch suddenly showed up to feed on them. And another right next to them, on the basil which is going to seed. So they can stay for now, even if the flowers look tired.

And after yesterday's terrible events in Charlottesville, we need a little nature break.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Roast vegetables and Two Fat Ladies

Revisiting roast vegetables today, with sweet potatoes, Granny Smith apple rings, hot Italian sausage, tofu, onions and various spices.  The onions were just halved then unfurled, not chopped, and the only precooked item is the sweet potato, nuked for about 15 minutes, they were big.  Otherwise it won't cook enough in the time you need for the other items.  410F oven, half an hour with a tinfoil hat on, as you see here, waiting, then half an hour sans hat.

This easily makes six meals for me, and freezes up a treat in single serving portions.

Other meals are all about farm produce, great tomatoes, fruit, herbs from my yard, all very virtuous.

I've been revisiting Two Fat Ladies, too, and if you haven't seen them,  all the episodes are on YouTube nowadays, easy to find.  Each episode is a combo of great cooking, very knowledgeable sidenotes by Clarissa, who is a brain of the first water, youngest barrister in England in her day, and spontaneous songs and other such things from Jennifer, while they're busy in the kitchen.  

They visit various touristy type places, so there's scenery, and there's the nice sense of being behind the scenes, in a convent, and in Lincoln's Inn, and cricket clubs, Aldershot military camp, and so on.  Veddy English, and very comic, most of it intentional.  And Clarissa says auregAHno for oregano, too cool.  They both come from great wealth and colorful families with all sorts of posh estates and things and they spare us the rawer facts about them (!) and the feuds. But they do give us all sorts of wild stories which definitely have the ring of truth.

They got through four seasons before Jennifer got ill and died, sadly.  Then Clarissa did seasons of other stuff, like visiting country areas for country pursuits, and I couldn't bear to watch the joy she took in hunting and killing animals and birds, and the total disdain and outright rudeness she reserved for anyone not in her elevated social circle.  So the cooking evidently brought out the best in her, stick with that if you want to watch her. 

Here and there they do something I fancy, like Tomato Tartlets which are a kind of salade nicoise (insert your own cedilla there) in pastry shells, and a pastry made from ground almonds and other things rather than flour, interesting.  Some great baking, too. They are actually very versatile, and in real life did some high end catering for all sorts of events and people.  Jennifer is always the one to point out how a recipe can be adapted for cocktail party use, she being a great fan.

Mostly they slosh incredible amounts of cream and butter about (you should see Clarissa buttering a slice of bread, cor, a week's ration there) and large amounts of alcohol.  For culinary purposes, of course.  And slabs of meat.  So a lot of it is viewing not emulating for me anyway, except that they always get the best ingredients, freshest, etc, good to copy. But great fun, and I recommend them.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Plants in new homes, getting all entitled about it

Since this afternoon's planned activity was cancelled owing to the unavailability of one person, can't play trios without three, hoping for next week, though, I had to improve the shining hour somehow.

So I took a long promised trip to the thriftie, to donate a trunkful of clothes and useful stuff which I had tried on Freecycle, no takers, oh well, they are good for new homes anyway.

And since I'd gone all that way, I had to go into the store, of course.  You donate outside at the edge of the parking lot, to a nice man in a shed. That way their van can drive around, pick up a load when the shed's full, and take it out back for sorting. So you could just get back in the car and go home, but that's not an option I ever took up.

So, having scoured the store in case they had any cool stuff for Handsome Son, no luck this time, and for me, no luck in clothing, I remembered I was in search of baskets for houseplants.  I do like them to look a bit better than in the old plastic pot things, which work fine but don't look very aesthetically pleasing. And I'd looked online and been horrified by the prices of practically anything.

And scored five great buys.  Three nested seagrass baskets, one handled one, and one less exciting, but fine. Got change from $20. They're more expensive than they used to be, but can't complain.

The begonia, which might be an angel leaf, is the one I started from a single leaf poked into potting soil about a year ago, which just sat for three months, then finally leapt out of the soil, shouting like Tarzan, and now look at it.  

Not sure what it is, since the leaf came from another plant I have which originated as a stolen cutting..and I think I might try another way of propagating it, by laying down a leaf with cuts in it, on the medium. Very Thalassa Cruso!!

She was a scream of a tv presenter, in the olden black and white Julia Child days, teddibly English, teddibly expert, teddibly understanding of beginning gardeners, and you can still find some of her video on YouTube.  I think her series was called Making Things Grow. Do look, she's a lot of fun.  I'm aware that some of my neighbors think I'm a scream, too, for similar reasons..but innocent merriment, I could do worse.

The Norfolk Island Pine I took after friend Karen died, since nobody in the family knew much about plants, so I have taken care of it.  It's not a very sturdy specimen, but it's healthy and harmless.  Very slow grower, unlike other specimens I've had.  But it doesn't give up.

The sansevieria is the one I grew from a leaf I cut up, from a friend's specimen. I'd taken care of it over a summer and sent it home from camp much better looking, so I took one leaf in payment.  It's doing fine now,  new plants emerging from the older ones.

The little pony palm is a recent arrival, from a friend, for intensive care, and I wonder if it's going to make it. No roots at all, but I'll administer benign neglect and see what's what.

And the aloe is not a rescue, I actually bought this from the farmer's market a couple of years ago, and, as you see, it's growing out of its home.  Any local readers who would like a couple of divisions, essential in the kitchen for burn treatment, that's where mine is, just let me know and I'll pot a couple up and we can connect for you to get them. 

Considering their humble origins, these plants look pretty nice these days.  Very entitled.  Reminds me of my first cat, feral Annabelle, I was the only human who could handle her, found in a dumpster, and in no time at all insisting on her rights and the best food, very picky, too.  She liked to slink about among the houseplants, playing tigers in the jungle.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Farm food and me, perfect together, and rehoming succulents

Today was about the first farm tomatoes, and peaches, great lunch.  With homegrown basil cut up and strewn around, olive oil spritzed on,  and tuna salad, made with tartare sauce.  

Pinch of baharat on the peach.  

And this was a lunch for a queen.

After I'd picked the basil, I looked back and there was a female goldfinch noshing on the seeds.  I let my herbs go to flower and seed, because I usually have all I need off them already.  And the flowers are often lovely.  

Then the seeds come in handy for roving bands of goldfinches.  I already saved all the basil seeds I need, so I can start seed next year.  I'll leave the rest for the goldfinches, our state bird, dropping in numbers because of habitat loss, least  I can do, really.

At the libe this morning I picked up a book on moss gardens, and a chat with circ desk friends about succulents.  They're trying to rehab an old jade plant that sort of fell apart, so they didn't burst out laughing at my experiments.  Kindred spirits.

And home to look at the book which told me more than I wanted to know about moss, its care and feeding.  Turns out it's aJapanese book, should have known, great photography, extreme care with handling everything, many quizzes to qualify the reader to continue with the moss journey.  Not exactly for me, but it did trigger a nice thought, which, you know how it is, I put into action instantly.

Dug out a lovely old Vermont Pottery platter, greenish brownish glaze, friendly for plants, realized I had containers of glass pebbles and beach glass for a bed, and installed the Three Little Succulents in their pots in this posh new home.

So here they are in their new digs. 

The platter we bought, along with some other lovely pieces, on a trip we made 50 years ago, when I was about five months' pregnant with Handsome Son, whose birthday it is today.  There must have been a subconscious river of thought about this.  And about Handsome Partner whose sixth anniversary is also today, and with whom I picked out the pottery.

It's all good.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mushroom soup and crochet hooks

Today lunch was in the nature of rescued food.  Mushroom soup and hot biscuits.  

The soup came from the water in which I soaked freeze dried shiitake mushrooms, is there such a word as reliquify, if not there should be.  The mushrooms were all used up in the recent spaghetti sauce caper, but why waste that delicious flavored liquid.  So I heated it, bit of chicken broth, salt, dash of lemon juice, bundle of thyme twigs, really good, simmered for about an hour.

And with it hot biscuits, usual recipe, except that recently I had a half gallon of milk which went off before it shoulda.  So I soured it further with lemon juice, then froze it in quantities enough for one recipe at a time of hot biscuits, and it's working fine. Hate to throw away good food.  It's working fine to make biscuits, a little flatter and crisper than with the freshly soured milk, but fine leaven all the same.

And on the craftier side, I was chatting recently on Rav about beaded knitting and showed pix of my phone purses, of which I have quite few.  

They're small, ideal for experiments, and nice little presents, too.  I beaded several of them, using the crochet hook method, which suits me much better than threading them all on ahead of time.  Then I was asked to show the hooks, too, since the size of them was a bit of a mystery to people used to the bigger range of sizes you usually use.

So here's the question: I'm quoting my own post on Rav here: 

Okay, here’s another purse, linen thread and blue glass beads. I used the smallest of the hooks in the pic. Reading left to right, unmarked, probably #10, Boye #10, Boye #9, Bates #3, and Bates # 8 for comparison. I wonder about the sizing, whether these are modern sizes or what, maybe the smallest have their own size range?

And that's the question for any blogista who knows about crochet hook sizing.  I got these from a toolbox found at the thriftie, of a very old person, a serious seamstresss from the quality of silk thread and tools, and the antiquity of some of the newspaper slips things were wrapped in. A Jewish prayer for the traveler in there, too, in the form of a tiny scroll in a capsule, hung on a leather lace. Which I'm keeping with care. So the hooks might be European, brought here as the tools an immigrant might hang on to?   Really don't know, so I'm crowdsourcing for information.  Thank you!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Preserve visit, and bromeliad foliage ready for a new career

Today was cooler, and after an ambitious little while, cutting down the remaining daylily foliage and carting it away to the woods, and pruning the sage and various things which were getting all carried away, and the explosion of oregano, it seemed like a good idea to go to the Preserve.  Nice walking weather.  But first, after tidying up outside the fence, I found the bundle of bromeliad foliage, and realized instead of tossing it, I could make paper from it.  

So now it's drying in the studio.  And in the course of spreading out the foliage, found this little snail, hanging on to a wild cherry leaf. 

 So he'd been carried up two flights and then back down again, probably a globetrotting adventure for a snail, when you think about it.  He's outside again, with bragging rights for his friends.

This bromeliad was one of those I give up, Liz do something, plants from next door.  It was totally rotted, and I assured G it was not his doing.  He tends to get bargains at the nursery, and I saw that this one was not potted up right.  They're supposed to be vertical, so that you water just into the cup of the foliage, never around the roots.  This one was horizontal, very misshapen, and was really not up to much. You couldn't help getting the soil wet. So I dumped out the soil, gave back the pot, and tossed the leaves. Until now.

The only drawback to the Preserve plan, next on the agenda,  was that I'm tired from yesterday's digging and hauling, and then this morning's stint, but I didn't want to give up.  So I decided on a nice amble instead of a hike.  Resting on benches here and there. Worked out fine.

The tree swallows were darting all over the place, soon they'll be on their way south.  And there was an egret on the far side of the lake, too far for pix -- it would appear like a speck in a pic!  in fact I have several nonpix to show for the amble.  

Several tiny blue skipper butterflies were dancing around for ages in front of me, and there was no chance they'd show up in a pic. They're about half an inch across fully extended.  And a spectacular giant dragonfly, but she kept darting away when I focused on her. There were also darners around today -- this is a great region for a wide variety of dragonflies and related insects. 

And a comma butterfly, which you don't see often, fast mover, gone before I was ready...however, there were obliging flowers big enough to pic.   Here's Queen Anne's Lace, which cascades all over the roadsides around here at the moment

and chicory, my favorite of all wild flowers. 

 Again, masses of them by the roads. But our roads are narrow, busy, have no shoulders, and there's no way to stop and pic.  Or walk back safely.  So these are just ambassadors for their species.  They both flower together, wonderful natural bouquets.

And here's a vertiginous little trail, heading straight down to the water.  Great for butterflies here, and one of my favorite tiny areas in the Preserve. Also a great hunting ground for the swallows.

In the fenced area, intended for safe breeding and feeding for birds and other wildlife, can't get accidentally trodden on by eager hikers, are a lot of native plants, including this echinacea.

And for a glimpse into the backbreaking life of a colonial lady, see these bayberries.  

They're fruiting very well this year.  However, in order to transform them into candles, there are many processes. They're waxy, so they make a natural material.  Once you've gathered thousands of them, you do all sorts of labor intensive and time-consuming things before you ever get to form them into candles.  It takes a lot of berries to make even one candle.  As well as spinning, and weaving and growing food and giving birth all the time and so on...makes you tired to think about it.  But I take off my sunbonnet to them.

The honesty seeds are sprouting nicely, and the succulents have been promoted to getting actual water! they're huge, gosh must be as much as a quarter inch across..oh, and I was wondering why my Montauk daisies were flourishing, tons of foliage, no flowers, then found that's right. They're fall flowering, all the better to extend the season.  I'd forgotten that bit.

Lovely afternoon.  In fact a pretty nice day, and it's not even dinnertime yet.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Accidental gardening and other neighborhood news

Today started out cloudy with threatened rain, and I was looking out the kitchen window and realized that the huge clump of yellow daisy like flowers across the street, the house my friend Girija just left for a bigger place, were possible candidates for a bit of transplanting to my yard. And a cloudy rainy day a great time to do it.

Texted her and she said, oh, my pleasure, take a clump, yes, go ahead.  So I went over there and dug a decent sized clump from the back, where it's not visible from the street, made no difference to its appearance.  And inadvertently picked up a little azalea bush twined in its roots, so oh well, it had to come too.

And planted it out front of my own house, sending pix to G showing her the results at both places.  

Here's the clump I planted chez Boud

She has a tenant coming in soon, so I wanted her to know her old place still looked nice.  And while I was at it, neighbor next door came across to see what was up, and pointed out a rose stuck in the midst of the flowers.  Suggested it come out of there.  I thought I would replant it for her in a better location out front of her house, texted accordingly, and she said, oh, just take it, it's yours.  

Not a huge fan of roses, but I'm not a fan of good plants being left to deteriorate either, and I know the incoming tenant is no gardener. In fact G isn't either, but did try her hand at it.  So I went to dig out the rose, and found it was practically out of the ground, totally over to one side like Gourock, little Glaswegian joke there, and required little digging to get it up.  

But I was sort of amazed to find when I did that it was about six feet tall when upright, and was very awkward to handle.  It stuck me all over the place, caught on everything as I got it back across the street, and found my pruners to reduce it to something more manageable.  Never been pruned, I think.  After frost I'll prune further back to give it a good chance next year.  No idea what sort of rose, color, anything, yet.  But it needs some tlc to resume any sort of normal growth pattern.

Planted it next to the climbing rose in the back, and booted out a few iris in the process, but replaced them elsewhere, doesn't harm them to be moved. Then reduced the savagely thorny clippings to bits and tossed them out to the woods for wildlife shelter.

After that, covered in blood and soil and sweat, but not tears, I had to start over again completely with a clean outfit and shower.

Then neighbor wanted to ask about moving stuff about in his yard, and we both did a bit of stealth cleanup in another neighbor's yard, also not a gardener, and with an absentee landlord.  Looks much better now.  Huge rosa rugosa had taken over an azalea, other stuff going wild. And we got done before the tenant came home...felt very sneaky about it.  He probably wouldn't mind, but still.

While we were pottering about gardening, and he offered to move the rose from across the street for me and I said too late, it's done, and he laughed, shoulda known, and by way of a change of subject, showed me a couple of pix on his phone. No, no, what were you thinking, very innocent stuff.

He was away yesterday for serious medical stuff, fingers crossed all around for his results, anyway, got home last night and showed me what he found.  His bedroom looked a bit like a snowdrift, mounds of fluffy white all over the place.  Evidently his two little dogs had improved the shining hour by eviscerating a down pillow. Amazing how far that stuff goes.  When he came home, they ran to meet him at the door and he noticed one was covered head to foot in white fluff... 

Shortly after this yet another neighbor, an excitable lady, came trotting over to see what we were gardening about, and said, you will never guess what I found!  I opened the dumpster to put in garbage and there's this huge mound of white stuff! no idea what it is.  What do you think happened?  Whereupon I said, oh, Gary can tell you that.  And he showed her the pix. Honestly it was like a movie. You can't make this stuff up. 

Afterword on the HS celebration: The birthday dinner went over great, Handsome Son totally enjoyed the dinner, and the prosecco toasts, ate large helpings of the spag with the special sauce, and the Battenberg cake with raspberry sauce. He also left with the rest of the cake, very happily.  Nice evening, Campion video, a first for him, and he wished there were subtitles.

So all's well in the neighborhood today.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mixed emotions, and Battenberg cake

On Friday Handsome Son is coming over to dinner, to celebrate his birthday, which in fact doesn't happen till the eighth.  Longtime readers may recall that Handsome Partner, after a long illness and nine years of caregiving, died on that day, quietly, at home. Son was alone with him just at that minute.  I'd left the room briefly. This often happens, I'm told, that the partner isn't there at the exact moment.

So that day is one of massive emotions in all directions.  We have marked HP's life on his own birthday in past years, so as to sort of reserve HS's birthday for himself.  But you can't ban the emotions that have to come with it.

Anyway, the dinner will be comfort food -- spaghetti with a lovely red sauce with hot Italian sausage and mushrooms, followed by a lifetime ambition of mine, Battenberg cake!

I have been going to bake one for maybe forty years, and finally got around to it.  So there's that.  I made it all from scratch, including the marzipan coat.  In fact marzipan's a lot easier to make than I had realized.

Here's the opening salvo, many ingredients.

However, I ran into technical difficulties with the cake.  Baking it was the least of my problems, though I had only two square pans both an inch bigger than the recipe wanted.  This is a problem with this kind of cake, which you have to sort of build and stack, and it's better if the slices are thick enough to work with you rather than against you..

So cake all beaten, and divided into two more or less equal parts, so you color one pink, and leave the other alone, the baking went fine, and the cake tastes okay.

However, the assembly, with a large cat prowling around and helping, was another story.  You slice up each cake, and build the slices checkerboard style, cementing them together with jam.  It starts to feel like kindergarten, where you give the kids edible stuff to build with in case anyone fancies tasting it.  And you have to sort of carpenter the slices so that there aren't thin ends.  Well, with the right size pans, there wouldn't have been thin ends, but oh well.

Once assembled, then reassembled after they fell apart, I painted all the outside with more jam as adhesive, and wrapped them in the marzipan.  I ground the almonds myself, since almond flour is wildly expensive, and has stabilizers and desiccators and who knows what else added to stop clumping.  So even the outside was a recipe unto itself.

It was one of those occasions when you have all the bowls and the rolling pin, which hardly ever gets used, and all the counter space, and various spoons and knives and measuring thingies, all over the place.

The good part is that this recipe makes two cakes, just as well considering how much work it takes to make it.  For some recipes you go through all this, divide one pan with parchment paper and put dough on each side, one colored, one plain, and after all that you have one small cake.

So here it is, and I offer it with the usual humble transparency of this blog, not fancied up by a food artist, just  presented by me.  Glad I did it, but it does look a bit Monty Python.  And I'm going to make a raspberry sauce to serve over the helpings on Friday.

However, this means I can do similar things with other recipes, too.  Bake one regular item, banana bread, maybe, slice and stack it and make it posher.  Not a bad idea.  Not sure I want to buy two right sized pans, though.

No idea why it's called Battenberg cake, though that was the Royals name before WW1 when they changed it to Mountbatten, talk about transparency, a three year old could see through that. 

My mom, no respecter of royalty, used to refer to the Queen now and then as Mrs. Guelph. And it was amazing what they learned, having left school at 12, what a grasp of history.  Because that was indeed the family name of the European dynasty she came from, long before they were kings and queens.

So I wonder if this cake is a dig at opportunistic name changes. or if a nice lady called Mrs. Battenberg got fed up of plain cake and thought she'd entertain the kids with a checkerboard one. 

and here's the cook's privilege: scraps of the cut-off cake bits and the extra marzipan, with afternoon tea. And it's worth making your own marzipan, much better than the shop stuff.

And I have a Battenberg cake in the freezer for emergencies when nothing else will do!

Monday, July 31, 2017

To do or not to do, late July question

Yesterday was one of those not too hot, not too humid days, perfect for just about anything.  I was out on the patio, reading and loafing and watching birds, and wondering if I should seize the day and go to the Preserve.  Lately it's been either too wet or too hot for it.

Then I realized that right where I was, was just fine.  And a goldfinch, in full mating kit, flew by and that settled it.  Little toad hopping around the deck. Chatting with neighbors.  Surprise visit from one friend to introduce a new neighbor.  Going to the Preserve would have erased all those possibilities.

And the current reading fitted right in. 

I do have a tendency to not just sit there, do something, when it might be better now and then to just don't do something, sit there.   So, for once, I did.

Today too hot for what I'd planned, and I had to cancel. I don't do well in heat this year.  But home works, too. 

As you see, I'm sending this to the mailing list as well as the usual publishing.  After this, I won't send every post to the mailing list, just, about weekly, send out a general link, so you can click, get onto the site easily, and just browse, scroll back to catch up, too.  I am not planning to reduce the actual mailing list, though a couple of people thought that's what I meant, just reduce the number of posts I send to it.  

The reason for this is that for some people it's a bit too prolific, and they feel bad just deleting.  This will be, I think, a nice compromise, where I write as often as I need to, but you only need check in less frequently.  The reason I suggested you try to sign up to follow by email feed is so that you can choose to continue to get all the posts when published.  But for some people, that's proving to be a bit tricky, phones not all being compatible with blogger feeds. 

There are a lot of readers who follow the blog in other ways, not on the mailing list, which I created for people not familiar with blog following. There's Bloglovin, email, and Twitter, where I often put up current links on my account.  Up to the right there you'll see buttons for all these options.

So, not wanting to lose anyone, and not wanting to annoy people with email input when they're already busy, I'm trying this.  Let me know if you encounter any hitches on the way. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Real toads in imaginary gardens

I've been watching a few videos about gardens, they all seem to be English gardens, and discovered the designer Rosemary Verey, whose book I borrowed from the libe.  She covers a bunch of gardens she designed or had a hand in, including her own, and the pictures are lovely.  Not so much the text, which is rather a dreary list of plantings and name droppings, but nonetheless, it's always possible to learn a bit from garden books.

And I discovered there's a series of videos on YouTube, along the same line as this book, same Rosemary, same gardens, and she strolls about with their owners and staff (!) you need staff for these marvellous places.  So I recommend any of the above.

It's fun to see these amazingly successful areas, particularly when they spread over many acres, and much $$. My tiny little patio would probably take up less room than their toolshed.

But, like seeing elaborate cooking shows, you are a bit inclined to rush off and try something.  In the case of the gardening, I just ran out and cut down the dying daylily foliage and carted it out to the woods to be good for the wildlife.  It did improve the area.

Some of the principles are useful though, even if you don't have rolling acres and hot and cold running gardeners.  Such as having a vertical element in even the littlest plot.  Or remembering to have plants higher up, for interest.  As in my houseplants.  I have several hanging ones near the floor standing ones, and it does look much better than a group on the floor like a flock of quiet sheep. Outside I have the boxes I got built to sit on the fence, and they're planted with various things, a bit empty at the moment, but later there will be more to look at in there.

Out front I have the Russian sage, which comes back year after year and gives a lovely vertical element out front without being so dense as to block anything else.  Not that I'm any kind of expert, just pleased to find a touch here and there that works for me.

And groundcover, which does away with the problem of  weeding almost entirely.  A lazy gardener, I like to have some work done for me.  Groundcover, my local nursery told me, works as a mulch for potted outdoor plants over the winter, which is why my plants survive, when unprotected pots don't.

They talk a lot about color and design and blocking and succession, and I don't notice much about scents except in passing. There I take issue.  My front path is a scent walk, not visually exciting, but interesting when you pinch and sniff as you go.  Tarragon, rosemary, Thai basil, English thyme, lavender, now starting with a new flush after the harvest, regular basil, it's so good to experience them.  I invite neighbors to take some, too, since some of them are great cooks who don't grow herbs.  And the Russian sage, is taller than I am, dense with flowers and bees, and smells heavenly.  

They also rarely acknowledge the birds and animals in their gardens, which I find a major gap.

Incidentally, I'm cutting back on sending to my mailing list.  So if you don't want to miss any posts, be sure and sign up for email.  It's up there on the right, just enter your email, follow the steps it gives you, and that should work.  Let me know if you have a problem, and I'll see what I can do.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Babies abound!

I have to say that propagating succulents is one of the slowest motion hobbies there ever was.  You do one stage, wait six weeks, do the next stage, wait another few weeks..not for the impatient.

Anyway here's the update:  of the six leaves I started, three have resulted in new plants, so tiny you need a magnifying glass to see them.  

So a fifty per cent germination rate, probably not too bad as these things go.  I hope the new plants get big enough to actually see soon, since I have plans for them.  Interestingly, there were two leaves per pot, and one per pot survived.  I wonder if they fought it out in some vegetal way, to determine who would propagate?

And on the subject of babies, I noticed recently that the red bellied woodpecker, mainly the male, was at the feeder almost incessantly and today found out why:  he brought his baby to sit on the branch above the feeder, and proceeded to ferry suet up to him. 

I guess it was easier to bring the baby to the food, now he's fledged, than to bring the food to the nest/cavity.  It must be in the trees right outside my back gate, since that's where he routinely vanished with suet recently. And since it was almost exclusively the male doing the foraging, this father is a good provider.  I've noticed the same with cardinals, too, often the male coping with young learning to feed themselves.

This brings to six the number of young families being provided for by my feeder, very good to know.  Word probably got around that this mix was a good one.