Thursday, August 28, 2008

Magical Moments

I just love late summer. The insect chorus is full, fruits & vegetables are ripening and every where I look there is just one cool nature discovery after another. I took a tour of our yard the other day and wanted to share a few of the magical nature moments I captured.

Moment 1 -

American Goldfinches! They are nesting now that their food sources are ripe - seeds - and so activity is high. This male goldfinch is loving our big patch of brown-eyed susans (Rudbeckia triloba). I captured this image through the screen of my craft room.

His lady friend...
We learned this summer that goldfinches LOVE beet greens. It's so fun to watch them rip off chunks of leaf and munch away. This male was caught in the act, but we don't mind.

Moment 2 -

Apple Gourds. Oh - these are so my favorites right now! We plan to dry them and make some bird houses or something along those lines. I don't really know yet. I just really think these are super cool. I look at them everyday. He he

Moment 3 -

Sunflowers - these are my favorites! Oh yes, I said the apple gourds are my favorite. Hmmm - so are these! There is just something so absolutely wonderful about sunflowers. The goldfinches are loving the seeds of these flowers, the bees are loving the nectar and pollen and we are loving their sunshiny addition to our garden.

Moment 4 -

Native wildflowers. We have lots of wildflowers at our place and I mean lots. I will do a separate post on that topic sometime, but here is a sampling.

Pennsylvania Leather-wings are very common around our place this summer. Here a leather-wing is feeding on the nectar and pollen (and perhaps some small insects) of wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia), a common bottomland - read rich soil - plant.

What I think is some sort of mining bee, is dining on the nectar of wingstem.

Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars feed happily on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

Moment 5 -

The first signs of fall...colored silver maple leaf and a ripe hazelnut.

Moment 6 -

I could not end my magical moment day without capturing the magical moments of our kitty cats. Bounder reclines...

And Bobcat, aka Long Arm, stretches...

Happy Magical Moments to you!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Apple Crisp, A Fall Favorite.

So you've got apples but don't feel like making pie dough? Then make apple crisp - it's almost as good as pie but much simpler to make. First, get your apples and cut them into chunks. We leave the skins on.

For this recipe, you'll need about 4 cups of apples.

Next add 1 t. cinnamon and 2 T. water.

Mix until all apple chunks are coated evenly with cinnamon.

Grease a baking dish and pour your apple mixture into it. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, start by making up 1/2 C. brown sugar by adding 1 T. of molasses to 1/2 C. regular sugar (or just use brown sugar).

If you are making the brown sugar, use a fork to cut the molasses into the sugar.

It will eventually look very much like brown sugar.

To the brown sugar add 1/4 C. each of whole wheat flour, yellow corn meal, flax meal and whole oats. Mix well.

Now cut 1/2 C. butter (1 regular stick or quarter) into the sugar/oats, etc. mixture.

It should end up looking like this:

Now poor the topping mixture evenly over the apples.

Use a fork and spread/pat the topping mixture over/into the apple mixture. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes to and hour.

While you are waiting for the crisp to cook, clean up your mess (you'll thank yourself for this when you are eating delicious crisp w/o having to think about dishes). !

Here's what your crisp should look like. It will not be as gooey and sugary as a more traditional recipe but do we really need sugary goo? Seriously.............

We say, "no", this crisp is de-lish!!!! Hope you have fun and enjoy :)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Homemade Pizza - YUM!

Last night we made one of our favorite comfort meals - homemade pizza - with the added bonus of our own garden fresh produce! It is so easy to make pizza from scratch and so we really never order in pizza anymore. We use a very basic yeast pizza crust recipe from a great all purpose cookbook - How it all Vegan by Tanya Barnard and Sarah Kramer. Yes, it is a vegan cookbook (and we are not vegan), but there are lots of great recipes for everyone in this book - and the girls are sassy and fun!

Yeast Pizza Crust Recipe:
1 1/2 cups tepid (lukewarm) water
1/4 oz packet yeast (= 2 1/4 tsp yeast)
1 tsp salt
3 cups flour

You can use whatever flours you prefer. We use 1 cup unbleached white, 1 cup wheat and 1 cup cornmeal. (Sometimes we add dried herbs such as oregano or basil to the crust. We did not do this last night, but highly recommend it.) Gather all your crust ingredients together first.

Whisk together the yeast and tepid water in a medium bowl. Once the yeast is dissolved, add the salt and whisk again.

Stir in the flour and mix together with a wooden spoon until well mixed. The recipe says to knead the dough for 3 minutes, but we find our spoon beating works just fine.

Now it's time for the first rising period. Find a warm, draft-free place for your bowl of dough, cover it with a damp towel and let it rise for 20 minutes. Our house was fairly cool last night so I turned on the oven for 1 minute, turned it off and put the dough inside the oven to rise. If you choose to let you dough rise in the oven, make sure you do not leave the oven on for much longer than a minute or it will be too hot and may kill your yeast. That would be a sad thing for your very hungry belly.

After 20 minutes, take your rising dough, beat it down with the wooden spoon and let it rise again for 10-20 minutes. (If it seems incredibly sticky, add a little more flour.) At this rising, I preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and let the dough rise (covered) on top of the oven.

Now comes the super fun part...picking out your toppings! We are enjoying the gifts of our garden right now and so chose to make this pizza with homegrown tomatoes, zucchini, basil and a store bought Vidalia onion. You can use whatever toppings suit your fancy because the yeast crust works with anything.

We are in love with green chiles and unfortunately do not have any fresh right now, but our canned green chiles make do. (We add green chiles to many many meals here in our house.)

After your second dough rising, beat down the dough again with your wooden spoon and dump the dough onto a greased or oiled cookie sheet. Spread the dough out with your hands (it's usually a little sticky, but not overly so) and prick it all over with a fork.

We like to bake the dough for 5-10 minutes before adding any sauce, cheese or toppings to ensure we don't end with a soggy crust. This step is optional though. If you wish you not do this step, just jump on ahead!

Add your pizza sauce - yes ours is from a can, but you can make your own if you so desire.

Add your cheese - we used a little less than a quarter block of mozzarella cheese. We like a light layer of cheese and so this amount works well for us. You can add as much cheese as you like and as many kinds as you want!

Now add all your toppings...

Now how good does this look?

Bake your pizza for 30 - 40 minutes and then enjoy!

Yep - the pizza tasted just as good as it looks. :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Trash to Treasure

At the beginning of the summer Steve pulled an old slightly broken rocking chair out of the trash. Really the only problem was a missing back piece and an out-of-date vinyl seat. I purchased some discontinued fabric from Big Lots and an idea began to form on how we just might turn this chair back into something usable and beautiful! Look closely behind the chair and you will see Bounder - the ever helpful eldest of our kitty cats.

We chose the easy fix part - the seat - to start with. The seat popped right out so I fitted a piece of fabric to it, cut it out with pinking shears and then Steve and I tacked it to the seat frame.

Bounder helped us a lot by playing with fabric scraps...

laying on the fabric...

and supervising!

We then had the finished seat and wow - it looked great! No more vinyl!

Next came the more difficult part - preparing the back piece. All went well at the beginning - I measured...




and the blasted thing did not fit! AHHHHHHHH! Let me say that one more time: AHHHHHHHHHH! So my ever crafty husband worked hard via drastic measures to make the back piece fit; yes, he is cutting the poor little chair.

Well, let's just say the little cutting could not make up for the fact that my back piece was about a 1/2 inch too small. We have no photos to share those moments - I assume you all know how it feels when you think you are almost done with a project and then it just simply does not work and you realize you must start over. This time for us with a permanent change to the found object.

Thankfully I had enough fabric to start over and that is what I did the next evening. The whole back piece took me no more than hour to complete and complete correctly. My novice seamstress bones shined through in this project, but I finished the piece and now the chair is whole again with a slightly smaller back upright, but who will notice? We saved her from the landfill and now we have a story.

Bounder finished helping by sniffing the new chair and posing for a photo...

and Bobcat helped as much as she usually does - by watching birds.