Sunday, February 19, 2017

Week 12, February 19, 2017 -Is it April?

I guess a mild winter is good. You save on heating bills. What I am saying? I know there is the expression "it is cold out." That means it is uncomfortable out. Mostly, we do not like the cold.
So why I am little apprehensive about 6 days in a row in February in Iowa when the temperatures are above 60? Actually, on Friday it was in the 70's. I guess I will only say it seems a little unnatural.
Then there is that whole ice cap thing.

Julia got home from Portland, Maine on Tuesday. She was visiting out new grandchild. They had a little over 30 inches of snow in the week she was there. Here are the contrasting pictures. I have alternated Portland pictures with Iowa pictures. You can tell the difference.

As you can see right above, the snowdrops are actually blooming this week. It was official when the first bees showed up. I always imagine some poor bee drawing the short straw and having to go out and see if there are any flowers yet. Something like that went on with Noah's ark I seem to recall. Well, that bee reported back that there were blooming snowdrops. A whole bunch came out.

In last week's contest here was your winner.

It was no contest. The toad lily, making a play for a #1 seed in the next round, dominated from start to finish.
The full voting was
Toad lily 25
Fall Crocus 9
Pink Orchid Cactus 8
Triumphator the lily 8

Week 12

We now move on to week 12, the last week of this first round of the Winter Picture Contest. It does seem right that we are almost done.
This week I decided to feature similar pictures, all cropped the same way. I am always about an even playing field.

#1 Amaryllis (March 3, 2016)

In Week 4 of the contest one of the contestants was an Amaryllis, blooming outside.  I have a bunch of these bulbs. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to keep them dormant until Spring, they bloom inside.
Here you have this single potted plant that bloomed in March. It got to be the featured plant on our dining room table for quite some time. It had six stalks as you can see. Each stalk had 2-4 flowers.
In real time I just brought it upstairs. This year it only had 3 bud stalks. I usually will leave them in the same pot for years. Maybe the reduction in blooming stalks should have me repot them in their own pots.

I bring my Amaryllis inside before the first frost. They live in the garage until it gets too cold. They they spend time in a basement closet. They are completely dormant by that point. All the leaves have died back. They have had no water for months.
According to the instructions on the box, when you get them in a box, you put them in dirt, and give them some water, once. You wait for the bud to emerge, which should not be long.
When they are in my closet, without light or water, something wakes some of them up. The plants just start growing.
I must then get them out of the dark closet. I water them at that point, giving them some fertilizer too. I maybe even treat them to some fresh dirt on top.
Then many of them will bloom.
(Some are duds and just put up leaves.)
After they bloom they can go in a window until it is warm enough to go outside.

#2 Hosta Sagae, with Bluebells (April 19, 2016)

Bluebells are coming. Place your orders now. So are the big hosta. This is Sagae. It certainly is in my top five hosta list.

#3 Pink Waterlily (June 23, 2016)

Not only are waterlilies great, but so are waterlily pictures. Look at the bottom of that leaf near the flower.

#4 Daylily called Fooled Me  (July 24, 2016)

I like daylily names. At some point I heard that there were something like 50,000 daylilies in commerce. Past of this is that it is so easy to make your own crosses. I have some of my own. So far they are just Mears Seedling No. whatever.
Daylilies bloom for only one day. Actually that is the case unless you have one that blooms in November. I had one daylily bloom at that time in 2016. It lasted 2-3 days. )There are certain varieties that are know to rebloom in the fall.

There you have it. Week 12 is now on the clock. Vote away. Will it be yellow, pink, blue, or red?
Tell me about your early spring, if you are having one.

Bonus pictures

In this section I try to give you other pictures of the contestants. All of the types of flowers this week have already been in the contest.

What to do?

How about I show you pictures of a flower that did not make the contest this year. It has been in the contest in prior years. That would be the Crown Imperial Fritillaria.  It was a little down last year. These pictures are from the previous 5 years. This past fall I planted 10 new ones, on the shelf along Fairview. They should be ideal for viewing maybe about April 1.
They make for wonderful pictures because of the other spring flowers around them.

How about a recipe

Marcella's Almond Butter Cake
as told by Julia Mears

I do not know who Marcella is. I first came across this recipe in the Cedar Rapids Gazette many years ago when I still subscribed to the CR Gazette, probably in the mid-1990s. Then, several years later, the same recipe, with the same name, turned up in a pamphlet of recipes collected by Johanna Beers, a remarkable person who for six decades or so (right up until her death) was the food/cooking writer for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, an unpretentious local (if Gannett-owned) newspaper that we still get.

This is an unusual cake; it is unleavened and has the texture of brownies rather than cake. It is also easy to make and a big hit.

I started by melting one stick (that is, 1/2 cup) of regular (that is, salted) butter in a saucepan, see left. This sauce pan is actually called a saucier, and it is very handy. The sides of the pan slope so it is easier to stir thing like white sauce or pudding or almond butter cake batter in this pan than in a pan with straight sides. When the butter was melted, I took the pan off the heat and stirred in 1-1/2 cups of sugar. After the sugar was mixed in, I added 2 eggs, and I whisked them in quickly as the butter/sugar mixture was still a little warm.

This is the whisking-in-the-eggs stage. Next, I added 1 teaspoon of almond extract and 1-1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. I whisked that in and switched to a wooden spoon to stir in 1-1/2 cups of flour. I have not made this with gluten-free flour, but I have had good results with King Arthur gluten-free flour and I would expect the recipe to work just fine with KA gluten-free flour. If you used unsalted butter, add 1/4 teaspoon of regular (not kosher) salt.

Here is the batter all mixed up in the pan. I baked the batter in a 10" glass pie plate, which I had sprayed with no-stick spray, in a 350 degree oven. Or you could butter the pan. Flouring is not necessary.

Here is the batter in the pie plate. Note that the area of a 10" pie plate is about 75 square inches. You could bake this is a 7" x 11" rectangular pan (area = 77 square inches) or a 9" square cake pan (area = 81 square inches). Sometimes baking involves math.

I sprinkled a small handful of almonds (just raw - no need to toast them), and I baked the cake until a skewer just came out clean. In my oven, that's about 30 minutes. Over baking is not good.

And here is the finished product. We cut it into thin wedges to serve. It is a bit rich and very good. Try it.

Odds and ends
As strange as this winter has been or has not been, unless you are in Portland, I thought I would show you some pictures from 2012.

These first two pictures are from January 31, 2012.

January 31, 2012

These were all blooming on February 17, 2012. This year, 2016, we are actually a few days behind that February.

That year there was snow on March 3 giving us these wonderful pictures.

This was the winter acontie.

The first crocuses had not counted on snow.

These guys were in their element.

This was March 13, 2012. The very early spring flowers did not meant the lilacs would be blooming in April. Please notice that there was still grass in the back yard in 2012. Katie and I tore out the last grass in the backyard in 2015.

That is it for this week. Enjoy the warm weather while it is here. I even found some shorts yesterday. Remember,it will probably snow sometime soon.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Week 11- February 12, 2017

Spring is around the corner
unless you are in Portland, Maine.  I mention Portland because Julia is visiting our new grandchild there this week. They had ten inches of snow on Wednesday, with more coming. The forecast for the next few days seems to be for more snow, measured in how many more feet of snow is coming.

Here in Iowa City warmer weather is here. It was 50 degrees the last few days.
Indeed the  forecast has temperatures this coming week averaging in the 40's. What little snow we had earlier this week is all gone.
Little bulbs are poking up all over. Here is the snowdrop family yesterday. I can not say we have our first flower, but maybe today.

It is a time when the garden tasks become close to overwhelming. There are garden beds to clean. There are seeds to plant or transplant, There are more cuttings to root.
It is a time when the regular watering schedule for the indoor plants is long since forgotten. Bugs start to show up. Fungus gnats appear in many places. "Fungus gnat" is about as good as name for a bug as "slug".

But the days are longer. I can do a little work outside after work, even when I stay at work until 5. (Remember it only takes about 10 minutes for us to get home from the office.) Yesterday I worked in shifts. I would go out for 20 minutes at a time. I had about 7 shifts and got a lot of work done. In between I would do a shift with inside plants and then read my book.

How about the picture contest?

In last week's contest the winner was...the red zinnia. What a great color.

The full voting was
Red Zinnia 20
White Lupine 15
Lantana 8
White orchid cactus  7

Now for Week 11
This is the next to last contest of this opening round.

It is purple/pink week. Don't ask me why it is purple/pink week. These pictures just seemed to come together at some point.

#1 Fall Crocus (September 5, 2016)

Crocuses in the fall? That is correct. Fall crocuses bloom... in the fall, and look just like the crocuses we will be seeing very soon, if the current weather is any indication.
The ones in the picture are probably Colchicum autumnale, with a common name of Meadow Saffron,
Actually these particular flowers bloom rather early in the fall, near the beginning of September.
I have grown them for 10 plus years. They come back reliably, so much so that they now need transplanting. Each clump was originally one bulb.
The foliage come up in the spring, looking like some weird hosta, crossed with a daffodil. Actually while raking today I discovered that most of the clumps of this variety was coming up. There is a picture in the bonus section.

The foliage dies back completely by June 1. It then sends up the flower in September. This is sort of like naked ladies (lycoris squamigera) or whatever those purple flowers are in August. I actually do not like those bulbs particularly.
Right now these particular set of crocuses bloom in the midst of lots of other plants that are much bigger. Sometimes it is hard to see them. Spring bulbs do not have this problem since they bloom before most perennials have gotten big or even come up.
I really will have to figure out when to transplant them. I suspect the time is after they bloom in the fall. Oh well. That will be something else to do later.

#2 Toad lily (September 17, 2016)
What a gem. These will actually last until late in the fall. What great spots throughout the entire flower. The flowers bloom all up and down long stems. The plants grow quite large. I suppose I could transplant some. Have you got this theme?
There is more about toad lilies in the bonus section.

#3 Lilium Triumphator (July 1, 2016)
Here is a wonderful lilium that is a cross between an Oriental lily and a trumpet lily. An example of a trumpet lily is what is know as the Easter lily. (Why it is called that I have no idea since it does not bloom at Easter.)
Triumphator blooms in high summer.
For a while I thought the picture was too dark. I decided that I actually liked the fact it was not in the sun. The stamens are brighter by just the right amount. (I guess that stamens is the plural. Or would it be one staman, and two stamen?)

#4 Pink Orchid Cactus (July 10, 2016)

Here you have one more orchid cactus flowers. You have heard plenty about orchid cactus during the contest. This is the one with all the wonderful buds, that starts to bloom in late June. For the 8 year saga of this great colorful flower see the tale in the bonus section.
I do believe that this is the parent of the seedlings I have been raising.

I do hang these plants from the trees. There are 6 plant hooks in the front yard under the Walnut tree. I put them there so they can be visible to people going by, on foot or by car.

That's it for this week. I hope you enjoy purple/pink flowers. Please take the time to vote. I really do like to hear from you by comment or email.

Bonus time
Your bonus pictures this year start with pictures of the glorious pink orchid cactus. The pictures are from several plants of the same variety, all blooming about middle of June. I really like the picture of the flower from the back. The buds with rain drops is special as well. There was some thought that that picture might be a contestant.
The plants themselves do get enormous. The yellow plant picture is included to show how they all get big.

So here is the story about this pink epiphyllum.
One of the worst moments in my over 30 years of gardening was in 2008. I had a wonderful plant stolen. It was the orchid cactus pictured below. It was a dastardly deed. The cactus had bloomed in early July. It had over 40 flowers throughout its blooming time. After it had finished blooming, one morning it was gone. There was just the empty hook, and a cigarette butt on the pavement.
As you can see the plant was enormous. It must have weighed 50 pounds. I have often wondered about that theft. It would have been difficult just to get the plant off the hook.
There is a blog post about my reaction on July 27, 2008. You can find it in the blog archive.

About a month after the theft, I ordered replacement plants. I am not sure I got the same one since I did not have the name.  I think it took 8 years but the plant I have now begins to approach the size of the stolen plant. I even now have a second one. I know the two plants I have now are the same variety because both plants have this large number of buds, all up and down the leaves. These are the pictures from 2008. To see the pictures one at a time click on a picture. It should turn into a slide show.

Bad stuff happens. But sometimes time passes and there is recovery.

Toad lilies
I would love toad lilies even if they had some other name.

This is a yellow toad lily called Lemon Twist. I have had it at least 8 years. It stays small. That could be the location. I should move it somewhere else. That requires me to find a place in the garden where there is any room.

The interior of the flowers is pretty interesting.
The spots go all the way out onto the plant parts.

This plant has leaves that are more yellow. This is rather a nice size. You can see the blooms all up the stem.

This on the other hand has gotten too big. I would divide it but there is that space thing. Maybe I will have a spring sale.

Here are a few more fall crocus pictures.

This was taken yesterday. The foliage is coming up already. I would dig the entire plant up but I do not know whether the ground is still frozen down 3-4 inches. One way to find out if you can transplant something at a particular time is to try it.

I assume I planted a single bulb here 10 years ago.

When they are fully open they are nice.

You can see how they are a little crowded by the bigger plants.

As a single plant they are good too.

Pumpkins Bars
by Julia Mears

I have made this recipe for pumpkin bars for many years. The recipe is printed so it came from somewhere, but I don't know where. This is my go-to dessert for large groups. And I recently made 3 13" x 18" pans, which would make more than 100 servings for a free lunch program in Iowa City (called the Free Lunch Program) for which we have cooked and baked several times a year for a long time. I made one 9" x 13" pan (after all the big pans) to take to the office for the folks who work there. Here is the recipe for a 9" x 13" pan's worth.

I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Then I got out a 9" x 13" pan and sprayed it with no-stick spray. If you don't like no-stick spray, lube the pan up otherwise. You can flour it too, but I do not find that necessary.

I measured the following into a big mixing bowl: 1 cup all purpose flour; 1 cup white sugar; 1 teaspoon baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon baking soda; 1/4 teaspoon regular (not kosher) salt; and1teaspoon cinnamon. I stirred the dry ingredients around. Then I added: 2 eggs; 1 cup pumpkin; and 1/2 cup oil, and I stirred it up with a big wooden spoon. You can use a hand mixer if you like; I find a big spoon or big whisk easier in this recipe.

Here is the bowl with most of the ingredients - but not the eggs or oil. A word about canned pumpkin. The can of pumpkin that you buy at the store that weighs about 15 oz. does not actually hold 2 cups, although one would think that it does. More like 1- 3/4 cups. This will leave you with the problem of extra pumpkin (or not enough pumpkin). Today when I was making all those cakes, I needed 7 cups of pumpkin to make 3 big cakes and 1 smaller cake. 4 cans of pumpkin worked out just right. Maybe you like to eat canned pumpkin straight or maybe you will decide to make an extra 8" x 8" cake (with some math work) to make the pumpkin come out even.

Here is the batter all mixed up. A rubber spatula came in handy to scrape down the sides of the bowl and get all the batter out of the bowl.

I scraped all the batter into the prepared pan and spread it into the corners. It will be less batter than if you were making a cake. The bars are thinner than cake. I baked the cake for about 25 minutes. I checked after 20 minutes by poking the cake in the middle with a bamboo skewer (a toothpick works too). The skewer should come out clean - that is, no gobs of batter. In my oven, that meant 25 minutes of baking time.

Then the frosting. I made cream cheese frosting. I put 1/2 of an 8 oz package of softened cream cheese in a bowl, along with 2 tablespoons of soft butter. I did use a hand mixer for the frosting, as pictured. I added a pinch of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1-1/2 cups (this is approximate) of powdered sugar. The frosting was stiff so I added about 1-1/2 tablespoons of plain yogurt.

The final product is at left. This cream cheese frosting has magical powers. One year, one of our former support staff was taking her last exams in her 3rd year of law school. She was, apparently, losing steam and asked me to bring her a pint of cream cheese frosting, and of course I did and she took her exams and all went well. I assume she ate it with a spoon as needed.

This is a picture of the 3 big cakes, waiting to be frosted. Which they were, and then delivered to the free lunch folks for, well, lunch.

The bars are tender and thin and easy to eat out of hand. Also pumpkin-y and cinnamon-y and cream cheese-y, all at the same time. Give them a try.

Odds and Ends
One plant that did not get into the contest this year was a tall bearded iris I just got this past summer. The fall lasted so long that it bloomed. (Mostly they bloom in May.) Some varieties do rebloom in the fall. Maybe this will be one of them.
The picture was taken on October 27. It was just what I had hoped for. It is called Good as Gold.

Here is the entire plant. This is maybe 2 months after it was planted. I can imagine what a clump of these will look like. Maybe I should get another plant.

It is now the beginning of the exciting time in the garden. The present excitement is somewhat diminished by the fact that it is still the first half of February.

While I am showing you the great yellow color from late fall I should show the great deep blue from that same time.
Here is the plant called monkshood.

Here are two more pictures. Blue is good. I have to just figure out how to get the yellow together with the blue.

That's it for now.
Enjoy the warmer weather.
Think kind thoughts for the people in Portland, Maine.