Sunday, September 24, 2017

Celebrating little bearded iris-September 24, 2017

We are on vacation. We left the midwest very early on Thursday morning, having encountered over 3 inches of rain in Moline, Illinois. One of my favorite things is trying to find a hotel in the dark, in the rain, with road construction all over the place, and poor directions. Not.

We are in Maine at the moment visiting Katie and Elisabeth and of course our grandson Chritopher Philip. There will be pictures when we get home in 10 days.
I cannot show you garden pictures from this last week because we were mostly gone. Then there was work.
We are all way too busy.

For your viewing pleasure this week, I searched my archives and found these little bearded iris. They are one of my favorites. They bloom mostly in April. These are on my mind as I planted some new ones just this last week.

But here is is this week's post that we put together on the fly so to speak.

In last week's voting the preferred picture was the anemone closeup. It is a good one.

Here were the votes
Anemone closeup  13
toad lily 8
pink and yellow lantana    7
white and yellow  7
yellow and orange   4
double pink   4
single fall crocus  3
overview of lantana  2

This week's pictures are little bearded iris from over the years. I do not have names, so numbers are the best I can do.


I find the color combinations so wonderful. Sometimes is just that fuzzy part that is the contrast.
That part is called....wait for it....the beard.




Brown and blue is an unusual combination, but one that works.



Who needs a color contrast when the color is this nice peach.



Yellow and white is quite stunning.


I trust you can see how one can be captured by these little guys.
If you are interested in voting you can vote for numbers.
You can pick 2.

No bonus pictures this week, but there is a recipe. Julia is way ahead of me.

Zucchini Bread
by Julia Mears

Zucchini bread is another of those summer solutions to the problem of excess produce of a perishable kind. We cannot freeze zucchini for the winter as we freeze corn or green beans. We can, however, freeze zucchini bread.

My recipe for zucchini bread comes from the cook at the orphanage where my mother lived from the time she was 12 until she was about 19. The cook was a remarkable woman whose name was Hazel but who was known to all as Mitt-Mitt. Not sure why. I believe that she had been an orphan herself from England and that she ended up being adopted or taken in by homesteaders in Nebraska just in time for the big drought in the latter years of the 19th century. She made it through and must have had a number of adventures that I do not know about, although I do know she was married to a cornet player in John Philip Sousa's band who, I think, was a bit of a wanderer which is how she came to settle in as a cook at an orphanage. In her later years, Mitt-Mitt lived in a little house on the outskirts of Council Bluffs, Iowa where we once visited her. She sometimes visited my mother and other grown-up orphans in the Chicago area, and on one of those visits she brought a loaf of zucchini bread and a recipe.

I started by grating a medium zucchini using a medium grater. I needed 3 cups of shredded zucchini, and I pitched the little nubbin of ungrated zucchini at the end.

That is me grating zucchini.

And here are the other ingredients, waiting their turn.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and lubed up a 9" x 5 " loaf pan and a 4" x 2" loaf pan. One could also use 2 8" x 4" loaf pans.

I measured 2/3 cup of plain vegetable oil into a big bowl, and I added 2 eggs, 1-3/4 cup of white sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. I mixed those ingredients with a big whisk and then added the shredded zucchini and mixed it in with a big wooden spoon.

Next I gradually added and mixed in the dry ingredients: 3-3/4 cups of white flour, 3 teaspoons (aka 1 tablespoon) baking powder, 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon.

Then I chopped up about 1 cup of walnuts and stirred them in. The nuts are not necessary but they are nice. Pecans would work or maybe macadamias, if you are not a walnut person. I don't think almonds would work, but I am willing to be persuaded otherwise.

I poured/scooped the batter into the two pans, filling each one until there was maybe 3/4" of room at the top of the pan. Into the oven. The little loaf baked in about 45 minutes; the big loaf took about 65 minutes. As usual, I used a bamboo skewer to assess done-ness. When the skewer comes out clean or with crumbs, the bread is done. If the skewer comes out goopy, you need some more oven time. I set the timer for 2-3 minute intervals if I have bread (or a cake) that is almost done.

Enjoy. Now or later.

Odds and Ends
Why is it that right after you stay at a motel the motel tells you about a much cheaper rate that is available?

In dealing with an eight month old child one learns just how much of the day is centered around food.

Why did Iowa City not get any of that rain from Wednesday night, that rained on us all night in Moline?


Sunday, September 17, 2017

September 17, 2017 Summer is still here

I do not usually wake up on Sunday morning and need to add anything to the blog post, which I usually finish Saturday night. This morning I have to tell you
It is raining.
The sound is just so wonderful. The last rain of any kind was on August 25. That was .05 of an inch. There was an inch at the beginning of that week. We had a total of about 1.5 inches in August. There has been none this month and it has gotten warm. A lot of grass in town is brown, except I think for the one bank we drive by, which has automatic sprinklers. 
When I am not at the office today working on my argument on Wednesday before the Iowa Supreme Court, there will be some much need weeding.
Here is what I wrote earlier:

September 17. It really is time to accept that the garden year is winding down. That means fall garden preparation is in full swing. What does that mean?

This should not mean that the first frost is next week, or that it is time to bring plants inside. Indeed the 90 degree weather these last two days has made clear that summer lingers.

I am cleaning up the garden in a way that enhances the color for the next 6 weeks. We really can plan on a frost free time until Halloween. Indeed last year the first frost was not until the end of November.
I have cleaned up the daylilies in the front yard. I cut them back, weed around them and then mulch them. This time of the year, since it is so dry, each plant gets a special watering every 4-5 days.
There is space between the plants, which wasn't there before they were cut back. I fill those spaces with houseplants.
I have moved the four big hibiscus plants to the front yard to fill in those spaces. The hibiscus actually have quite a bit of buds coming now. They should provide nice color, assuming I keep them watered and fertilized.

The crotons are also gathering in the front yard. Crotons are amazing, even if they do not particularly photograph easily.

By herding them all together I can also make it a lot easier to water them. There really can be corners of the garden that get forgotten, even more so at this time of year. In these dry times that can be really bad. The term "plant abuse" does come to mind.

So what is blooming? The zinnias and lantana provide annual color. The toad lilies are starting. I have one particular yellow toad lily I am waiting for. It even has a path right to it this year. I really am pleased with the additional paths added this year. I am trying to make most of the garden accessible to weeding and watering and just plain observation. A good way to do that is by putting in paths.

There was a later waterlily yesterday. It is in the bonus section.
Then there are the fall crocuses. There are more pictures this week in the bonus section.

What about pictures?

In last week's voting the picture with the most votes was the purple zinnia.
Aren't zinnias wonderful?

The full voting was
Purple zinnia  9
Fall crocus 8
Peach Zinnia 8
Orange Zinnia 7
Red Zinnia 6
Asclepias going to seed 5
Mystery white flowers 5
White anemone 4
yellow ghost peppers 3

This week's pictures

#1     Here is the center of the white Japanese anemone.
It always is one of the best closeup pictures.

#2  Overview of the anemones.
You can see the different colors, along with flowers both in bloom, in bud, and having gone to seed.

#3   Pink and Yellow lantana

#4 Yellow and white lantana

#5 Yellow, orange and pink lantana

#6 Double pink Japanese anemone

I like this one as it is so very disorganized.

#7 Single fall crocus

#8 Lighter toad lily

This toad lily is a litt;e different from the one from two weeks ago. They are both pictured for comparison down below in the bonus section.

There you have it for this week. Many lantana. No zinnias.
You can vote for two.

Bonus section

Here is this late waterlily. The water level of the pond is probably down 4 inches or so with the dry weather.

Here is the group of lantana, variety petra. It is perhaps the most well know.

Observe how the toad lilies grow. They are all up and down the stem. They bloom from the end back to the ground.

There was this nice zinnia.

I thought I would show you the toad lily from this week next to the one your saw two weeks ago. This one is lighter and the center is more yellow.

This one you saw before had much more pronounced spots.

Here are the seeds from the Blackberry lily. You can see why they get their name.

Here is the fall blooming clematis. If you drive around you can see all sorts of ways that the plant grows. Some people have it on a pillar. I kind of like that method. I saw someone who was growing it on an arch. Then there the places where it just grows all over the ground.

Here are fall crocuses.

I did get a few more cyclamen. Time will tell how hardy they will be.

Here is a recently acquired elephant ear, variety mojito. It was rather sad in the greenhouse, so it was on sale. It has perked up with lots of water.

Fall plant sales at the greenhouses and garden centers is another wonderful part of fall.

Fall is about thinking of the spring, about the garden for next year. This elephant ear will join its friends in storage for the winter.

Julia's recipe
Chicken Marengo

Chicken Marengo is supposed to have been created in 1800 by a chef traveling with Napoleon to celebrate the emperor's victory in battle. Part of the battle, wikipedia tells us, took place on a farm called Marengo in Northern Italy. We have our own Marengo in Iowa, right down the road in Iowa County. Also our own Waterloo and Moscow and Paris, all sites of significance in Napoleon's story. This led me to wonder how many Iowa town/city names came out of the Napoleonic wars, hence my resort to wikipedia. I can tell you that there were a great many battles, which is not surprising as there was more or less continual fighting all over Europe, land and sea, for more than15 years. I found a few more Iowa-Napoleon connections: Hamburg, Tabor (short for Mount Tabor) and Ulmer (long for Ulm).

Back to Chicken Marengo. The recipe below is a slightly simplified version of a recipe in one of my older Joy of Cooking cookbooks. This is a good dish to prepare over the weekend as it benefits from sitting overnight(s) in the refrigerator and then being reheated.

I started with 8 chicken thighs, an onion, 8 oz. of pearl onions, 1 lb. of white button mushrooms, a 15 oz can of black olives, a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes, some olive oil and some white wine, as at right.

I cut up 1/2 of the big onion, so that I had about 1 cup of half-moon slices. I sauteed the onions gently in 1/3 cup of olive oil until the onions gave up.

Then I pushed the onions aside and browned the chicken thighs in batches, not very brown really, but enough so that the chicken pieces looked tan rather than pink.  I put the browned chicken pieces on a plate while I cooked the rest. Then I put all of the pieces back in the pot with the juices that had accumulated on the plate.

Next I added things to the chicken/onion mixture: the can of diced tomatoes, 1 cup of white wine, 2 smushed cloves of garlic (or one big clove would be fine), 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/2 cup of water (I would have used chicken stock but only had frozen quarts), and a few sprigs of parsley. I brought the pot to a simmer, put the lid on the pot and let it simmer on the stove for about two hours.

This is the pot at the end of the two hours. At that point, I took out the parsley and the bay leaves and discarded them. I took out the chicken and took the skin off the pieces as the skin would not be palatable. I put the chicken pieces on a clean plate to wait for further developments.

The pot on the left is the cooking liquid, minus the chicken and herbage that I removed. I let this sauce simmer while I attended to the skillet on the right.

During the last 30 minutes of the chicken cooking period, I cleaned and sliced the 1 lb. of mushrooms - not too thin, about 4 slices per mushroom. And Philip peeled the pearl onions, as he is a pal. The easiest way to peel pearl onions is to treat them like tomatoes that you want to peel: fill a medium pot half full of water. When it boils, drop in the onions and let them boil for a couple of minutes (which is longer than one would need to boil tomatoes). Then drain, cut off the root ends and slip the skins right off.

I melted about 1-2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet, added 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and then gently cooked the pearl onions and mushrooms until they were soft but not brown. 

Then I assembled. First, I poured the sauce into another container. I put the chicken pieces (with their small amount of accumulated juices) in the bottom of the enamelware casserole, added the mushroom/onion mixture and then a can of black olives and then the sauce. At that point, I put the casserole in the refrigerator so that all of the ingredients would have a chance to get acquainted.

The next day, I put the casserole, still covered, in a 350 degree oven until it was heated through (maybe 30 - 45 minutes), and then it was time for dinner.

We served the Chicken Marengo with rice in shallow soup plates. We use soup plates because there is sauce and it would be messy to chase the elements of the dish around a dinner plate. Small pasta (like orzo or acini de pepe) would be good as would big or small cous cous. You will note that the recipe itself, although decidedly not vegetarian, is gluten free. It would be easy enough to eliminate dairy by cooking the mushrooms and onions in a bit of olive oil.  As should go without saying, the leftovers are terrific.

Odds and Ends
I did not mention falling leaves once.
I will now.
They have started to fall. The Buckeye tree is first. Then the Walnut. Then the Linden. Then the Elm. The last tree will be the Sycamore.
Leaves are just a part of fall, for a long time.

So is darkness. I get up early. I am usually up by 5. I do the equivalent of reading the paper and having some coffee. I then like to go out and garden, before I have to go to work. Only it is so dark. I have been going out and greeting the dawn while I water certain parts of the garden. 

Another thing about fall. It seems I am always tired. I think that relates to getting up a 5, which actually was closer to 4 on Saturday.

My job as a lawyer is difficult at times. My clients have done bad things. I try to make it better for them. Mostly I do not discuss my work.
But this coming week we are getting away from it. We fly off to Maine to see Christopher Philip on Thursday. Our plane leaves at 5:30 in the morning. (I guess I will start my trip still tired.) We will then go see some shorebirds and eat some good seafood in Chincoteague.
We will be gone 12 days. I have many books to read. At the moment I hardly have time for reading.
The blog for those 2 weekends is still up the air. It may get a vacation along with the rest of us.
I will certainly find some pictures to bring home, which I can share at that time.

Slow down everyone.
I will try to slow down.
Fall is a great time of the year.
We all need to find the time to enjoy it.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017- No rain or too much rain

There is so much work to do that this post will be short today.

Watering continues as here in Iowa City we will hit the three week mark with no rain Tuesday. None is in sight.

At the same time there are obviously places right now in this country where there is much too much rain, and wind, and water.
We give a special prayer this morning to those in harms way in Florida.
Be safe. We are thinking of you.

This little air plant came from Florida this summer.
Our garden has a definite Florida connection.
That is where the caladium come from.

But there were pictures last week. There was voting.
Last week's winner was the White and Yellow Lantana
What a wonderful flower. It has such contrasting sections.

The full voting the results were:
White and Yellow lantana 16
Toad Lily 14
Orange zinnia 12
Jack in pulpit seed head 6
Pink Zinnia 3
Lantana #2 2

This week's pictures

I was not sure I would find enough worthy pictures this week. I did, particularly after I looked closely at the zinnia pictures.

#1  Fall crocus group

There are crocuses that bloom in the fall. This clump has been a fixture in the garden the past 6-8 years. They just pop up, emerging sometime in September.
They do transplant, something  I learned this year. I dug some up in the front yard and planted them somewhere else. They have come up nicely.

I should add that fall crocuses can actually be planted in August and will bloom that fall.
They are a perfect gift for the impatient gardener.

#2 Yellow ghost pepper trio

I really liked the color and the shape on these peppers that I doubt anyone will eat.

We have one plant that has red ghost peppers and one that is yellow. I hesitate to inquire which is hotter.

They really do look like Christmas ornaments.

#4 Purple Zinnia

Sometimes you just want to immerse yourself in a color. That is this great purple.

Who knew about those little gold stars in zinnias.

Please remember that I planted these zinnias from seed on July 1.
They look wonderful now that it is September.

#4 White Japanese anemone

This variety, which probably is Honerine Jobert, is more stately than the more prolific pink cousin.

I like this picture as it came with a buds which you may recall I really like.

The center is good too. I will find one for this coming week.

#5 Asclepias going to seed

I know having a bigger picture can be an advantage in a contest. But I thought this artistic vision might need some help in competing with all that color.

#6 Peach Zinnia

I just liked this somewhat muted flower. Notice the absence of stars in the center.

#7  Orange zinnia center

I think I found the inspiration for some of those Dale Chihuly sculptures.

#8  Mystery white flower

Do you know what this is? It is blooming at the moment on the backyard fence. I see it quite a bit as I drive around town.

It is the fall blooming clematis. I think the name is peniculata. It grows all over and has many little white flowers now.
It is the type of clematis that you cut all the way back to the ground. But you should do that in February or March.

#9  Red Zinnia, with stars

That is it for this week. You may vote for 2.

Julia's Recipe

Moussaka is a Greek dish, an eggplant and meat sauce casserole with a topping. One could think of it as a Greek version of lasagna, but one would be wrong. Moussaka has no noodles and not much cheese and the spices are different. I am sure I had moussaka at family gatherings years ago, but I remember figuring it out myself, using several similar but slightly different recipes in my Aunt Julia's Greek Orthodox Church Ladies Auxiliary cookbook (St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois). The cookbook (called Our Kouzina, meaning our kitchen) is part Greek cookbook and part ladies auxiliary cookbook, including recipes for moussaka and pastitso and vasilopita and baklava and also recipes for jello concoctions and "salads" with canned pineapple and cut up marshmallows. Eclectic.

Here are the moussaka ingredients, or most of them anyway. I started with a good-sized, firm, oval shaped eggplant, not a skinny Japanese eggplant. And an onion, olive oil, tomato sauce, parmesan cheese, and hamburger.

Actually we bought 2 eggplants at the farmer's market, one for moussaka and one for a terrific eggplant salad (yes, really; eggplant salad) that Philip makes. I used the larger one. At some point, I will persuade Philip to share the eggplant salad recipe.

I started by peeling the larger eggplant and slicing it into thin (say 1/4") rounds. I pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees, and I put the eggplant rounds on a big rimmed baking sheet.

I brushed the up-sides of the eggplant rounds with olive oil and baked the slices for about 15-20 minutes until they looked wilted and maybe a little beige. Then I turned them over, brushed the newly up-sides with more olive oil and baked the rounds for another 10-15 minutes.

Then I did it again - I had about 1-1/2 rimmed baking sheets of eggplant rounds. I used about 1/2 cup of olive oil in all.

Some recipes say you should salt and weight down the eggplant slices for a period of time before cooking to deal with bitterness. I do not do this, and I do not have a problem with bitterness. I think that peeling the eggplant helps, and it undoubtedly helps that the eggplant I use comes from my local farmer's market so it has not been traveling across country for days. Some other recipes say you should fry the eggplant slices in olive oil, but if you have done any business with eggplant, you will recognize this as madness because eggplant can absorb alarming amounts of olive oil which is not so good for one's health or pocket book or the texture of the final dish.

While the eggplant was baking, I chopped up 1/2 cup of onion, and I cooked the onion with the hamburger in a big skillet, with about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

One could use ground lamb, and at times, I have. On this occasion, I had ground beef in the freezer, which is just fine.

After the meat had browned and the onions were soft, I added one 15 ounce can of tomato sauce and about 1 cup of canned diced tomatoes that were in the refrigerator. Fresh tomatoes would be fine, as would extra tomato sauce. I added about 1/2 cup of white wine which I used to rinse out the tomato sauce can. Water would be fine too. Then I added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, stirred everything together and let it simmer while I made the next part...

which was a very thick and enriched white sauce. I started with 1/2 cup of butter (1 stick) which I melted and then I whisked in 1 cup of white flour. The result is at left. Not very sauce-y. Then I added 2 cups of milk slowly and whisked like crazy to eliminate lumps and make the sauce come together. And it did. I let the sauce bubble (stirring constantly) for about a minute, then I took it off the stove...

to a trivet on the counter, and I whisked in 2 eggs and 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

Then I started assembly. I moved the skillet of sauce to another trivet and positioned the pan with all of the eggplant rounds nearby. I sprayed an oval pyrex baking dish that is about 11" x 9" (and 3" deep) and spread a 1/2 cup scoop of meat sauce in the bottom of the baking dish.

Then I put down a layer of eggplant rounds, overlapping a little, followed by1/2 of the remaining meat sauce, then all of the rest of the eggplant rounds and then all of the rest of the meat sauce. So the pattern is: a little sauce in the bottom of the pan followed by 2 layers each of eggplant and sauce.

Then I spread the thickened white sauce over top of the whole thing. I put the casserole on a rimmed baking sheet because one never knows how much bubbling and seething and burgeoning there will be. And I baked the casserole in the 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes until it was bubbly and delicious looking, as below. The casserole is served by being cut into squares and levered out of the pan with a spatula. It is easier after the first portion.

One could make this in a 9" x 13" pan, and then you would probably not overlap any of the eggplant slices.

In case you are wondering about leaving out the cinnamon, don't even think about it. The cinnamon is important. Greek recipes use cinnamon (or sometime cloves or nutmeg) the way Italians use oregano and basil.

Odds and Ends

In this dry time, with so much to do,  garden catalogs help get one through the week.
This week I found a few little bearded iris to add to the garden.

The end comes early this week.