Sunday, March 17, 2019

March 17, 2019- The snow is gone

Wednesday the temperature got to 55 degrees. The sun came out near the end of the day.
There were students in shorts downtown.
The snow receded on the south side of the house.
Where there had been snow and ice on Tuesday,  this clump of snowdrops appeared when we looked at noon.
It was one of those out loud "oh my" moments.

These plants are amazing, the more I think about them. This area of the garden had been under a snow cover since mid January. The temperatures had dipped to 30 below at one point.
The snow had turned to ice in many places.
I do not think these plants grew 3 inches on Tuesday. They were not there in mid January, so they did not just go into suspended animation. They were actually growing and coming out of the ground.... while they were covered by that snow and ice.

This next picture is taken about 15 feet further away from the house. That is the part of the garden that on Wednesday was still covered by the snow.
This picture was also taken on Wednesday afternoon when the snowdrops in the first picture emerged. Here the snowdrops are still half in the snow and ice. They would have been completely covered 2 days ago.
Notice how the plants seem to generate enough heat that there is sort of a hole around the plant stem.

I really do think the snow and ice is ending. I drove a little ways south onTuesday for a court hearing. There was much less snow even 30 miles south of Iowa.
The 9 day forecast has many more 50 degree temperatures. There are also suns ahead.
These solitary snowdrops will soon be accompanied by so much more.
It will be overwhelming.

Be we have a picture contest to finish.
Here are the results of week 2 of the playoffs.
In last weeks voting the winner was
The Purple Siberian Iris

The full voting was

Week 3 of the playoffs

In this week's playoff for the final piece in the puzzle we have 6 pictures. With 13 winners and 3 wild cards that did not divide evenly into 3 weeks.

#1  Butterfly weed  Week 8  (June 15, 2018)

I love the clusters of flowers in this croup. Each cluster could make its own little flower picture.
The color certainly shows off.
The flower is an asclepias. This is in the milkweed family. All the milkweeds have clusters where the individual flowers look similar.
Please see the pink variety in the bonus section from years ago.

#2 Forever Susan- Asiatic Lily  Wild Card from Week 9 (June 18, 2018)

This wonderful Asiatic lily was new to the garden in 2018.
I look forward to how it does in year 2. I have found Asiatic lilies get bigger as the years go forward.

#3 Pink Waterlily Week 5  (May 26, 2018)

Waterlily pictures are certainly wonderful.
The flower is good. I actually like the background a lot. Maybe not more than the flower itself.
But when you think about why you like a particular picture the background is really important.
I look at the background in picture #1, the orange ascelpias, and it is just a contrasting color.
In picture #2 it is a rather busy bunch of other plants. That picture might be better if the background was blurred. I suppose that is technically possible, with the right camera.
But with a waterlily you are always going to have the foliage all around the flower. You can't really clean up the area before you take the picture. So you get whatever is there, whether it is a leaf or a helicopter seedpod.

This past year was a good year for waterlily foliage. It dwarfed and at times overwhelmed  the flowers for most of the season. I do not know why. Maybe there was just too much of something, like nitrogen.

But pink is good. The yellow center is good. The green background is good, with all its imperfections.

#4 Lantana Week 4  May 15, 2018

I rediscovered lantana 3-4 years ago. They found a place in the garden they liked. They actually like sun. Sun is mostly in short supply in our garden. But some little corners have enough sun to grow these annuals.

#5 Hellebore the wild card from Week 13 (May 1, 2019)

With the Spring thaw now upon us the hellebores will really take off. I pulled back the dead foliage from one clump. Sure enough there were many nice little fat shoots just ready to explode.

#6  Zinnia with Butterfly Week 11 September 23, 2018

Occasionally I will have a picture contestant with some creature adorning the flower. Sometimes I worry about unfair competition.
But these creatures are a part of the garden.
People even plant certain flowers just to attract and support them.
And butterflies are so photogenic.

There you have week 3 of the playoffs.
Pick a picture.
Bring in a friend.
Let me hear from you.
Warmer times have almost arrived.

Bonus pictures


One creature that shows up early in the spring is the bee.
Bees and crocuses seem to go together.
I will watch for the first bee.


I mentioned background in commenting on one of the contestants. This picture illustrates one early spring background.


Bees like coneflowers.
Of course I like coneflowers.
They illustrate overlooked patterns in flowers.


Here is a pink asclepias from a ways back in the picture archive.
You can see the similar flower structure.


This spider web remains one of my favorite garden pictures.

Julia's Recipe
Spinach lasagna

Here is the link to the other blog with all of Julia's recipes.

This spinach lasagna has no tomato products, making it a white lasagna, like white pizza, with a different flavor profile. This is a rich dish, but somehow lighter for being tomato-free. The recipe is from Cook's Magazine, with a couple of modifications.

There are a lot of parts to the recipe, and after the parts are all prepared, there is an assembly process with several steps. Once the lasagna is put together, however, it only bakes for about 20 minutes, followed by a brief stint under the broiler. It is a good dish to make ahead of time (it will sit happily in the refrigerator, unbaked and covered with foil, for a couple of days). And it is a good dish to serve to a small crowd (say up to 8 folks) where a vegetarian main dish is called for.

Here are the players: 1 16 oz. bag of frozen chopped spinach, which should be allowed to thaw in its bag; 5 tablespoons of butter; 1 cup of chopped onion; 4 cloves of garlic; 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour; 3-1/2 cups of milk; 2 bay leaves; some nutmeg; some salt; some black pepper; 12 no-boil (now called "oven ready") lasagna noodles (I used Barilla); an 8 oz. container of 4% milk-fat cottage cheese; 1 egg; 1-1/2 cups of parmesan cheese and 2 cups of coarsely grated fontina cheese.

A lot of ingredients, I know. More than I usually have, but this is a tasty dish. By the way, I think 2% or skim milk would work, as would low fat cottage cheese.

I let the spinach thaw out, and then put it in a sieve (you could use mesh colander, not with big holes) to drain. I used a spatula to press on the spinach to remove as much of the liquid as possible, and then I set it aside in a bowl.

Next, I chopped the onion and smushed the 4 garlic cloves. I put the garlic in the 1 cup measure with the onions. Then I grated the fontina cheese and put it in a 2 cup measure, and I measured out the parmesan (I bought shredded parmesan) and put it in a different 2 cup measure.

Next, I put the 8 oz. container of cottage cheese in a blender with the egg and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. I blended the mixture until it was smooth, and put it in another little bowl.

Next up, the white sauce. I started by melting the 5 tablespoons of butter in my saucier (saucepan with a rounded bottom and thus no corners!). I added the onions and garlic and cooked this mixture for about 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat until the onions were soft. No browning, please. Then I added the 1/4 cup of flour and cooked the mixture for about 1-2 minutes more. Next the milk, adding it kind of gradually. I cooked the sauce over medium-high heat until it came to a boil

Next, I added the 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper and about 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. I use fresh nutmegs and a microplane, which does not make for exact measurement. I expect I had between 1/4 and 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg. I stirred these things in, lowered the heat so the sauce was simmering and let it cook for 10 minutes, giving it a stir every once in a while.

The last prep was the no-boil noodles. I put 12 noodles in the 9" x 13" pan that I would later use to bake the lasagna, and I poured hot tap water over the noodles. Odd, I know, but bear with me. I let the noodles soak for 5 minutes, then I took them out of the water and placed them on a clean dish towel. I blotted them with another clean dish towel. There they sit, all pre-soaked and towel-dried.

Also present are the bowl of spinach, the bowl of cottage cheese slurry, the parmesan, the fontina and the sauce. One last step to the sauce: I added 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and took out the bay leaves.

It was time to assemble. I dried out the 9" x 13" pan with one of the noodle dish towels and then threw them both down the laundry chute to get washed. I lubed up the 9" x 13" pan with cooking spray. And I turned the oven to to 425 degrees.

I used a 1/2 cup ladle to portion out the sauce, to reduce guessing. I started with one ladle of white sauce in the bottom of the pan, tilting the pan and using a spatula (with a light touch) to spread it around.

Then I put 3 noodles on top of the sauce. Then I stirred all of the spinach into the remaining white sauce, turning it into spinach-y white sauce.

Next, I ladled 1 cup (two ladle-fuls) of spinach sauce on top of the noodles. Next I sprinkled on all of the parmesan (the 1 cup that did not go into the sauce). Next, 3 more noodles. And then another cup of the spinach sauce. And then 1 cup of the fontina (leaving 1 cup behind, which would go on top of the whole thing).

Then 3 more noodles, another 1 cup of the spinach sauce (actually at that point, I used one-half of what was left in the pan), and then all of the cottage cheese-egg mixture.

As you might assume, I used a spatula to spread the fillings around so they were in relatively even layers.

Then it was time for the final layer: the last 3 noodles, the last of the spinach sauce, and the last of the fontina.

The dish was fully assembled, and it was time to bake and to do a bunch of dishes.

I covered the dish with aluminum foil, and I baked in at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, at which point it was bubbling.

Then I took the foil off and turned the broiler on. I broiled the dish for about 5 minutes, until there were brown spots all over the top.

And here it is. It needed to cool for about 10 minutes after coming out of the oven. Way too hot.

The Cook's Magazine recipe called for 20 oz. of fresh curly spinach (not baby spinach), to be blanched and then chilled in an ice water bath and then drained and then put into a dish towel (this is a dish towel forward recipe) and squeezed out and then chopped. I have made it that way, and it's very good. But it is also just fine with thawed out frozen chopped spinach, and then you get to avoid all that spinach prep. Also Cook's Magazine says to use imported Italian fontina. I don't. The cheese is an accent in this dish, and expensive imported cheese seems silly.

I note for the gluten-averse that there is flour here, and I assume it could be readily replaced by another thickener like cornstarch. A substitute for the no-boil noodles is a bigger challenge. I have not found most gluten-free pasta palatable, with the exception of De Boles which makes a fine corn macaroni. I suppose one could use macaroni instead of no-boil noodles, but of course, the macaroni would need to be cooked first.

This recipe makes a big pan of lasagna, and I think it would feed 8 easily, with some nice bread and a big green salad. The leftovers can be heated in a covered skillet with a little water. It also freezes nicely for use on a day when something pre-made from the freezer would make everything better.

Right now

Here is another snowdrop on Wednesday. It has  fully opened.

Here are a few aconite that opened with the sun Wednesday afternoon. Their faces are not yet accustomed to looking up. There has been a weight on top of them for months.

This was Tuesday.

This was Wednesday.

Odds and Ends

I think about the garden and then reflect on how busy I am at work.
How will I continue with my work and still garden.
Then I remembered the energy that comes from the garden.
The smells and the sounds alone are as good as a cup of coffee at waking up a person.
Soon I will be able to go out before work, or even find that 30 minutes after we get home.

As the snow melts downtown, a winter's worth of garbage emerges from the snowdrifts. It is almost like an archaeological dig as layers dissolve.
Actually it is rather unattractive.

We have been in the Chicago area with family this weekend. We went to Hausermans, the orchid place yesterday afternoon. It is really an amazing place.

This was one of their displays.

Enjoy the Spring, whenever it gets to you.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

March 10, 2019- Finally we have some warmer weather

Winter hangs on.
It is March 10, 2018. 
We still have our snow cover.
It was very cold at the beginning of the week.
The end may be in sight.
First it warmed to above freezing during the day.
Friday night it stayed above freezing.
The 9 day forecast on the phone started to change.  First there was one 40 degree day. Then there were 3 such days. Now there is even one day when it is to get over 50.
Melting should start this week.
Slowly the ground will emerge.
It is already visible in the part of the garden next to the southeast corner of the house.
Soon it really will be time for the early spring bulbs.
When will there be the first snowdrop? How about the aconite?
What ridiculous questions for March 10.

Update- with reality
Yesterday, Saturday, it was 36 degrees and a steady rain.

Garden Picture Contest 2018-2019

We are now in the playoffs. You picked our final 16 contestants.

Last week was Week One of the playoffs.
The winner in a very tense race all week was the wild card winner from Week 4, the double bloodroot.
What a comeback story. Not only does it win as a wild card, but it comes back in the garden after an absence 3 years ago. The large clump had died after some crazy winter. I started the replacement process 2 years ago. It has come back. I even got enough in the process to get multiple clumps going around the garden. I really can't wait a month or two to see how it has spread.

Here is that bloodroot picture.

The white zinnia stayed right with the bloodroot all week. There never was more than a vote separating the two.  It was tied at 15 votes each as of Thursday night. But that last vote came in Friday that put the bloodroot over the top.
Here was the final vote.

So here is Week 2

I cannot remember when there has been this great a group of pictures assembled, all of which you chose.
You  get to make a choice this week from many places on the color spectrum.
There is purple, orange, white, pink and blue.
I have very little idea which one I will pick.
Well maybe I have an idea.

For anyone new to this contest,  voting is open through Saturday night.
The winner will advance to the final to pick the picture of the year in just 2 weeks.

#1 Purple Iris- Week 2- (May 20, 2019)

This is a Siberian Iris, probably Jeweled Crown.
Iris plants are a constant in the garden from April to July. What is somewhat unusual is that there are different varieties depending on the time of year. There is a progression of iris varieties.
The start with the little reticulata, which variety is essentially a spring bulb. Then there is Dwarf Bearded Iris, and its later taller cousins.
I do find it worth mentioning that the Bearded Iris bloom as you might expect. The very short ones are first, followed by the taller ones, with the Tall Bearded Iris being last of the group.
Then there are the Louisiana Iris, the Siberian Iris, and the Japanese Iris.
I should add that there are now re-blooming varieties, at least of the taller Bearded Iris. They will bloom in the fall. At least at the moment I do not have any of those.

Please see the Bonus section of this week's post  for a progression in pictures from April to June.

#2 Orange Orchid Week 12 (April 24, 2019)

This wonderful piece of orange is an orchid that has re-bloomed for me, most recently this last April.
My orchids provide color in the winter and do provide a nice compliment to gardening outside.
All my orchids go outside for the warmer half of the year.
Editorial note: I have sometimes thought that my inside plants come inside in the winter. Winter is 3 months. Particularly after these last two winters I realize my plants are inside for 6 months at a time.

#3 White hydrangea  Week 13 (August 13, 2018)

This picture was a late addition to the contest. I had not originally included it in the selected 65 pictures. I noticed it late in the contest and it was added. Then it was the winner of Week 13. How will it do in the playoffs, against all those bright colors?
I think it will hold its own quite nicely.

#4 Pink Tulip Week 1   (May 6, 2018)

Ah, the tulips. How far away they seem.
But in less than 2 months they will be here.
I have to believe that.

#5 Hosta with bluebells  Week 6  (May 7, 2018)

Bluebells go well with anything and everything. Here they adorn a newly emerged hosta.
If you do not have bluebells in your garden get some. I wonder if they will grow in Florida. Maybe we should send them south and see.
They grow from sort of a bulb. It looks like a carrot when you did it up.
They will transplant in the spring if you dig them up before they are more than an inch or so out of the ground.
After they have finished you can dig up the 'bulbs' and ship them places.
Whenever I do a makeover on a bed I usually wind up with all sorts of bulbs, including some bluebells.

There you have the contestants for week 2 of the playoffs.
Vote early. Find a friend and have them vote as well.
Everyone should have a favorite this week.

Bonus Pictures

Here is a snapshot of the iris progression.

How about some orchid pictures.
Orchids are part of my garden. They mostly come inside in the winter.  'Winter'  is really half the year from October when it gets cold until May.
Orchids bloom at particular times of the year. Some will bloom outside during the warm time. Others bring color and excitement inside.

The secret to orchids is to just try them.
They are not as fragile as you might think.
At some point you will realize that you did not kill the particular plant. For me that was  about 1993.
Then, after several attempts and much waiting, one will re-bloom.
You may be captured at that point.
The second secret is that you need to find the right space. Location. Location. An east or south facing window in the cold time is good. Shade is necessary outside.
Then you have to find a rhythm for when you water them, or play music for them, or even sing to them. Julia's mother would always water them at a particular time on the weekend. Each week. Once year she had over 30 flowers on one phalaenopsis.

How about some tulips.

Julia's recipe
Rice Pudding (baked)
Here is the link to the other blog with all for Julia's recipes.

Rice pudding can be made on the stovetop, a simple recipe of raw rice and milk and cream and some sugar, which Philip makes from time to time and which has appeared on the blog in the recent past. Rice pudding can also be made in the oven. The baked version uses cooked rice and is more of a custard, with eggs as well as milk and cream, and a bit of sugar. I like them both. The baked version takes less prep time but includes some time in the oven. And it is very tasty, with a creamy layer on top and a rice-y layer beneath.

I started with 3 cups of cooked rice. I had medium grain rice, but any leftover rice will do - long grain, short grain, basmati, jasmine, or any of the forms of brown rice. I think that green rice or black/purple rice would look weird, but that's just me. I also had 1 cup of whole milk, 1 cup of half and half, 4 eggs, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt (I used kosher), 1-1/2 teaspoons of vanilla and 1-1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

I turned the oven on to 325 degrees.

I put the cold rice into the mixing bowl, followed by the eggs, and then the sugar, salt and vanilla. I whisked after each addition. I added the milk and half and half next, whisking away, and lastly I added the lemon juice, with a final whisk.

I lubed up a souffle dish, and poured the mixture in. Any baking dish with about a 6 cup will work.

I always have a shaker of cinnamon sugar (some sugar and a little bit of cinnamon in a little jar with a shaker top) on hand, and I sprinkled some on top of the uncooked custard.

Then into the oven for about 45 minutes. Maybe a little longer. Test as for custard - by sticking a knife into the custard near the center. If the knife comes out clean (no gloppy bits), then the rice pudding is done.

Here it is, out of the oven and cooling off. You do not eat this dish hot out of the oven, but warm is fine. Of course, leftovers are good. For breakfast, especially.

You can use all milk, but if so, I would use whole milk or maybe 2%. Not skim. And you could use brown sugar instead of white sugar, maybe a tablespoon more than called for above. And you could add raisins or craisins or dried blueberries or tiny date pieces if you like to encounter fruit in your pudding. If you go that route, use about 1/2 cup and add it after the eggs and sugar, before you add the milk/cream.

Right Now
We are still very much inside.
Maybe in two weeks.
Here are several things blooming right now.

There were two things that were interesting about this hibiscus flower that bloomed yesterday.
First the flower had some white in it. It looks a little like that poinsettia that has been crossed so it has white and red leaves. Something has happened to this particular flower. I wonder if I could save the seed from that flower.

Second- this one flower, which is a double,  has two sets of stamen/pistils. Can you see them? I do not know if I have seen that in in flower before. I will certainly have to watch for the next bud to open on this plant.

Odds and Ends

There is one sure sign of spring in an old house.
We live in an old house.
The ladybugs start to literally come out of the woodwork. Well they probably come out of the windows. I saw the first one last week.
I also saw one of those what I now know to be called stink bugs.
It is a sign of something that there are now more stink bugs than lady bugs, to judge from the small sample being our house this winter.
Stay warm.

Oh - there is that daylight savings thing in the morning.