Sunday, March 26, 2017

We have a winner- March 26,2017

It has been a rainy couple of days.
The rainy days come with occasional ventures out into the garden.
When the ground is wet the weeds pull easily. That is as true in March as it is in August.

I am a prepared gardener.  I have dry dirt. It is carefully put away in the garage waiting for moments like this.
Rainy days mean I can pot up bluebells and pulmonaria and many other things. This year I am potting hellebores.
October has the great plant migration inside.
March and April  have the great migration from the ground into the many pots in my garage.

For the first time this year there is no frost in the forecast.
Many of this winter's seedlings have gone outside to experience the elements for the first time. The fact that it is overcast and not that hot is just about the best.

There is an explosion in the garden. Each day there are so many new things. Yesterday I saw the early hosta were emerging. Then there were the dutchman's britches. The very first primrose flower appeared. The star magnolia bloomed, the true herald of spring.
The scilla (or squill) are beginning to flow around the yard, creating the first of two wonderful blue periods for the garden.

When the sun was out on Thursday the crocuses sang loudly. It was a multicolored chorus.
I wave at someone walking by. I wish I could let them know what wonders they many be missing.

We have had a contest. There is a winner. In a landslide Unforgettable, the Orchid Cactus, has been elected.

The full voting was
Unforgettable 32
Night Blooming Cereus 13
Cactus 6

This coming week?
Well I am going to give it a rest and then be back at you with more pictures and maybe some more voting. Maybe we will have that team competition I have mentioned. Maybe we will have an all winners event.
But for now I will give you a few pictures of the garden this week. And of course there is this wonderful dessert that Julia has written about.

Bonus time

Iris reticulata

The sunshine brought out the crocuses on Thursday.

Here is a little windflower, anemone blanda.

One of the prettiest crocuses is "tricolor".

Crocuses do make a good group picture.

The hellebores are blooming. This one even almost lifts its face.

Here are the seedlings out for some conditioning. This is a south facing wall. I put them by the wall to protect them from the wind.

This lovely flower is a corydalis. I am up to 5 of these plants at this point. I am going to order more right away.  This impulse is why the bulb catalogues come in the spring and the fall. They bloom at the same time as the squill and make a really wonderful combination.

Here is another corydalis. The foliage is good too.

Lemon Pudding Cake
By Julia Mears

I have already noted my fondness for almost anything in the pudding family, and although the word cake appears in the name of this recipe, it's more pudding than cake. This is another recipe derived from Betty Crocker, who, as I have said before, knows her way around desserts. The recipe is a bit baffling in that when you dig into it, there is a little delicate cake-y layer covering lemon curd. How does this happen? I don't know. Science of some kind, I assume.

Philip took a picture of the lemon alongside a pineapple and a red onion, which were destined to become part of pineapple salsa, but made an attractive still-life sort of grouping for a hot minute.

We started by zesting the lemon (Philip did this part). We have a microplane with a tray sort of thing below the cutting side, which catches the zest. Very handy. We ended up with 1 tablespoon of zest, exactly the right amount. Then I cut the lemon in half and juiced it. I topped up the juice to get1/3 cup lemon juice.

I am not sure why this picture is next, but it does illustrate the actual baking apparatus: 6 ramekins (each of which holds about 1 cup) in a baking pan with a rim.

Next I separated two eggs, putting the yolks in a larger bowl, and putting the whites in a smaller bowl. I added a pinch of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them with an electric hand mixer until they had stiff peaks, as pictured below. Once the egg whites were whipped, I set that bowl aside and turned my attention to the larger bowl. I added the lemon juice and lemon zest to the bowl with the egg yolks and beat that up with the mixer. The residual egg whites on the beaters were not (and are not) a problem.

Then I added I cup regular white sugar, 1/4 cup of white flour and 2/3 cup of milk to the egg yolk mixture. Along with another small pinch of salt. Then I mixed all that up with the mixer.

At that point, I had two bowls of stuff - one bowl of stiffly beaten egg whites and one bowl of everything else. I turned on the oven and set it for 350 degrees.

Next I scraped the egg whites into the bowl of egg yolks etc. with a rubber spatula and folded. That is, I used the rubber spatula to mix the whites gently into the yolks. Down to the bottom of the bowl with the spatula, then up and over, repeat. For some reason this is called folding.

When the egg whites were mostly mixed in, as to the right, I was ready to portion the mixture.

I used a ladle (with about a 1/2 cup capacity), and I ladled one ladle-ful into each ramekin. Do not lube up the ramekins! You will get 6 and have a bit left over to distribute among the ramekins in a fair and even-handed way.

After the ramekins were filled, I added one quart of hot tap water to the pan so that the ramekins sat in water about part way up the sides.

I carefully carried the pan with ramekins over to the oven and slid it in. In my oven the puddings baked for about 40 minutes. I suggest checking after 30 minutes. You are looking for the slightly browned and slightly cracked tops as to the right.

I have made this recipe with King Arthur Gluten-free flour instead of all purpose flour, and it worked just fine. I have baked the whole recipe in a single bigger round souffle dish. It takes a bit longer (like 55-60 minutes) to bake.  If you like lemon desserts, you will like this. It is good warm (not straight from the oven, which would be too hot) or cold.

The end.
Reflections will come later.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Week 16, March 19, 2017- The finals

Week 16
Spring is really here.
We passed the 12 hour mark for sunshine in the last few days. (I always thought that was on March 21. What do I know?)
And there has been sunshine.
It has been rather glorious the last 2 days, particularly after the dusting of snow earlier in the week.

The early spring bulbs have been blooming for a while.
The 11 degree temperatures on Wednesday night toasted a few little flowers. Mostly everything else is fine.

I cannot say enough about the aconite. I transplant a few to new places in the garden every day.
Here is what the flower looks like. There  must be thousands of the little seedlings of this flower coming up all over the place.

Imagine a carpet of these little flowers. Once they are planted they coexist with perennials like hosta. The hosta have not thought about emerging yet. The aconite can crowd right up to the hosta's base.
They can also  coexist with bluebells, which will be a second carpet in a month. Essentially the aconite will be all done in a month. They will disappear until next early spring.
Gardening is all about sequences.

The Picture Contest
Let's go right to the contest.
In last week's voting you picked the cactus to move into the finals. The Columbine was just nosed out. I keep waiting for that one vote to come in the last few days that would yield a tie vote. But no. We had a winner.
The final voting was
Cactus   20
Columbine  19
Daylilies  6
Red Coneflower  5

The finals
So here are your three contestants for the flower picture of the year.

#1  Unforgettable, the orchid cactus

This picture was taken on September 17.

#2 The Night blooming Cereus

This picture was taken on July 28.

#3 The single cactus flower

This picture was taken on July 1.

You make the pick.
They are really all winners.

Bonus Pictures

This amaryllis decided it was time to bloom.

The yellow crocuses are one of the early bright colorful ones.

This crocuses shows you its wonderful subtile color.

These aconite have jumped the fence trying to capture the path. This year it was hard to hold them back in places.

This is a yellow hellebore just about ready to bloom.

Purple is good.

Here you have a stripped crocus in with the many generations of aconite.

Almost every day you can wander around and find something new. Here is a little lupine plant bursting forth.

This Week's Recipe

The Best Yeast Rolls
by Julia Mears

Our old friend Laura came for a visit last weekend, with her family, and so I made no-knead light rolls, so named in the Joy of Cooking. I have made these rolls on all festive occasions for many years, all the way back to our collective days in the farmhouse in rural Poweshiek County. I think what first attracted me to the recipe was the no-knead part. My grandmother (who was still with us in the Poweshiek County era, and who had opinions) thought that I suffered from a tight fist. This meant that I did not have a good feel for yeast dough, and it was a sad thing. No-knead light rolls worked anyway, and gradually I got better at bread-baking of all kinds. Whew.

As I said, this recipe is basically from the Joy of Cooking. I have 4 copies of the Joy of Cooking (with different dates of publication), which Philip finds excessive, but they all serve their purposes. The one pictured at right is a tattered paperback of uncertain age, which I use most.

I made a double-batch of rolls (what with company coming), and this recipe can be halved for about 18-24 rolls or doubled for about 72-90 rolls. On several occasions, I have doubled again for 150-200 rolls. But I digress,

I started by putting 1/2 cup of hot water from the tap into a 2-cup measure, along with 2 tablespoons of yeast and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar. I buy dry regular yeast from the Stringtown Grocery in bulk and keep it in the refrigerator in a jar. You can use 2 of those little yeast packets from the grocery store. I do not use instant yeast, as I am old-fashioned and I am not sure how it works. The little bit of sugar is to encourage the yeast to start bubbling, which it should do over the space of 5 to 10 minutes. Don't use boiling water which will kill the yeast or cold water which will permit the yeast to continue sleeping. Warm tap water.

While the yeast was working (see 2 cup measure in the background at left), I put 2 cups of boiling water in a big bowl. I added 1 stick of butter (that is, 8 tablespoons) cut up in little pieces and 1-1/2 teaspoons of table (ie, not kosher) salt and 1/4 cup of regular white sugar. I used salted butter. If you use unsalted butter, use 2 teaspoons of salt. I stirred this around until the butter was almost melted and then added 2 eggs, one at a time so that I could whisk each one in quickly (I did not want any of the egg to curdle or start to set in the hot liquid).

Then I started to add flour. I have always made this recipe with regular all purpose flour. I have not yet tried it with gluten-free flour, although I expect I will at some point and then I will let you know how it goes. I added 2 cups of flour and whisked it in. Then I added the yeast mixture, and that is pictured at left. After that, I switched from a whisk to a big wooden spoon and stirred in about 3-1/2 cups more flour. The total amount of flour should be between 5-1/2 and 6 cups. The dough will be soft and sticky. It will not look like bread dough, but that's how it should be.

Next, I lubed up an even bigger bowl and plopped the dough into the bigger bowl. I covered the bowl with a tea towel and let it rise on the kitchen counter. One can cover the bowl with a lubed sheet of aluminum foil and refrigerate the dough for up to 12 hours. I rarely do that. I usually am looking to make some rolls in the near future. If you do refrigerate, you need to take the dough out with enough lead time to warm up and rise before proceeding to the punching down and shaping and baking phase. So after less that an hour, the dough had risen as at left. I punched it down. Actually punching is not required. One is deflating the dough.

I cut a longish piece of parchment paper and put it on the kitchen counter, and sprinkled the parchment with flour. I also turned the oven on to 425 degrees to preheat. I have given up on kneading cloths, which in my experience get yucky. For pie crust and cookies, we use this plastic mat with big concentric circles printed on it. The big concentric circles are most useful for pie crust. Also works for cookies. I used parchment because I could cut a longer piece of paper.

I then scooped out some of the dough and plopped it onto the floured parchment. I rolled the dough around so the surface of the dough would not be sticky. The extra flour is not a problem. Do not be alarmed by the softness of the dough. Flour your surface well. Roll the dough around so it has flour all over the surface. Use a knife or spatula to loosen it if it sticks to the parchment somewhere.

Then I patted the lump of now floured and cooperative dough into an oblong shape about 1/4 to 1/2" thick. Then I used a biscuit cutter about 2" in diameter to cut out rounds. I dipped in biscuit cutter in the flour on the parchment every now and then so it (the biscuit cutter) would cut through the dough easily.  I picked up each round and I folded each one in half, pressing the front edges together a little.

At left, you see a bunch of rolls, cut out and folded in half. I put 12 rolls per sheet on cookie sheets. If you have smallish cookie sheets, put fewer rolls on each. The rolls should be separated by a bit of space on all sides. Not touching. I gathered up the scraps of dough and set them aside. Then I repeated with rest of the dough in the bowl. I ended up with four lumps of dough from the bowl.

Then I rounded up all of the accumulated scraps and made rolls from them. The scraps were a bit easier to work with as they were not sticky. But it was the same process - pat the dough into an oblong shape, about 1/4-1/2" thick, cut out circles, fold them in half, place on cookie sheets. I let the rolls rise on the cookie sheets (under tea towels) for about 30 minutes. By the time the last rolls have been formed, the first ones had risen and were ready to bake. I baked them in the 425 degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes. I often bake two sheets at once, and flip them around (top to bottom, front to back) half-way through baking.

Here is a picture of rolls in the oven. Pizza pans work just fine if you are short of cookie sheets. We were in the middle of doing a very large jigsaw puzzle at the time I made these rolls, and some of the cookie sheets had been pressed into service in that project.

These rolls are very light. You can put butter or jelly on them. Or use them to make little sandwiches. Or you can just eat them warm from the oven. As an extra bonus, your house will smell wonderful while the rolls are baking and thereafter.

If you have more rolls than you can eat, they freeze well in a plastic bag. I reheat them by putting them in a 9x13 pan with a little oven-safe dish half full of water. Then I cover the pan (containing the frozen rolls and the little dish with water) with aluminum foil and heat the pan in a 300 degree oven for maybe 15 minutes. The rolls are ready when they are warm and smell good. They will be a bit less soft and pillowy (if that is a word) than originally but still very good indeed.

Odds and Ends

It is the time of year when I can start potting plants, perhaps for a spring sale. Yesterday I started with the first bluebells. If you dig them when they first emerge from the ground they will transplant into pots without much difficulty. Bluebells grow from roots, that look much like carrots. The bulb can be 5-6 inches long with an established plant.
You can place your orders now. They are $3/each. I will plan on having maybe 50 for sale.

I think I may pot some hellebores this year.
Potting is one way to keep plants under control.
Some clumps just get bigger. Taking chunks from all around the outside controls the size of the clump.

I just planted my replacement double bloodroots. They were marvelous replacements from Joe Pye Weed Garden in Massachusetts. They were enough for clumps in three places in the garden. One is down by the curb on Fairview, all the better for your viewing pleasure.

There are weeds already. It is a good time to dig a few. I do have to be careful for the next month as you do not always remember where those late arriving perennials live.

That's it for this week.
I will look for the first daffodil in the garden this next week.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Week 15- March 15, 2017-What happened to Spring?

Spring can be a tease. It has been warm for long enough that we are spoiled. There are lots of plants coming up all over the garden. The list of blooming spring bulbs is growing. There are snowdrops and aconite and crocuses. The little blue squill have started. There was a little reticulata iris that showed up in the cold on Friday. Around the neighborhood, in protected areas, there are daffodils blooming.
Are you sitting down? Yesterday on our neighborhood walk.... there was blooming forsythia.

How is this for a cheerful picture? (The yellow flower is the winter aconite.)

So now it goes and gets cold again. Now cold means 32, with a low of 16. Everyone would not mind those temperatures for much of the winter. But it is not winter. Where are those 60 degree temperatures from a week ago, or two weeks ago.

Spring will come back. We just have to wait a little. There are seedlings in the basement that need transplanting to bigger pots.

In the contest...

Last week the winner was...the Night Blooming Cereus.
I am so glad that people like the picture of this plant. It is sort of like the secret flower in the garden. Hardly anyone ever sees it live, if you know what I mean.
This picture advances to the  finals in one week.

The full voting was
Night Blooming Cereus  26
Toad Lily  14
Red Zinnia  11
Yellow Coneflower   7

This week's contest
This week you will select the last finalist. The finals will be in one week.

#1 Columbine (May 21, 2016) (Week 9)

I love the details on this picture.  The flower parts make a shadow on the petals. There is that sparkle that can appear on some flowers. Then of course there is the whole blue and white thing.

#2   Daylily chorus (July 24, 2016) (Week 12)

Daylily flowers bloom for only one day. But an established plant can have hundreds of flowers spread out over 2-3 weeks. The are many opportunities for group pictures. Yellow is good.

#3 Cactus (July 1, 2016) (Week 4)
This cactus is rather special. For one thing it lets you know weeks ahead of time that it is coming.
I preferred this single flower picture to the group shot. Then of course there is that back lighting.  I could not have intentionally planned that. Sometimes wonderful things just show up.
Unlike the Night Blooming Cereus this flower will last for most of the day. It does open up about 9-10pm, like the NBC.

#4 Red Coneflower (June 25, 2016) (week 1)

Red. Wonderful red. As I observed last week, how good would this red flower go with the yellow coneflower. Imagine lots of them in combination.
You selected this picture way back at the beginning of December. This was the winner in the first week of the contest. How long ago was that?
Can the color red advance to the final finals in one week? You make the choice.

Bonus Pictures
Let us go live to the spring garden this week.
I do write this as the pond is freezing over and there is snow in the forecast.

These are tommasinianus crocuses that come up first. They come in different shades of purple. They really do spread.
I am told they do not taste good. This is in contrast with the later and more colorful crocuses.

Bad taste seems to be a survival technique, at least when it comes to plants.

There can be a nice combination at the moment with the snowdrops, the aconite, and the crocuses.

More crocuses. I wish the sun had been out.

Here is a good picture of the two types of these tommasinianus

This might be one of my favorite pictures this spring. I have a few of these decorative blocks around the bed where there are many crocuses at the moment. And no, I do not know where the bulb is.

The aconite do make almost a carpet at times.

I blew up this next picture so you could see all the generations of aconite. I assume those little tiny guys are from last year's seeds.
I do like the occasional leaf, as a contrasting color.

Which is what you think about when these bulbs pop up. I should have the entire garden look like this.

This was the most recent arrival. It probably is a more tasty crocus.
Quietly I say that I have not yet seen much bunny damage.

In this picture you can see the little blue squill starting to appear. At the bloom, near the rock, is a clump of the Crown Imperial fritillaria.

This is the little reticulata iris that bloomed on Friday.

Lentil Soup
by Julia Mears

Lentil soup is a basic foodstuff and also a variable one - it can be adapted in a number of ways to fit food preferences and what is on hand. Earlier this week, we had a vegetarian version, with grilled cheese sandwiches and cole slaw. A very nice meatless meal.

I started with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in the big red enamel pot. I added one cup of chopped onion, about 3/4 cups sliced carrots and about 3/4 cup of sliced celery plus 1-1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

If you don't like celery (and I know some people who don't), leave it out and/or use some chopped red or green pepper instead.

Chopping vegetables.

I cooked the vegetables for about 7 or 8 minutes on medium heat until the onions were translucent.

Then I added 1 cup of regular green lentils and one 15 oz can of diced tomatoes. I have use other kinds of lentils - yellow, orange, even French. They all work just fine. Then I added 2 cartons (32 oz each) of vegetable broth (using a bit of the broth to rinse out the diced tomato can). I brought the soup to a boil, reduced the heat so it would simmer and let it cook until the lentils were done - about 30 minutes.

Then I added about 2 cups of leftover rice and about 2 cups of leftover green beans from the refrigerator and heated them up. Just before serving, I added about 1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar to zip it up, and it was soup.

There are variations. You can use pasta instead of rice. I like little pasta like alphabets or orzo or big cous cous. Add about 3/4 cup when you add the broth (if the pasta is uncooked) or at the end if it is cooked.

You can use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth. You can add diced ham or sliced up sausage (like Kielbasa). I suppose you could add leftover diced up chicken if you had some on hand. You could start with 3 or 4 slices of bacon instead of olive oil, removing the bacon from the pot after it cooked and crumbling it up and adding it back to the soup at the end. And you can add other vegetables. We have added leftover corn when we have leftover corn (instead of beans). You could shred up a little cabbage or kale or slice up a zucchini.  Options!

Odds and Ends

We went to Chicago to visits Julia's family last weekend. We stopped at Hauserman's orchid nursery. They were having an event, which made it even more special (and crowded.)
There are over 3 acres of greenhouses filled with just orchids, of all kinds.
Here is a little cattleya I had to get when I saw that color.

I am busy moving seedlings up to bigger pots.
That is one advantage of the cold.
Maybe by next weekend some of those seedlings, still in pots, can spend some time outside.

Garden note- Some of my garden beds are wall to wall bulbs, with hosta coming later. Planting anything where there are bulbs can disturb them, even though it will not be as much as you would think. I would not want to plant lots of annuals where all these bulbs live.
One solution is to liberally plant things in pots, and put the pots on top of the bulb area. I put out some of my caladium for example in pots. Actually the cactuses live all year in pots and go outside. So do the jade plants, and the clivia.

Please note, that as I try to be positive, I have not commented on daylight savings time.

In the meantime, stay warm.