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.

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