dreaming of summer; the last photos of our trip to Sanibel Island

IMG_7839By now, I am sure you are ready for me to move on from my summer vacation photos but considering the hurricanes that have blown through that part of the world, I had to post this last group of photos.  While we were on Sanibel Island, we found a walking trail by accident.  We had left our hotel room, on foot, and walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner.  As we approached the front of the building, we realized that it was not open.  Since we were set on having dinner, we turned around and began walking back to go somewhere else and that is when we saw a small sign for the Pond Apple Trail.  And yes, we also saw signs for alligators-this little guy did not pose much of a threat but everybody knows that small alligators are the result of big alligators…

IMG_7852We didn’t walk the trail that evening but we did go back one afternoon while we were out riding bicycles.  A portion of the trail winds around several square ponds that are part of a stormwater remediation program for the island.  This handsome fellow was watching over the water for possible snacks.

IMG_7849If you are curious about the remediation method used here, small rafts of plants are assembled and allowed to float in the ponds.  The root systems of the plants help clean the water of pollutants that are washed into the ponds during storm runoff.

IMG_7844The trail gets its name from the native pond apple trees which are relatives of custard apples and soursops.

IMG_7854Although they were perfectly edible, we decided not to eat them.  We enjoyed the trail and look forward to a trip back to the island so we can explore it again.

IMG_7862On the day we were leaving, I scheduled the flight home late in the afternoon so that we could spend the day exploring some of Fort Meyers.  Mother nature had other ideas and we were stuck walking in drizzly conditions.  We found a great place to explore despite the rain!  Six Mile Cypress Slough is one of the most unique trails I have ever walked and I highly recommend visiting if you are in the area.  The entire trail is a raised wooden boardwalk that wides its way through a cypress swamp.  Currently, the trail is closed and I am assuming it is because of storm damage.

IMG_7863The stumps in the water are called knees and cypress trees develop these roots as they grow in the water.  The water was so clear, golden in color but clear with amazing visibility!

IMG_7865The ferns grow everywhere!  These were colonizing the base of a tree trunk.

IMG_7867Have you seen those air plants for sale everywhere?  They grow wild all over Sanibel Island and here in the slough as well. The lichens were pretty amazing as well, I have never seen them in this color before.

IMG_7875More air plants, they can get pretty large.

IMG_7869Ferns, love ferns… The way the little fronds unfurl…

IMG_7871Of course, it would not be a proper southern swamp without some hanging moss.

IMG_7872The boardwalk, it was only a mile from start to finish but we took our time and probably spent an hour wandering the walkway.

IMG_7873At every turn, there was something to see.  Plants above water, plants below water.

IMG_7877IMG_7881And it wouldn’t be a proper hike without a reflection shot.

IMG_7888Moss and ferns, two of my favorite things.

IMG_7901IMG_7904This guy was just hanging out, he let me take his photo.  Hopefully, the damage to the trail was not too extensive and it will reopen soon.

guess again…a tomato spice cake

IMG_7914When I signed up to attend the hypertufa workshop, read about that here, I knew that I had to bring a cake with me.   As I walked in with my traveling cake safe, I heard a few gasps, and exclamations; “oh, you brought a cake!”  This came as no surprise to some, especially Doris, who looked at me and smiled and said “You brought cake? Of course you did!!!”  She obviously knows me, and the truth is, occasions like this are really just an excuse to take a mold down from the wall and use it!

IMG_7916Late summer is tomato season and if you find yourself with a few too many, consider making a cake with them.  Actually, this recipe is versatile enough that you can make it with canned tomatoes, either crushed or puree, or even with tomato juice which means you can have it anytime.  If you use a purchased puree or juice, check the ingredient list to make sure that ingredients such as onions or garlic are not included.

IMG_7917A few things to consider here.  Raisins are one of those ingredients that you either love or hate.  Personally, I am not a big fan but in this recipe, the golden raisins really work.  Just be sure not to skip the step to plump them or they will actually draw moisture from the cake and can make it seem dry.  If you use fresh tomatoes, blanch them to remove the skin and then cut each one in half and squeeze out as many of the seeds as you can before pureeing them.  The nice thing about using fresh tomatoes, you can mix it up by changing the variety of tomato.  Of course, you can just use a can of puree and make it anytime you want a fresh baked spice cake.

IMG_7971As the summer fades, spice cakes shift to center stage.  Slightly denser, jammed full of warm spices, and in this case, loaded with dried fruit and nuts, spice cakes are the perfect pick-me-up as the temperatures finally start to cool off.  For this cake, I combined cinnamon, allspice, cloves and freshly grated nutmeg which give the cake a warm, spicy flavor.

IMG_7979Guess Again Tomato Cake

with raisins and pecans

makes an 8-inch bundt cake, serves about 8-12

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup pecan pieces

2 cups cake flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

5 ounces (1 stick + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1-1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup tomato juice, puree or crushed tomatoes

vanilla glaze, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease and flour a 6 to 8 cup tube or bundt pan.  Place the golden raisins in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and let the raisins plump until cooled.  Drain well before using.

Toast the pecan pieces on a baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly colored and fragrant.  Transfer to a dish and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.  Set the dry ingredients aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium-low speed for 1 minute.  Add the brown sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the egg and mix completely, scraping the bowl at least once.  Sift one-third of the dry ingredients over the butter mixture, fold by hand a few times and add half of the tomato.  Fold a few times; sift half of the remaining spiced flour over the batter, add the remaining juice, and fold a few times.  Add the last of the flour mixture, and fold the batter gently until no streaks remain.  Add the raisins and pecans and fold enough to incorporate them evenly.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spread it out evenly and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, then unmold and cool on a wire rack.  Using a large spoon, ladle the glaze over the top of the cake, completely covering the top and letting the excess drip down the sides randomly.

Vanilla Glaze

makes about 3/4 cup

2 cups confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the confectioners sugar into a bowl.  Add the melted butter, milk and vanilla.  Whisk until smooth and creamy, use at once.

IMG_7976

This cake is from my second book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe.

hypertufa pots and a garden tour

IMG_7925One of the best decisions I have ever made was to become a Master Gardener.  Not only have I learned a lot about the hows and whys of all things gardening, I have had a chance to make wonderful friends!  Earlier in the summer, I was talking with a fellow MG member and I mentioned that I really wanted to learn how to make hypertufa pots and that I was more than willing to plan a get together at my home with some of our gardening friends.  It was if the walls, or maybe the hostas were listening in on my plans because as quickly as I mentioned this, we learned that one of our fellow MG members was offering a tufa pot workshop in her backyard.  Needless to say, I quickly signed up for the class!

Georgeann may be known for her love of hostas and her beautiful garden (watch this episode of Volunteer Gardener for more information) but in our circle, she is well known for her knowledge and craftwork with hypertufa.  If you are not familiar with hypertufa, it is a mixture made from peat moss, portland cement and vermiculite and when it is completely cured, it is just as strong and durable as cement but not nearly as heavy.

IMG_7926IMG_7927IMG_7928IMG_7929Making the mixture is fairly easy, it takes a little elbow grease but it is not at all difficult to make.  In a large container with a wide opening, combine 3 parts peat moss, 3 parts vermiculite and 2 parts portland cement.  For extra strength and durability, you can throw a handful or two of fiberglass reinforcing fibers.  Add water to the container and mix it until it is moistened but holds its shape-refer to the photos above.  Do not do this with bare hands!!! (nevermind Georgeann’s bare hands, she warned us about the consequences)  Portland cement can be a bit caustic and it will dry your skin to the point of irritation.

IMG_7922Select a mold with a wide opening and grease the inside with spray or a thin coat of shortening.  Line it with a couple of plastic bags or a sheet of plastic drop cloth.  Do not worry about the crinkles and wrinkles, they will add texture to the pot.

IMG_7923Press handfuls of the mixture into the bottom so that it is at least an inch and a half thick.  Using your fingers, make a hole for drainage.  Keep building up the sides so that they are at least an inch thick but when it comes to the top edge, make it a little thicker and rounded so that it is stronger.  Let it cure, out of direct sun-in full shade, gently lift the plastic sheet to remove the pot from the mold after a day or two.  At this point, you can carefully shape the edges or carve designs into the surface of the pot.  Use a metal brush or a file to sand the edges and small chisels for the carving.  Replace it into the mold to finish curing.  You want to do this to ensure that you can get it out of the mold at all-a lesson I learned the hard way!

Allow the pot to dry in the mold for at least a week and then pull it out and peel off the plastic liner.  Keep the pot in the shade to finish the curing and it is best to keep it slightly moist and wrapped in plastic.  The longer and slower the curing process is, the stronger the pot will be.

IMG_7937If you walk around Georgeann’s garden, you will find tufa pots.  This one is home to just one of many hosta plants.

IMG_7938The pots are very durable and can even spend the winter outdoors.  Even though the cement mixture is on the alkaline side, plants can thrive in them and so can moss.

IMG_7939The moss is a plus in my opinion, I just love the character it adds to the pots.

IMG_7934As a beekeeper, I love seeing Vitex (Chaste Tree) in gardens.

IMG_7936All through the garden, I found little surprises like this mosaic of a Blue Jay.

IMG_7940And this Earth ball.

IMG_7941The waterfall is actually a water feature that recirculates but it is no less beautiful than a real stream!

IMG_7942Of course, there are plenty of Hostas to admire, too!

IMG_7946As much as I love Hostas, I really love Hydrangeas!

IMG_7949Arbors are everywhere in the garden.

IMG_7950Another of Georgeann’s tufa pots, this time it is a trough.  Remember what I said about the crinkles and wrinkles in the plastic liner?  They really do add a lovely texture to the finished pot.  IMG_7953Everywhere you look, there is something to see, and in my case, covet!

IMG_7954Don’t you just love this little cottage?

IMG_7956IMG_7957IMG_7959This swing is hidden from view in most of the yard but I was still hesitant to sit on it for fear of acting like a child…

IMG_7961If this were my garden, I have a feeling that I would be spending a lot of time sitting out in front of the cottage at this table.

IMG_7962Caladiums are quickly becoming one of my favorite plants to add color to a shade garden.

IMG_7964This stone sits at the start of the path that leads up to the cottage and if you ask me, it is an accurate description of Georgeann’s garden.

IMG_7970So the moral of this story; if a Master Gardener opens their home to you, go!  You really have no idea what you will discover or learn until you walk through someone’s garden and I am genuinely grateful that I had the chance to spend a morning exploring this beautiful garden.  And in case you were wondering, there was definitely cake; I brought my Guess Again Tomato Cake and the recipe will be posted soon!

waiting for the green flash on Sanibel Island

Visit enough beaches on the Gulf Coast of Florida and you are going to hear about the green flash at sunset.  It sounds like a legend, a hard to believe it’s true type of story but the truth is, that green flash is a real thing.  We spent plenty of sunsets on the beach during our recent visit to Sanibel Island but were never lucky enough to experience it ourselves.

IMG_7793Another fact, taking a live sea creature as a souvenir carries a $500 fine per creature.  That could be an expensive lesson to learn!  We found this guy on the beach in the tide line.  He, or she for that matter, was just laying there and I saw the shell first.  Thinking it would be one to add to my collection, I picked it up and when I turned it over to check, there he was-a live Florida Fighting Conch!

IMG_7795This little guy was as curious of us as we were of him.  As Darry held him up so that I could take some photos, he slowly crept further and further out of his shell.

IMG_7798Look at the love in his eyes…We returned him to the water and wandered on in search of that elusive green flash.

IMG_7800This just goes to show you that barnacles will attach to anything, including cheap sunglasses.

IMG_7811Sunset was approaching and so was a thunderstorm.  The view from one end of the beach to the other was very different.  In this direction, sunny.

IMG_7814Turn 180 degrees and not so sunny.

IMG_7817This little guy didn’t let the clouds stop him so we decided to follow his lead and keep walking on-even if there was thunder in the distance.

IMG_7818The sun was sinking fast and that meant we might just see that flash.

IMG_7820Thankfully, the storm seemed to be moving past us and no rain fell near us as we walked on the beach.

IMG_7821Those clouds, the colors; the camera did not catch it all and I hate adding color to the photos; it seems like cheating.

IMG_7826We had to wait a while, there was still at least half the sun above the horizon.

IMG_7829The clouds just kept getting better and better, so did the colors in the sky.

IMG_7830You would not have to do much to convince me to chuck it all out the window and move to the beach.  Seriously, I could very easily learn to adapt to summer weather all year long and sunset walks on the beach.

IMG_7833With about a quarter of the sun left, we waited patiently.

IMG_7835To see that green flash, you need to be there just as the sun sinks below the horizon.  We began walking back as the moment of truth approached and this was the last photo I took.  If there was a green flash when the sun finally disappeared below the horizon, we did not see it.  Thinking this means we need to go back to the beach!

how I spent my summer vacation…off season on Sanibel Island

IMG_7774If you ask me, the perfect summer evening includes a long, leisurely stroll on a beach.  Slowed pace, feet covered in sand and tickled by the surf, eyes scanning the tide line in search of seashells, breathing in the salty breeze-absolute heaven.  We may not be world travelers, or even frequent vacationers, but one thing is certain, we will more than likely visit a beach if we plan a trip.  Over the years, we have been to beaches on the East, West and Gulf coasts but this was the first time we visited Sanibel Island on the Gulf coast of Florida.

As is typical in the Gulf, the surf is a bit gentler and the waves are smaller (most of the time) and during our recent visit, we had no reason to worry about riptides.  We chose to visit in July for two reasons; it was the best time for Darry to take time off and it was off-peak season for the island.  To be honest, July really is a great time to visit the area.  The lack of a crowd meant easy access to public parking, although you can easily bicycle to just about anywhere on the island.  It also meant that we did not have to wait for much.  Restaurants always had a table available, bicycles were easy to come by, tourist attractions were sparsely populated and traffic was just about nonexistent on the island.

IMG_7776

If you have ever heard of Sanibel Island, you know it as a shell collectors paradise.  That was just one of the reasons I wanted to visit.  Read up on the island and you will see all types of activities and festivals connected to sea shells.  On our first evening, we walked the beach and found ourselves stunned by the amount of shells just laying on the sand.   IMG_7777The stripes formed along the tidal path are just littered with shells, mostly small but still beautiful and worthy of collecting.

IMG_7778As I took photos, I noticed Darry doing his best “Sanibel Stoop” while he scanned the surface of the sand for treasures.

IMG_7780He quickly retrieved a few shells to show me, from left to right:  a Scotch bonnet and two Florida fighting conchs.

IMG_7786It was somewhat addicting.  Finding intact shells was also pretty easy and we had a bag full in no time.

IMG_7788So many shells…

IMG_7790Horse conchs can get very large, the world record shell is just over 2 feet long, but we didn’t have much luck finding anything over an inch or so!

We did more than just stroll the beach!  The folks living on the island have a strong sense of preservation and quite a bit of the land has been designated as preserves.  We visited JN “Ding” Darling Wildlife Preserve on one afternoon while bicycling and the next morning returned to take a guided kayak excursion in Tarpon Bay. If you visit the island, I highly recommend visiting the preserve on bicycle because you can see so much more and it is easier to stop along the way.  As for the kayak trail, do it but if you are paddling with your spouse and neither of you knows what you are doing, consider going in a boat by yourself!  Two novices do not make an expert, synchronized team… For all of the information on the preserve and Tarpon Bay Explorers, visit the website.

We found several small trails on the island as well and one afternoon, we parked the bikes and explored the Periwinkle Preserve.  This small 17 acre preserve has gone extensive renovations to remove invasive plants.  We walked the short trail that can be accessed from the bike and walking path on Periwinkle Way, the main road on the island.  The slide show is just some of the plants we saw there and elsewhere on the island.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rather than bore you with a weeks worth of photos, check back here, I will post more on the trip soon!

fresh picked rhubarb buckle

IMG_7712Rhubarb is not commonly found in southern gardens.  The intense heat and humidity just do not suit the plant well.  In the demonstration garden, we have learned that the best way to grow it is to plant it in an area that does not see the intense light and heat of afternoon sun.  In the back of our vegetable garden, we have a shady area and in it are two rhubarb plants that are a green variety which seem to be better suited to our growing conditions.

When it comes to harvesting rhubarb, I really do not know much about when or how much to take.  Since the one plant has more than tripled in size since the spring and has stalks over an inch wide, I figured it couldn’t be a first year plant and decided to harvest about a third of it.  After all, we would be needing cake for our Saturday morning get together in the garden and a rhubarb buckle made with stalks from our own garden sounded perfect to me.

IMG_7721Color is not generally an indication of sweetness in rhubarb but the manner in which it was grown can be.  Hot house rhubarbs that have been forced are generally sweeter than those grown outdoors naturally.  This crop was pretty tart and I decided to let it macerate in sugar before adding it to the cake.

IMG_7728Having chickens in our own garden has been a wonderful experience.  When we moved into the new house, we added a few more and the littles have begun laying!  We have one Americauna hen who has been laying tiny green eggs.  We haven’t had the heart to crack them yet, but at the rate we are going, we will have to or run the risk of being buried in a pile of eggs.

IMG_7730Buckles are one of my favorite summer fruit cakes.  This particular recipe is so versatile that by making simple substitutions, you can have a completely different cake each time!  This time though, I kept it pretty simple and just substituted rhubarb for the usual sour red cherries.

IMG_7731 The name “buckle” comes from the manner in which some of the fruit sinking while some of the batter rises up during the baking and this can give the cake a “buckled” appearance.

IMG_7732With the final addition of a walnut crumb topping, the cake was ready to go into the oven.

IMG_7736The buckling I was hoping for was not as pronounced and I suspect that it may have needed to macerate longer or I may need to increase the amount of rhubarb in the recipe.  Looks like I will have to make another soon to test the theory!  Despite that, it did make a nice sweet-tart layer of filling between the cake and the crumbs, the perfect treat after spending several hours digging and pulling weeds.

IMG_7739Fresh Rhubarb Buckle

with Walnut-Oat Streusel Topping

makes 1 (8″x 2″) square cake serving 12-16

2-1/2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb

1/3 cup (2-1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) unbleached all purpose flour

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

1-1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2/3 cup buttermilk

walnut oat streusel topping, recipe follows

In a small bowl, toss the rhubarb with the first listed sugar and allow it to macerate for an hour to produce juice.  Add the flour, toss to coat it evenly and set aside while you prepare the cake.  Make the crumb topping at this time and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Grease and flour an 8″x 8″ cake pan.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the second listed sugar, vanilla and salt until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, scrape the bowl after each addition and mix well.  Sift the flour and the baking powder over the batter.  Fold a few times, add the buttermilk and fold completely until no streaks remain.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level it.  Top the batter evenly with the rhubarb and all of the liquid in the bowl.  Sprinkle the streusel over the cake and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about an hour and 15 minutes.  Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes and then turn it out onto a tray and invert it onto a rack to finish cooling.

Walnut-Oat Streusel Topping

makes 1-1/2 cups

1/2 cup (2-3/4 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 cup (2-1/4 ounces) rolled oats

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/4 cup (1-1/4 ounces) chopped walnuts

Place the flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl.  Using your fingers, mix the ingredients.  Add the butter and rub the cubes into the dry ingredients until clumps begin to form.  Sprinkle the walnuts over the mixture and toss together to combine.  Use this immediately or store in the refrigerator for as long as three weeks.

The original version of this recipe, made with sour cherries, can be found in my book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe

black bottoms; a family obsession

IMG_7691Obsession is a strong word, but in this case, an accurate one.  When I began making these for our bakery (twenty years ago), everyone in my family got hooked on them.  Moist chocolate cake and a rich chocolate chip cheesecake are baked together in muffin cups and the result is a decadent, obsession worthy treat.

My preference is to bake these in giant muffin pans with a cup volume of about 7 oz or 200ml, the ones that are sometimes referred to as Texas size.  Just try not to eat the whole thing by yourself!  This time, I made them in standard sized muffin cups which have a volume of 3.5 oz or 100ml,  but they can be made in any size pan as long as you use cupcake liners.  Otherwise, it is a lot of work to pry them out of the pans.

There are a few tips I like to share in hopes of guaranteeing success for anyone that makes these.  First of all, use a cream cheese that is dense rather than fat free, whipped or extra creamy.  While that famous brand (named after a Pennsylvania city) is great for spreading on a bagel, it really doesn’t provide the best results for this recipe.  Whatever they do to make the cheese creamy yields a filling that is thin and runny.  During baking,  the chips can sink to the bottom of the cupcake while the cheese floats to the top.  If the filling doesn’t sink in the middle a bit, they just don’t look like they should but more importantly, the two batters bake layered.   The best ones have a cheesecake center with cake on the sides and bottom and just a little of the cheese filling peeking out on top.  Save your pennies and buy the store brand, it will work perfectly!  You can make the filling ahead of time and keep it in the fridge; cold filling is more likely to sink in than room temp filling.

When I make these, I generally use whatever chocolate chips I have handy.  However, if you use mini chips, they will be less likely sink to the bottom like the large ones will.  Keep in mind that either way, the results will be delicious.  Just save the freshly chopped chocolate for a different recipe since the tiny shards will color the filling and make it look more like a chocolate filling.

Want to make these quickly?  Want all of them to be the same size?  Use portion scoops!  Seriously, purchase professional style portion scoops, also called dishers, in a range of sizes and you will not have to worry about the size or whether they will bake evenly.  Depending on what size pan you use, you will need a range of scoops.  For jumbo pans, #12 and #16 will work for the cake and cheesecake, respectively while #16 and #40 will be needed for a standard sized pan.  Purchasing scoops is an investment but if you are regular baker, you will find yourself using these scoops for all sorts of things such as muffins, drop biscuits, cookies and more.  For the best prices and range of sizes, look in a restaurant supply shop or website.

If you do not intend to use the scoops, you will need a 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup measure for the jumbo cupcakes (chocolate cake and cheesecake filling respectively) or 1/4 cup and 1/8 cup measure for the standard sized cupcakes.

IMG_7696

Black Bottom Cupcakes

makes 12 jumbo or 24 standard sized cupcakes

12 ounces cream cheese (see notes above)

1-1/2 cups plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (see notes above)

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup unsweetened, natural cocoa powder

1-3/4 teaspoons baking soda

3/4 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons vinegar-distilled white or cider

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup vegetable oil such as canola or soybean

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line the muffin tins with paper cups and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream the cheese with the 2/3 cup sugar to combine, do not whip it because it will warm up (see notes above).  Add the eggs, one at a time, then mix only enough to combine.  Stir the chocolate chips into the filling by hand and set it in the fridge until needed.

Place a large mesh strainer or sifter into a large mixing bowl.  Add the flour, remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt to the strainer and sift the dry ingredients into the bowl. Using a whisk, combine them completely.  In a large liquid measuring cup, pour 1-1/2 cups water, the vinegar and the vanilla and set aside.  Dump the oil into the dry ingredients and add about half of the water.  Using the whisk, mix it well to create a smooth paste.  Scrape the bowl and whisk in the remaining water mixture.  Whisk it well and using the larger portion scoop or measuring cup (see notes above), divide the batter between the cups.  Top each cupcake with a dollop of the cheesecake using the scoop or measuring cup called for in the notes above.

Bake the cupcakes until they have a little golden-brown color around the edges of the cheesecake and they feel firm around the edges of the cake, about 40-45 minutes for the jumbo size, 30-35 minutes for the standard size. To bake them evenly, be sure to turn them halfway through baking.  Once baked, let them cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes then carefully turn them out and place them on a rack to cool completely.  To store these, keep them in the fridge, but let them sit out a bit to warm up to room temp for serving.  Freezing works well for longer storage; wrap them individually and place them in a closed container in the freezer.  Allow them to thaw in the fridge, still wrapped and then serve them at room temp.  They will last in the freezer for a month, maybe two but I doubt they will ever make it there…

This recipe can also be found in my book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe.  

 

Gardening with water runoff in a stream and pond

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Living in a mountain setting generally means having to manage storm runoff at times.  Luckily for my mother, the previous owner of the property finished drainage ditches with stones.  For the most part, all she needs to do is keep them clear of weeds and debris.  However, she is currently recovering from a bad fall and cannot get out into the ditches to do the work.  If you look at the slide show above, you can see how badly one small section of the stream and the pond filled in with forget me nots.  As is with all weeds, digging them out is best and I filled the bushel basket I was using about 6 times with plants pulled out from the stream and another two or three times with the plants growing in the pond.

Once everything was cleaned out, I reopened the trench that runs down the hill to the pond and began contouring the sides of the stream bed with rocks.  If there was one thing I did not need to worry about, it was having enough rocks to do this.   Never in all of my years of gardening have I encountered such a large amount of rocks in the ground and it made the work challenging.

Once I had the stream bed finished, I started adding plants for color.  Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’, is such a dainty little plant that will not reseed vigorously but will grow near stream beds.   Did you know that this plant is not actually grass?  True fact; it is a member of the iris family and my guess is that is why it likes to be near water.

After clearing out the stream bed, it was so muddy and barren that I decided to try some plants that I know will spread; Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ (commonly called Bugleweed) and Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’ (commonly called Creeping Jenny). Only time will tell if they also enjoy frequently moist soil.  After just over a week, both are showing some growth.

IMG_7620Let me just say that I am not a landscaping expert.  My first idea was to shingle the rocks starting at the top.  The thought was that the flow of water would be slowed down from hitting the cracks and crevices created by the rocks.  It did slow the water but it also created many little pools of water and as I stood out there in a down pour watching, I realized that I needed to try it in reverse order.

IMG_7665Because I had previously hauled all of the rocks to the stream, reversing them was a fairly quick task.  For my second attempt, I started at the bottom and shingled them upwards.  So far, it seems to work better but I suspect that in time, I will have to come back and truly dig out the stream bed to create a deeper channel that I can line with rocks.  For now, this works.

IMG_7642As I gathered rocks, I tried to pick them for shape and color but also for moss.

IMG_7638Lichen also makes nice markings on the rocks.

IMG_7636Because this is a mountain stream, mosses were a must and there is also no shortage of it here.

IMG_7667By carefully digging out small ferns, I was also able to add them to the rocks.

IMG_7625Once the stream was finished, I began working on the pond area.  The person who built the stream bed had it all flow down hill into a small pond which acts as a basin to hold most of the water.  The area is terraced and has a dry bed as well as a wet bed where the water from the stream flows in.  Almost the entire yard is shaded or has dappled sun light which makes it easy to use plants like hostas but beware, deer will eat them and the pond is fenced in to keep them out.IMG_7645The flowers on shade plants generally are not as showy as their sunny counterparts.  This tiny spike of pink blooms on the Tiarella Pink Skyrocket, commonly called Foamflower, it your reward for taking the time to look closely at the plants in the garden.

IMG_7676If you recall, about a year ago, I posted here about my mother’s garden.  In that piece, I mentioned how she is a gardener of things rather than plants.  This meant that I spent some time rearranging the statues in the garden as well.

IMG_7623In the wet area of the pond, I had the chance to plant some water lovers; Iris versicolor Blue Flag and Iris sibirica Sparkling Rose.  Keeping them company is a Ligularia stenocephala Little Rocket (commonly called Leopard plant or Ragwort), Lobelia speciosa Vulcan Red (commonly called Cardinal Flower),  Pulmonaria Raspberry Splash (commonly called Lungwort), Phlox divaricata Blue Moon (commonly called Wild Sweet William or woodland phlox) and Astilbe chinensis v. taquetii Purple Candles.IMG_7628One of the surprises in the yard is the large quantity of native Jack in the Pulpits growing.  With a small trowel, I carefully dug a few smaller specimens up and moved them into the wet area as well and near the center of the photo, you can see the trio of leaves from a single plant.

IMG_7649Ligularia in bloom makes a statement and is large enough to be easily seen from the deck.

IMG_7647The pulmonaria and the phlox have adapted well to their new homes.

IMG_7651The cardinal plant has show quite a bit of new growth; the bright green leaves will turn darker with age.

IMG_7674This is the first time I have tried gardening in my mother”s yard and everything I have planted is an experiment.  Between the growing conditions and the deer, I am hoping for success.  After seeing the amount of growth on this Cardinal plant in just one week, I am encouraged!

IMG_7680Whoever did all of the stone stacking and terracing gets the blue ribbon!  When the stream empties into the pond, it comes over this pile of rocks and collects in the basin which is lined with cement.  Years of water have led to lots of ferns, moss and lichens but I think I like the reflection best.

IMG_7682On my next visit, I hope to bring help with me along with a mattock; that hose needs to go!

IMG_7683

there’s gnome place like home…

IMG_7587Long story short, I am staying with mom while she recovers from a fall.  While out in the yard, she fell, broke her leg and had to have a rod inserted to support the bone.  Thankfully, she is well on her way to returning to normal but it will take some time and for the next few weeks, I will be here doing all of the things she cannot do and some of the things she does not care to do, like baking cookies.

IMG_7600Leaving my garden for a month was rough.  We had really just begun to get the summer crops in and there is still much to do to eradicate the bermuda grass.  Here in PA, spring is still in the air and the trees have only recently leafed out.  In case you haven’t visited this blog before, I have posted photos of my mother’s yard before.  In her community, deer are prevalent, and as a matter of fact, there are several grazing in the yard as I write this.  Because they eat everything, including plants that they shouldn’t, mom gardens with things rather than plants.  As you walk the yard, little statues and hidden treasures will become obvious.  Of course, gnomes have a mind of there own and we never quite know where they will pop out and surprise you.  Standing stock still and looking like a statue, you will almost think that someone placed them there on purpose…

IMG_7602Moss grows all over the yard because it is shady and moist.  This little cherub spends his time watching the yard but if he knows what the gnomes are up to, he isn’t telling anyone.  He sits and stares in disbelief as raccoons and squirrels come to the basin to drink water.

IMG_7604This little guy seems to be guarding the front door.  We throw peanuts to him from the deck but he usually lets the squirrels eat them.

IMG_7607The yard is so lush and green right now that the only color that pops out is red.

IMG_7611All over the yard are these tiny blue blossoms, wish I had my wildflower book with me!

IMG_7612When you walk the yard, you really need to watch where you are going, it is easy to step on the residents.  This moon face greets all that visit the pond.IMG_7617It must be nice to have the time to lounge in the woods all day.

IMG_7576Mom is not a big fan of chocolate so I made a batch of crispy lemon cookies with a small amount of anise seeds thrown in for fun.  Since I do not have my cookbooks here to flip through, I used this recipe from Taste of Home magazine.  They really are crispy and for the most part, I followed the recipe except I used fresh lemon zest instead of the extract, threw in a half teaspoon of anise seeds and scooped them out with a #70 scoop.  Because I am unfamiliar with the oven here, I lowered the baking temp to 375 which allowed them to spread out nice and thin but I did have to increase the baking time by 2-3 minutes.  The review, mom tested and mom approved; this recipe is a keeper!

Happy baking and gardening and if I were you, I would keep an eye on those gnomes-just leave them a cookie every now and then, that should keep them happy…

 

latest news from the garden

IMG_7534We have been hard at work building our new garden.  Actually, we have been engaged in a war with bermuda grass and right now, we are barely hanging on to the lead in this battle!  Despite using lots of cardboard and wood chips, this stuff finds a way to break out and sprout up everywhere.  Luckily, there is no shortage of cardboard or wood chips as well as my stubborn determination!

Because of the density of the grass layer, we have turned to a favorite method of building beds and have begun layering materials on top of it rather than break our backs and knees with digging and sifting.  The blue tubs each have a sweet potato plant and we are hoping that we will have good luck with this method.  In the empty beds, I have layered horse manure, leaves and grass clippings and I will cover the area with cardboard and use purchased organic soil to grow in.  Eventually, the layers will compost and the cardboard will disintegrate leaving us with a nutrient rich layer of soil to garden in.  Patience is key here because this will take at least a year to accomplish and if all goes well, it will also smother out the bermuda grass in the beds.  Otherwise, I will have to dig it out because using something like glyphosate is not an option-read this to see just how bad the stuff is!

IMG_7536In late winter, I started a few beds by broadcasting a bunch of seeds over them.  In this bed, the Chinese Cabbages are doing really well and we should be harvesting them soon!

IMG_7539These Tokyo Market turnips are a favorite of ours and we are harvesting them about once a week.  They are wonderful when roasted and the greens are tender enough that you just have to saute them, no boiling necessary!

IMG_7541In a nearby bed, I threw in lettuce seeds, obviously too many but, we have had tons of lettuce to eat and to share.

IMG_7545We purchased about a dozen broccoli plants and we have been eating it roasted and in salads.  Did you know that you can harvest those large leaves and eat them too?  We have done this on many occasions making the individual plants twice as productive.  Use the heads and some of the stems raw in salads and slaws or roast the florets with a little oil and your favorite spice blend.  The leaves should be blanched first to soften them, then saute them with a little garlic, you won’t regret it.

IMG_7554Who doesn’t love surprises?  Especially if it is a raspberry bush-we have found two so far!

IMG_7556Of course, we learned of the muscadines from a neighbor and earlier this spring, we gave them a hard pruning to alleviate some of the weight and shading on the vines.  New vines have erupted and we are starting to see the promise of fruits.

IMG_7557Beyond the garden is an area where I am hoping to develop a meadow for bees and butterflies.  Right now, it is a tangle of weeds and in the middle, is what looks like a dandelion on steroids.  Goatsbeard, trogopogon dubius, is a type of salsify and is considered a weed.

IMG_7560It was disappointing to learn that it is an introduced species and not considered a beneficial addition to the landscape. But that seed head!

IMG_7550Then there is this guy, Hunky Dory the Americauna rooster we got in the latest brood.  He is a handsome fellow but a noisy one as well.  We gave him that name because he will crow to let us know that something is not up to his standards.  Not enough pellets; crow.  No water; crow.  Roosting bar fell down; crow.  Clock strikes 3am; crow…

IMG_7553Not only is it against the law, we do not want fertilized eggs or more chickens so the handsome fellow will be rehomed as soon as we can find a suitable situation.

To keep up with the happenings here, sign up for emails.  Happy Gardening!