30 April 2011

Escapees


These dill seedlings shouldn't be here, really. Behind them are the beetroot seedlings which I did sow in this greenhouse bed. But the dill is so beautiful with the morning dew on it that I'm letting them stay for now.

I've also got a lot of self-seeded flat-leaved parsley in the greenhouse. Another handsome plant that I'm loath to pull up.


I was startled to find these four chickens out of place yesterday. The barrier at the back of the orchard had blown down in Thursday's high winds. Most of the chickens stayed put, but these intrepid few decided to go exploring. I found another pair by the greenhouse later in the day. When we first got the chickens, we spent a lot of time chasing them back into the orchard - it's interesting that now most of them are happy to stay within its bounds, even when one of them has been removed.

23 April 2011

Feaster

The older I get, the more I've come to realise how it is the food of the major festivals that matters to me more than anything else. It's one reason that I heartily approve of the North American Thanksgiving, which is pretty much just about food.

Easter is older than Christianity, of course, being a celebration of the beginning of the growing year, life reborn and all that. We had a combined St. George's Day/Easter celebration this afternoon.


There were some traditional British Easter foods in there - hot cross buns (can't imagine Easter without those) and Simnel Cake (which I haven't ever made before).


The almond paste balls represent the apostles. There are only 11, because Judas isn't invited to this particular feast. I was intending to make 12 (I always feel rather sorry for Judas), but ran out of paste. So he got left out again. Ah well, there's no fighting with tradition, it seems.

19 April 2011

Slow Spring

I think I was a bit spoilt by last April, when the lowest temperature in the whole month was 0.8°C/33°F. This month there have been eight days when it has been below freezing and the same number of days when the mercury has dragged itself above 10°C/50°F.


Of course the warm April last year turned out to be disastrous for the apples, plums and pears, so perhaps I shouldn't be complaining. But it would be nice not to have to be wrapping up in hat, scarf and gloves every time I go out...

18 April 2011

Blowdown


Our path to the pond was comprehensively blocked this morning by a fallen ash tree. A closer look at the stump explains why the weekend's high winds had this effect:


Blowdown is a word I learnt only yesterday (I'm reading Bad Ground by W. Dale Cramer). I wasn't expecting to get to use it quite so quickly!

17 April 2011

Almond macaroons

I associate macaroons with Enid Blyton books and they're not something I've ever made before. But today I had two leftover egg whites and went hunting on the Internet for inspiration. David Lebovitz came to my rescue. I'm already a fan of his, thanks to his ice cream book The Perfect Scoop. He suggested macaroons as one way of using them up. I've always thought macaroons were made with desiccated coconut, which I don't much like, but a bit more hunting around brought up recipes for an almond variety, which sounded preferable.

There seem to be as many variations on the recipe online as there are recipes: oven temperature, method, quantities all seemed to be different in each version I read.

In the end I settled for an amalgam of several: as usual, opting for the most simple method and ingredients.

Ingredients

2 egg whites
1 cup ground almonds
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp almond extract (optional, I just happened to have some)

Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Gently fold in the almonds, sugar and almond extract (if using). Spoon the mixture into mounds onto a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 400°F/200°C for 15 minutes. This quantity made 12 macaroons.

My end result wasn't the classic smooth, domed macaroon you'd get if you piped the mixture. But the taste and chewy texture are wonderful. And you don't leave half the mixture behind in the piping bag.


My Internet browsing brought up the fact that macaroons have become a traditional Passover treat, which wasn't something I knew (and which I'm finding hard to reconcile with the Enid Blyton association I had before, if I'm honest). They're certainly very quick to make - so a perfect food for Passover (or any time - I'll definitely be making these again).

I'm glad the macaroons turned out well, because I used the yolks of the same eggs to make a hollandaise sauce. Which was a complete failure. Ho hum.

14 April 2011

Froggie wooing

It's frog season, all of a sudden. I was startled when this leopard frog leapt out at me in the greenhouse this evening. Walking up to the pond shortly afterwards, I was even more surprised to hear the frog chorus that was going on up there.

This is our fourth spring here, but this is the first time that I've heard Spring Peeper frogs in full song. It is deafening, especially when you consider that these frogs are less than an inch in length.


video

And while I'm on the subject of aquatic creatures,a new one has taken up residence in the ditch at the front of our property. It took us a while to work out what it was (it's very camera-shy), but we finally realised that the medium-sized furry beast lurking there is a muskrat. You can just see it in the bottom right corner of the picture below - but, like I said, it doesn't like having its photo taken!

Unexpected lettuce


I remember sowing the blood-veined sorrel on the left in one of the greenhouse raised beds, towards the end of the growing season in 2010. But all that lettuce that's coming up on the right? I don't have any recollection of sowing that. In fact, I'm fairly sure I didn't. The even more weird thing is that exactly the same surprise appearance of lettuce happened last spring, in the same bed. Not that I'm complaining - it's a welcome sight!

10 April 2011

Lemon Polenta Cake

I know, I know: I don't post for a week and then two posts in one day. But I couldn't pass up sharing this find. It's from Nigella Lawson's latest book, Kitchen, which up until now hasn't really given me a lot of inspiration. I was flicking through it this morning, looking for ideas for a Sunday-lunch dessert and came across this cake. I love anything lemony and am also very fond of cakes containing almonds. This (recipe here) has both, so had to be a winner.


Judging by the way it disappeared, I'm not the only one who thought it was wonderful.


Now the only problem is, who's going to get a third taste? It's the cook's prerogative, right?

Snakes alive

It's warming up a bit, and all the snow has gone, at last. One sure sign of warmer weather is when we start to see garter snakes basking on the path and in the border at the front of the house. Yesterday there was a whole heap of them enjoying the sunshine just in front of our garage door:


I've never seen quite so many together at one time!

I got everyone working outside yesterday morning. Child#1 tidied up the front border, while Child#2, my mother-in-law and I worked together in a small production line, potting on the tomato plants. It was lovely and warm in the greenhouse. The plant labels are another good bit of recycling: the children have a bit of a lollipop/popsicle habit, so I keep the sticks, boil them to sterilise them and then re-use them as labels for the plants. They look better than plastic labels, I think, and are easy to write on (as long as they're dry) with a sharp pencil.

03 April 2011

It's not warm when she's away

A bit of an understatement, that: it's been blooming freezing here in my absence. There's still some ice on the lake and a few patches of snow on the ground.

In the greenhouse, many of the seedlings look exactly the same as they did when I left, with the exception of the peas, which seem to have put on at least a bit of growth.


I sowed the tomatoes earlier than usual, knowing that I'd be away, and they've germinated and are looking good.


So, now I'm back, it would be quite nice if things could heat up a bit outside, please.