Sunday, January 27, 2008

Golden Boy

In the winter, I get to see far more birds than I do in the summer. The leaves are gone from the trees, exposing the feathered inhabitants. I put out seeds in a squirrel proof (so far at least) feeder where I can see it from my desk. When the birds start flying to and from the feeder, I see them from the corner of my eye. If you're a lover of squirrels, you'll be happy to know that they aren't starving. They wait on the ground under the feeder for whatever the birds drop down to them. We also have non-squirrel proof bird feeders, which I like to call, squirrel feeders. After I fill them with seed, the squirrels quickly discover it and park themselves on there all day.

We also have a suet feeder. Suet attracts insect eating birds. We get to see our most colorful birds at the suet feeder. Suet is beef kidney fat and can be purchased at the meat counter at the grocery store, or you can buy processed cakes with seeds embedded within them. I use the processed kind with seeds. It fits inside a little cage and I find the seeds attract even more birds. The ground feeders will also hang out under it and wait for some to be dropped. It's a bird party.

Today I thought I'd share some photos from my seed feeder. Most days, I see Tufted Titmice and Chickadees, with Junco's (and squirrels, of course) down below on the ground. Lately, I've been seeing Goldfinches as well. A few weeks ago, I saw my first real up close Goldfinch while I was filling the suet feeder. It was quite the snow white moment (although I think she had bluebird friends). A Goldfinch flew up and landed on a branch inches away from my face, right at eye level. I guess he wanted to see what I was up to. Then he took off.

Since then, they have started to visit my seed feeder. I set up a camera aimed at the feeder and eventually, I got some shots.

Goldfinch: "Who are you?"
Titmouse: "No, I think the question is, who are you?"

Goldfinch: "I thought you were a ground feeder."
Junco: "If you'd drop me some seeds, I wouldn't have to be up here!"

Mr. Goldfinch: "Ah, alone at last."
Mrs. Goldfinch: "I hear clicking. What's that clicking?"

When Life Hands You Lemons

Lemon Squares! At long last!

Let's face it, life does not always happen the way you want it to. Sometimes things happen that are not within one's control. When that happens I say, make Lemon Squares (or as some like to say, Lemon Bars). Okay, okay, I don't really say that, because believe it or not, this lemon lover has only made lemon squares twice. But a sweet treat always makes you feel better, doesn't it? Now, I'd love to give you this recipe, however, it's not mine to give. If you're interested in making these lemon bars, you can find the recipe in the book, Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham. Of course a google search will provide you with enough lemon square recipes to last you the rest of your life, all of them claiming to be the best. I can't tell you if this is the best because this is only the second time I've ever made lemon squares. The first time was back in my youth. Those did not turn out well. They tasted like eggs with some lemon. Yuck. I don't want eggy lemon squares. So this time, after I baked my crust with lemon zest baked right in, mixed my egg/lemon juice/sugar topping and put it back in the oven, the memory of those lemon squares came back to me. I looked up that recipe in an old cook book and sure enough it only called for 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. This new recipe called for 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Now that packs some lemon power!

We liked these lemon squares. The crust is very buttery, a little crisp, even after storing in the refrigerator. The lemon filling is smooth, tart, and oh so lemony. Yum.

If you're my husband, when wife hands you lemons you squeeze them. That's his job whenever I make lemon chicken for dinner, one of our favs. But the lemons, from the afore mentioned Miss Lemontree, are so easy to juice. I've never had such a juicy lemon. Two lemons, not even very large lemons at that, easily yielded well over 1/2 cup of juice.

Some lemon recipes do not require squeezing, such as Shaker Lemon Pie. This was my first attempt at this unique pie. This recipe is from early shakers who did not want to waste any part of a fruit they had to purchase rather than grow. Isn't it funny, that is basically opposite of why I wanted to make this recipe. I wanted to utilize the entire fruit for which I patiently waited so long to grow and ripen. I used my food processor to slice two lemons into thin slices (as thin as possible). My food processor only goes down to 2mm. For the interior of the lemon, that seemed very thin. You could see through the slices. For the pith and skin, I don't think it was thin enough. I picked out the seeds, now sliced as well, and put the lemon slices in a bowl with 1 3/4 cups sugar. I let it macerate for a full day, although the recipe calls for 8 hours. I had heard that others thought it better to let it macerate longer. Plus, this worked well with my schedule. I started the pie one day after work and finished it the next day after work.

The next day, I added 4 large eggs and a pinch of salt to the lemon and sugar and filled my pie crust. Doesn't that look pretty?

Love that yellow. Of course, this yellow is due to the egg yolks, but still bright and cheery to me.

You use a double crust for this recipe. So I added another crust to the top, sealed it, and then into the oven it goes.

I usually flute my pie crust edges, but this pie seemed like it needed an old fashioned treatment.

The result looks great. The crust is delicious. The filling's taste is lemony, just great. But the consistency... it's just not for me. The skin and pith just never soften and I really can't get past the consistency. It's sort of the same as I feel about shredded coconut. Too chewy or something. Hubby didn't like the consistency either, sadly. That is not to say that you wouldn't like it. Some may not mind that texture. Who knows. But for us, I think this ends the shaker lemon pie chapter.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Before & After

I can't help but notice that this time of year, there's a lot of talk about resolutions and a lot of inspirational before and after pictures floating around. I don't have any resolutions, well okay, I do have a few (but they're not official or anything like that. It's not like I told anyone or announced it. I mean then if I don't stick to it, then what?). Just the usual, weed the garden more this summer (possible), start fewer seedlings this winter so I don't have to find homes for them come spring (not likely), and of course as always, eat fewer cookies (yeah, right!).

The before shot. The bumble bees like these blossoms as well.

If you've been following along since the summer, you may recall Miss Lemontree had some cute little fruits starting back in June and July. It's been a long wait, but winter is the time for citrus after all. Here's Miss Lemontree back on December 3. See her fruits are starting to turn yellow at long last! Well, I got all excited about the possibility of celebrating the new year with some fresh homegrown lemons. Didn't exactly happen that way.

December 3, lemons are starting to ripen!

It took a little longer than that to get ripe, but it did finally happen. This is very exciting in the dead of winter. There may be snow outside, but inside it's a balmy 70 degrees and Miss Lemontree is in her winter home in the sunniest window of the house, in our dining room.

Janary 14, we awoke to a snowy winter wonderland outside. Miss Lemontree watched the snow fall from the comfort of the indoors.

The final count? Eighteen lemons from this little tree. So far only two have been harvested. The fruit should hold better on the tree. Although, I must admit, my inner photographer wants to pluck them all off at one time and make a really pretty composition with the lemons. I am restraining myself, so far.

I've always loved lemons. I always keep a couple on hand to squeeze into a drink. The lemons I get at the grocery store however are common lemons, the egg shaped Eurekas and Lisbons. Miss Lemontree is actually a sweet lemon, not really sweet, just a classification, for this less acidic type. She is a Meyer lemon. Her fruits are smaller, rounder, with smoother thinner skin. A sniff of the lemon's skin reveals hints of the blossoms they emerged from, very floral, and reminiscent of honey. The taste is not just less sour/acidic than common lemons. It has another quality to it. As I get to know these lemons better, I'll try to describe them better.

Another before and after I had planned to show you, is not something you'd want to eat, but still notable. Ferna is a beautiful Boston Fern once belonging to my neighbor across the street. A couple years ago, she stayed on my front porch while my neighbors were away. She was a huge beautiful plant. I remarked that I would like to get one for myself as she fit so well into the landscape. Well, my neighbor came back, and Ferna went back to her rightful home. Next time my neighbor went away, she asked her son to watch Ferna, and Ferna was a bit neglected unfortunately. My neighbor showed up one day with her and asked me to try to help her. I said I would, but I was doubtful.

Below you will see a before picture of Ferna. To the left is the pot she came to me in, to the right, the pot she moved into shortly after. You can see some little green fronds down below the surface, that were waiting to emerge. That was my first clue that Ferna could come back to her once glorious condition.

Ferna on May 26.

In July, she showed up on the blog as an extra, in this picture of Henry. She's starting to come back, but I cropped most of the bald parts out of the photo.

This is Ferna today. She's come inside for the winter. Getting some morning rays.

Each day Ferna gets a nice misting. Each week she gets a good drink of water. Now, I never had planned to keep Ferna. I thought she was only visiting. I asked my neighbor numerous times to take her back. But she just replied, that she meant for me to keep her. After awhile, I stopped asking because I didn't want Ferna to think she wasn't wanted. I must admit, I do like Ferna. She's got personality for sure. My niece who had taken care of Ferna while we were on vacation, along with all our other plants and critters, included Ferna on the Christmas card she sent to us. There's just something special about this plant.

Well, now I really know there is something special about Ferna. It turns out, she was named after my neighbor's grandma (click here to read more about it). Maybe I knew that and forgot, but now that I know that for sure, I'm not sure I should keep Ferna. I think she should go back to her rightful family and chalk this visit up to a little stint of rehab.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tea Anyone?

My first tea chest. This one is oak.

One of my goals as a woodworker is to be able to make perfect little boxes. I have for a while now, had a project in mind to make a tea chest. I've seen them for sale in stores but they are always way too big and lined with bright red satin or some such thing. I can see how a large tea chest would be appealing since you can fit more tea, but where do I fit the chest? So I wanted to make something that would be small enough as to fit easily into the landscape of one's home, but also big enough to put a few varieties.

This is my first attempt. Made of oak, it's 9 3/4" x 4". I put six different teas inside and gave it away. Maybe I'll keep the next one. It's fun making boxes. This is just the beginning of my box making project.

Three compartments inside hold six varieties of tea.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

New Year, New Calendar

Last Christmas I had made a calendar for my hubby as a gift. I didn't find the time to do it again in time for Christmas, but better late than never, I always say. An email from, got me searching for images. Last year's calendar was all cat pictures. This time around, 2008 is all garden images. Some veggies, some flowers, some veggie blossoms. Here's what we'll be looking at in the coming year. All of these pictures were photographed by me in my garden.

January, Asparagus on Walnut Wood

February, Green Onion (or scallion as some call them) seed heads.

March, Green Arrow Peas.

April, Blackbeard Iris.

May, a Peony with rain drops.

In June life is just a bowl of Strawberries.

July, hot weather = Hot Peppers (Aurora)

August, Richmond Green Apple Cucumbers with Borage

September, Tahiti Sunrise Iris

October, Bee in Sebring Squash Blossom

November, cucumber tendril

December, Nasturtiums