Buttery Coconut Bars and a Garden of Roses

IMG_1341The funny thing about this recipe for Buttery Coconut Bars is that I don’t usually like coconut, at least not as used in many cookies where it lurks in an undistinguished supporting role, and in my least favorite cookie, the coconut washboard. But I was riffling through an old cookbook, called the Country Fair Cookbook: Every Recipe a Blue Ribbon Winner by the editors of Farm Journal. The recipe beckoned, and I  took the plunge. The result was a buttery, moist bar loaded with coconut, and it won me over.

It’s only flaw, in my eyes, is that the bar itself looked shaggy and undistinguished. So I took each bar and rolled it in a bit of sifted powdered sugar, so now they look like chubby little pillows of deliciousness!

Coconut Bar Cookies

1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flaked coconut
about 1/3 cup powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add to the creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in coconut. Spread in a greased and floured 8″ square baking pan.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan, and then cut into 16 squares. Roll each in a bowl of powdered sugar, and shake off excess.

Baking notes: I used an unsweetened organic flaked coconut, but you certainly could use the sweetened, shredded variety.


I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had visited Cantigny Gardens, in Wheaton, Illinois. I really enjoyed their old-fashioned rose garden–here are a few photos.


And in the butterfly garden . . . there were butterflies! This butterfly was on an annual asclepias.


This butterfly is on a butterfly bush.

Closer to home, I was sitting out on the patio when I heard a nuthatch, and saw him far up in the horse chestnut tree.

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Lastly, a sparrow, posing for just a moment in its busy life. Peace to you. Fran

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Cinnamon Sugar Plum Tart and a Little Sparrow

IMG_1315I enjoy recipes that are simple but delicious (who doesn’t?!), so when I  ran across a recipe for a five-ingredient German Plum Tart, I decided to give it a try, as plums are in season now. There are several nice things about this recipe: While it looks a bit like a pie, the soft dough is pressed into the pie pan, so there is no rolling out of recalcitrant pie dough. The dough is actually a bit cookie-like; the German call it muerbeteig. And the presence of the egg yolk in the dough keeps it tender even if, like me, you are a bit inexpert in pressing it into the pan. The end result is a melt-in-the mouth pastry with warm, jammy plums. It is delicious!

Cinnamon Sugar Plum Tart


I used plums that were about 3″ across.

1/2 cup softened butter
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup flour
5-6 medium-sized plums, quartered

In a small mixing bowl, cream butter and 3 tablespoons sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk. Add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until mixture forms a soft dough. Flour your fingertips and form the dough into a rough ball–place in a 10-inch pie pan. Sprinkle with flour, and press into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

Take time to arrange the cut-up plums neatly.

Take time to arrange the cut-up plums neatly.

Mix the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Arrange the plums, skin side up with the edges overlapping, in crust. Lightly push the plums into the soft dough. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 degrees  for 35 to 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender. Lightly sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Baking notes: You can use any kind of plum for this, whether red, yellow or purple. If you use the little prune plums, get a dozen and use what you need for the pie, and eat the remaining plums fresh. You could also use nectarines for this. Or fresh apricots. Or . . ?

The dough will start looking golden brown after about 20 minutes, but be sure to let the tart bake until the plums are soft and baked. For me, this was at 35 minutes.


Following are some pictures of a female sparrow who sat obligingly while I took her picture. I say “her,” when I am not expert enough to really know if the bird is a young male or a female. But there is something maternal about her, a sweet gravity, that leads me to think she’s a she.


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Sometimes I wish that more exotic birds would fly into my garden, but when I see this little sparrow, who lives with dignity and spirit in a world unaware of her existence, I am happy to have seen her.  Namaste. Fran


Baby House Finch

IMG_1236I was in the front garden this morning planting some mums and a ferns in flower pots when I became aware of the insistent chirpings of a young bird. I quickly saw  it up in the limbs of a nearby tree. I went for my camera, and got these photos. I couldn’t see any nest or other nestlings. I think he (or she) is a baby house finch, because his mother looks like a finch and has a red streak on her crown.



Baby birds look wise but cautious.



His mother is coming.


She’s in the lower right of the picture.

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A few minutes later, his mother came again, and he flapped his wings in excitement.


I hope he will be making his first flight soon.



Mints in the Garden

IMG_1184Gardeners are usually warned against mints, because they spread. I can’t deny this, but I also can’t help liking them. Their fresh scent is so enjoyable, and almost every day when I walk through the garden, I will pick a mint leaf, crush it a little, and inhale. The fresh mint scent is uplifting. Also they spread only to a point, and are happy in an out-of the-way corner of the garden.

The above mint is apple mint, flowering. I have discovered a fun use for these flower heads. I pick one, crush it lightly, place it in a glass, and pour chilled sparkling mineral water over it. It’s incredibly refreshing on a hot day. With every sip, you inhale the scent of fresh apple mint, and your nose is tickled by the flowers. Hey, it’s the little things!


I also have a mint that I got from a Middle Eastern grocery store. Middle Eastern food uses mint, and I had always wondered what kind it was. It seems to be more of a spearmint than a peppermint. At any rate, I bought a bunch of the mint and was able to root a stem, and now have it in my garden. I call it Middle Eastern mint for lack of a better name, and like to decorate fruit salads with a sprig.


“Middle-Eastern” mint

And, I have a lavender mint. This is the best-smelling plant in the whole world, though I’ve never figured out a practical use for it. In my experience, mints can easily get musty when dried. So I content myself with crushing a leaf and inhaling when out in the garden. I also have a peppermint and a mint that smells like Juicy Fruit gum. Guess I’m a mintophile!


lavender mint

We got a new bird toy/feeder, which claims to be specially for chickadees. So far, I have only seen goldfinches on it, but that’s okay. This particular goldfinch seems to be wearing a small toupee–either that, or he is having a bad hair day! It looks good on him!

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Here is a male house finch, looking quite handsome.


And, lastly, here is a little butterfly. I generally think of moths as being brown and furry, but the antennae would indicate a butterfly. It turns out there are quite a few little brown butterflies, so I wasn’t able to identify. Anyway, he looks nice on the marigold!

Hope your week is good. Namaste. Fran

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Blueberry Muffins and a Blue Bird

IMG_1176I was at a wonderful little antique store yesterday (called Antiques on State), in Geneva, Illinois, when I came across what looked like a giant salt shaker. Two ladies were working there, and when I asked the younger woman what it was, she said that it was a salt shaker. The large holes made this seem unlikely, though. The older woman quickly noted that it is actually called a muffineer. A muffineer? That was a new one on me. Turns out that in the old days when people ate muffins, which I suspect were a bit plainer than modern muffins, they could shake powdered sugar on it with a muffineer.

Immediately, it seemed indispensable to me, and a few minutes later I walked out with my purchase–the muffineer. I will steadfastly fight the urge to collect muffineers, because something tells me that one will be enough. And immediately I knew that my post today had to be muffin-related. In my files, I found a muffin article from Gourmet Magazine, October 1981, and decided to try its Blueberry Muffin recipe. It’s very good–light textured and moist, verging on being more of a cupcake than a muffin, with bursts of fresh blueberry flavor.


Here is the recipe for Blueberry Muffins:

In a large bowl cream 7 tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter with 2/3 cup sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add 1 large egg and continuing beating. (I used a spoon and gave it 100 wallops.) Into another bowl sift together 2-1/4 cups flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. (I also added a 1/4 teaspoon of mace, and this was delicious. If you don’t have mace, try nutmeg.) Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with one cup of milk. (I also added a splash of vanilla.) Begin and end with the flour. Fold in 1 cup of fresh blueberries, which have been rinsed and picked over. Spoon the batter into a cupcake tin lined with paper baking cups. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Note: In some ways it’s easier if a recipe like this yields exactly 12 muffins, but in this case, it’s fifteen. When the first batch is done, allow to cool for five minutes, remove the hot muffins gingerly, and quickly fill three more cups, and bake. The original recipe didn’t specify using a spice, but mace goes beautifully with blueberries. It’s an old-fashioned spice that was used in New England pound cakes. As notes above, nutmeg would work, too.)


Saturday I went to Cantigny Park, in Wheaton, Illinois. I was in the Idea Garden, when I heard an unfamiliar bird song, looked up, and almost dropped my camera. My eyes could only make out a blue, feathery blob, but when I uploaded the photos at home, I saw it was an indigo bunting.This may be a young bird, but I don’t know enough about buntings to say.  I couldn’t have been more excited or surprised than if I had seen the Great Auk!



IMG_1034IMG_1036 IMG_1037 IMG_1038IMG_1042So it was an exciting day, bird-wise!

Meanwhile, back home: I’ve been seeing a lot of swallowtail butterflies lately, and this one fluttered into the garden, to stop at the Joe Pye weed, which is in full bloom now.


Lastly, I noted this monarch caterpillar munching on a swamp milkweed plant (Asclepias incarnata).  Namaste. Fran


Almost forgot! The magic lilies (Lycoris) are up!



Summer Garden

IMG_0900It was a beautiful summer day yesterday, and I sat on the back porch and took pictures of flowers, especially of the phlox, but also of the prairie spurge, blackberry lilies, and a daylily. I found myself following a bee through the flowers, and you will see him here. So I hope you will enjoy flying closeup through the phlox flowers with a bee and me!

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I can almost hear this daylily playing beautiful music!

The delicate spray of white flowers is prairie spurge. IMG_0902

These are blackberry lilies. I love the way the faded blossoms twist themselves into a corkscrew. The seed clusters for these do look like blackberries.

A bee-less spray of phlox.

Lastly, a mystery bird. It may be a young starling.


Namaste. Fran





Fresh Thyme Soda Bread and Trouble at the Bird Bath


Summer is at its peak, and the herbs in my garden are fresh and green, and I’ve been mulling over what to do with them. I’ve been using lots of basil in salads and stir fries, but today turned my attention to the carpets of fragrant thyme that spill over onto the brick walk from the flower bed. I have silver thyme, oregano thyme, and a miniature thyme. I found my copy of “The Little Book of Thyme,” by Adelma Grenier Simmons, my favorite author on herbs, and studied up. There are many, many types of thyme. I visited her Caprilands Herb Garden, years ago, and will always remember it.

At any rate, I cut a handful of thyme and tied it into a bundle and brought it inside, and began to make a bread called “Herbed Irish Soda Bread” from a recipe by cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas, in her book “Quick Breads.” I added a tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves to the recipe, along with a handful of sesame seeds, just for crunch. The result was a golden brown loaf that we will eat toasted tonight, along with hamburger patties, fresh tomato slices, fresh corn and fresh strawberries, and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Life is good! (The Cabernet may sound a bit hoity-toity, but I buy it at Aldi for $2.89 a bottle, so it’s really not!)


Here is the recipe:

Fresh Thyme Irish Soda Bread

silver thyme

silver thyme

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grase an 8-inch round cake pan or pie pan.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, thyme, and sesame seeds. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips. In a small bowl, mix the egg and buttermilk, then stir into the dry ingredients. Stir for two or three minutes, and turn into the prepared baking pan. It will be soft. With a sharp knife, cut a long X on top of the load. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool before cutting.


The phlox is blooming beautifully, as well, and I saw this bee sipping the phlox nectar. I can remember sipping nectar from a phlox flower when I was a kid. There is just a tiny bit in each flower and it tastes like the most delicate clover.


When the bread was in the oven, I heard a familiar loud chirp, and saw this young robin on a telephone line. Was it Grumpy 2? Considering how fast young robins grow, I think Grumpy 2 probably looks like a full adult now. Still, who know?


I mentioned “trouble in the birdbath,” and while it wasn’t big trouble, there was definitely a kerfluffle!

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Is this bird bath big enough for the two of them?

Is this bird bath big enough for the two of them?


Maybe not!

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The winner!

The winner!

Have a good week! Namaste. Fran