Swedish Farmer Cookies and Summer Days in the Garden

IMG_0605I was curious about this recipe for Swedish Farmer Cookies, which was a Grand Prize winner in a Taste of Home magazine contest. Along with the usual butter, sugar and flour, it contained one teaspoon of maple syrup. What could one teaspoon of maple syrup do to a cookie? I got a real surprise when I made up the recipe and tasted one: first, they are wonderfully buttery and crispy. As for the maple syrup, it adds an elusive carmel-y, toasty flavor that is fabulous. It really isn’t easy to eat just one of these. Meanwhile, I found out that most recipes for Swedish Farmer Cookies contain molasses, not maple syrup. I will stick with this recipe, though. These cookies are really good and are perfect with summer berries and cherries.

Swedish Farmer Cookies

IMG_06001/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cream the butter and sugar thoroughly; add syrup and mix well. Combine the flour and baking soda and gradually add to the creamed mixture. Stir, and then knead briefly with your hands to bring it together. Divide the dough into two halves, and roll each portion to a 9-inch log. Place three inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cut into 1-inch strips while still warm. When they have cooled, dust them with powdered sugar.

Baking notes: You can double this recipe. If so, use two baking sheets, as the logs will spread out as they bake.

Daylilies are looking nice right now . . .They seem to be generating their own light source!

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Lilies are looking good, too . . .

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A monarch fluttered through the garden the other day and landed on the leaf of Solomon’s seal.

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And, of course, bird friends fly through . . .

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A young woodpecker . . .IMG_0376

A curious grackle . . .

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. . . and a magnificent gold finch in his summer coat.

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. . . I miss Grumpy 2, and hope he’s doing ok! Namaste. Fran

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Orange Peel and Fresh Rosemary Cookies . . . and Birds

This is the time of the year when, gardening-wise, things move fast. Daylilies bloom and fade in a day, clusters of lilies appear, sing their song and fade, and, or course, weeds go gangbusters. A monarch butterfly visited today, perching on a swamp milkweed flower. Swamp milkweed  (Asclepias incarnata) is a close relation to butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), having the same bitter sap. It’s a lovely flower.

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Daylilies having a party!
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My herbs, including my rosemary bush, are doing great in this warm weather. Rosemary is so versatile, and is good even in cookies! These Orange Peel and Rosemary Cookies are proof! These buttery, wafer-like cookies contain chopped fresh rosemary and are so good. The recipe came from the now-defunct Kitchen Gardener magazine. I wouldn’t use store-bought, dried rosemary for this, as it’s nothing like the fresh, so I hope this will encourage you to buy a rosemary plant.

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Orange Peel and Rosemary Butter Cookies

IMG_04611/2 pound butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
grated zest of one orange
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1-3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar, and add the vanilla. Then add the beaten eggs, orange zest, and rosemary and blend well. Sift the flour and the salt together and add to the creamed ingredients; combine thoroughly. I put the dough into the fridge to firm up a bit while I cleaned up.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes; the cookies should be brown slightly around the edges.

Baking notes: You could definitely used fresh lemon peel for this, as well. And I placed a single rosemary leaf on each cookie, just for pretty.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a lot of rain and warm weather, and the garden is going wild!

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I love the sundial–makes my garden seem like a real country garden.
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Can’t stop taking pictures of the orange day lilies and black-eyed Susans!

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Somewhat to my shock, the robin nestlings have fledged! This is what they looked like this morning (Sunday).

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Their mother found choice tidbits for them, such as this mulberry.

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But shortly after, I noticed there was only one chick. And he was practicing flying!

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He made a brief foray out of the nest.

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The mother robin seemed to be watching him from afar; she had an insect for him.

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Last time being fed.

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He seemed to regress to being a nestling–can’t say I blame him!

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She flew from the nest again, and began scolding a cat skulking through the garden.

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. . . the young robin then began trying out all sorts of pre-flight moves . . .

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I felt so sympathetic, not being able to imagine flying for the first time–jumping off into space and trusting that you can fly.

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I wished I knew how to tell him to go ahead . . .
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When I came back a few minutes later, he was gone. I heard his chirp in a nearby maple tree. I felt relieved, but to be honest, a little sniffly–that now he was on his own. Glad he made it. Namaste. Fran

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Robin Nestlings and Orange Daylilies

I can’t resist posting more robin nestling photos–they’ve been growing very fast. There are two nestlings, and I have been calling them Grumpy 1 and Grumpy 2, and you’ll see why when you see the pictures! But first, I want to share some pictures of an orange daylily that has just opened in my garden–it’s really something!

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Another daylily just opening.

Another daylily just opening.

Here are Grumpy 1 and Grumpy 2!

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The robin mother with dinner for the chicks.

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I took this just an hour ago.

One more daylily! Namaste. Fran

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Baby Robins

I can’t resist frequently checking on the robin nest, and have seen the mom and dad robin being run ragged by the hungry nestlings. At any rate, I thought you might enjoy seeing what’s up!

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Here’s a chick of another feather–my guess is that it’s a young house finch. Looks like he has more feathers than he knows what to do with!

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Lastly, some glorious gloriosa daisies! Namaste. Fran

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Grackle Bath

Grackles have surprised me: a bird that can seem so plain and black when seen from afar is iridescently beautiful when seen close up. So here is a common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)  taking his bath. (The inelegant crumbs on his beak are from the suet feeder.) Namaste. Fran

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Chocolate Pepper Cookies and Birds in the Garden

IMG_0181I was having fun the other night mentally traveling through a cookbook called Where Flavor was Born: Recipes and Culinary Travels Along the Indian Ocean Spice Route, by Andreas Viestad. It is an absolutely inspirational cookbook, taking me from Zanzibar to Ethiopia, and from Bali to Cochin in India. I immediately wanted to try a recipe, and I have the feeling this cookbook will jumpstart me into a new, way spicier cooking phase. I decided to try a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies, since I had a bottle of Malabar black pepper and a mortar and pestle and could jump right in. The cookies were delish–soft and pillowy and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside, crackly on the outside and with a little peppery zing with an after kick that sneaks up on you. Don’t be afraid of the pepper–it’s amazingly simpatico with chocolate. Do warn cookie eaters, though, that they are in for a spicy surprise!

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Here is the recipe:

Chocolate Pepper Cookies

Coarsely-ground pepper

Coarsely-ground pepper

1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips, divided into two halves
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2/3 fine brown sugar (see Baking Notes)
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper

Melt half the chocolate in the microwave. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the butter until light. Add the sugar and beat until completely combined. Beat in the eggs one by one. Combine the flour and baking soda and sift into the butter mixture. Slowly beat in the melted chocolate. Then stir in the remaining chocolate chips and the pepper. Cover and set aside while you clean up. The dough will firm up a bit. (If it’s a hot day, refrigerate.) Place heaping tablespoons of dough on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12  minutes. (When in doubt as to how long to bake chocolate cookies, opt for underbaking. Chocolate cookies can burn quite easily, and these will continue to bake for a minute or so after you take them from the oven.) The cookies will puff up a bit and develop some cracks. Cool.

Baking notes: The original recipe called for using chopped chocolate, but using the semi-sweet pieces seemed easier. I ground whole pepper with a mortar and pestle. Don’t laugh–this is really fun! Pepper is aromatic as well as spicy, and you get to enjoy the fragrance while you pulverize the pepper grains. If you have pre-ground pepper, pause for a moment before adding a tablespoon. If your pepper is finely ground and powdery, only add a teaspoon. If it looks like the above photo, add the whole tablespoon. To make “fine brown sugar,” take about a half cup of brown sugar and whizz it in the blender It will become soft, fine and light in color. Then measure the 2/3 cup. I think the fineness of the brown sugar is what gives these cookies their melt-in-the-mouth texture. Almost forgot! I also dipped the cookies in some melted semisweet chocolate. This wasn’t called for in the recipe, but it is a nice touch!

Meanwhile, the garden has been going crazy with the appearance of the lilies and daylilies and other flowers. The white flower is Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), and the mysterious bud is a hosta flower!

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Also noticed this chickadee peeking from the perennial sweet pea vine.

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Happy to report that all seems to be going well with the robin family. The things a mother does for her chicks!

IMG_0139Catching some shut eye.

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Didn’t see this little creature when I took the picture! Is this a robin selfie?

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A fourth of July moon. Namaste. Fran

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Robin Update

Yesterday when I came home from work, the weather was hot and steamy, and a big storm predicted. I took a few pictures of a lily and a daylily that had just opened.

IMG_0067IMG_0073IMG_0097I wondered about the mother robin, and if she would be ok in the storm. I had been watching her for weeks, first assembling the nest as rain drizzled . . .

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Then building the top part of the nest with mud and grass, and then shaking her whole body repeatedly to loosen her chest feathers to create a brood patch, which would be in direct contact with the eggs. She’s shaking her body in the picture below.
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Mom and dad!

IMG_9391Waiting!

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Keeping cool . . .

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As the storm moved in, and the sky darkened, I couldn’t help but feel a little worried about her. She was so vulnerable, with only herself and her feathers to protect her eggs. Then the skies opened up and it poured. Thunder boomed and lightening crackled. I could still see her up on her nest.

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The storm raged for more than an hour, when finally it tapered off and it got lighter. The mother robin wasn’t on her nest.

Daylily after the storm

Daylily after the storm

This morning, though, I was happy to see her back . . .

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And when I came home from work, I noticed she seem to be looking at something in the nest . . .

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You can see a little beak in front of her left leg. My guess is that only one or two of the eggs have hatched . . .
IMG_0111Back on the nest!

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Namaste. Fran

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