Spring Wonderland

Last Friday, Jim and I drove down to Starved Rock State Park. We hiked over hill and dale and saw carpets of wildflowers, as well as waterfalls fed by the spring rains. Here are some highlights.

IMG_5562

Sandstone layers, laid down long ago by an inland sea. When the glaciers melted thousands of years ago, the flood water carved canyons through the sandstone.

Red trilliums were everywhere–I love their common name: wakerobin.

Here’s some wild phlox with ferns. The fern on the right is hanging off the cliff, about 40 feet above a stream.

IMG_5557

Above, Virginia bluebells reflected in a stream. Below, white Virginia bluebells!

IMG_5538

IMG_5553

Wild geranium

There were carpets of Spring Beauty (below) covering hillsides. The flowers are tiny, but the effect was breathtaking.

IMG_5564

If only this plant had a better name! It’s called lousewort. I think I’ll rename it Mr. Ruffles.

IMG_5577

I was amazed to see this lovely wildflower, called Bellwort. An aristocrat among wildflowers.

IMG_5546.jpg

IMG_5581.jpg

Jack in the Pulpit

Also was amazed to see shooting stars, especially in three different colors!

Interesting mushrooms!

IMG_5534

Dutchman’s breeches

Lastly, a waterfall. Hope you have enjoyed! Peace. Fran

IMG_5530

 

Cherry Slice Cookies and a Mother Cardinal

IMG_5501Recipes can take twists and turns, and in the case of these cherry slice cookies, a twist came when I couldn’t find gumdrops. The original recipe called for half a cup chopped gumdrops, and, much to my surprise, my local grocery store didn’t have gumdrops. There were gummy bears, gummy crawlers, gummy pop bottles, but no gumdrops. Seems like the end of civilization as we know it. Time to re-think! They did have cherry slice candies, which are giant gumdrops by another name, so I decided to go with them. I’m glad I did, because these buttery, shortbread-like cookies with bits of chewy cherry flavor are awfully good! There are bursts of crispiness, then bursts of tart cherry chewiness, and it’s fun!

IMG_5496Cherry Slice Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 4-ounce package of cherry slice candies
granulated sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With a large kitchen knife, cut up the cherry slice candies into 1/4″ pieces (approximately).

IMG_5498

Sprinkle a little sugar on your cutting board. Separate any pieces of candy that have stuck together and roll them in a bit of the sugar to keep them separate.

Mix butter and brown sugar until completely combined, then stir in flour. Then stir in the cut-up cherry slices.

Roll dough into 1-inch balls, and place about 1-inch apart on lined baking sheet. Grease the bottom of a glass, then dip into sugar. Press down on dough balls until 1/2″ thick.

Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until bottom of cookies are light golden brown. Let them sit for a few minutes before removing from cookie sheet.

Baking notes: You could use orange slices for this recipes, or maybe you will find gumdrops! Maybe civilization isn’t ending, after all! The dough is firm, and I mixed in the flour and chopped candies with my hands.

IMG_5505

crabapple blossoms

crabapple blossoms

Mother Cardinal

What a beautiful time of year, with the fruit trees blooming, and tulips everywhere. And much to our delight, a mother cardinal has built a nest in the yew bush up front. We try to studiously ignore her as we pass in and out. We have also seen her at the bird bath. I will keep you posted!

 

IMG_5495

IMG_5444

IMG_5443

Lastly, the pulmonaria is blooming. I love how the pink and blue flowers are on the same plant! Peace. Fran

IMG_5491

 

A Magic Pie and a Rabbit Rumpus

IMG_5461

Way back when, there was a fad for so-called “Impossible Pies.” Made with a commercial baking mix, the ingredients were whirled in the blender and poured into a greased pie pan. A crust formed as the pie baked: easy!

My basic qualm about the recipe is that the baking mix contained hydrogenated shortening. I try not to over-worry about such things, but as well as being bad for your arteries, hydrogenated shortening is flavorless. So when I ran across this simple butter and egg-based impossible pie recipe, from a Land O’Lakes Shortcut Baking booklet, I gave it a try. The result was really delicious. A delicate, silky custard tasting of coconut, vanilla and nutmeg forms magically above a soft crust. The coconut flavor is not pronounced. This pie is so easy and inexpensive, but it can be company fare.

Magic Coconut Custard Pie

2 cups milk
1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch ceramic or Pyrex pie pan; set aside.

Pour milk into a blender, and add remaining ingredients. Cover; blend at medium speed for about 1 to 2 minutes. The batter will have the consistency of a pancake batter.

Pour mixture into prepared pie plate. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Sprinkle with nutmeg, if desired. I decorated the pie with a sliced strawberry and a little bunch of grapes.

Baking notes: Be sure to use a 9-inch pie pan. The batter will fill up the pan almost to the top–don’t worry. It will grab the sides of the pan, puff up and not run over. Test the pie after about 40 minutes baking with the tip of a sharp knife. The pie will be a bit quivery, but the knife should come out clean if it’s done. Return to the oven and bake for a few minutes longer if the knife shows liquid batter. The pie can be served warm or cold, and cuts well either way.

IMG_5466

Rabbit Rumpus

I was standing by the kitchen window sipping a cup of coffee when I noticed two rabbits hippity hop into the yard. The coffee was from Starbucks, and the caffeine was beginning to effect me like a hammer blow to the head. Perhaps because of this, I began imagining a story for the rabbits.

IMG_5402

He was a veritable Brad Pitt among rabbits.

IMG_5411

She was an Angelina Jolie.

IMG_5424

It was love at first sight.

My romantic reverie was interrupted when Jim shouted “She’s giving birth!” The gardener in me had conflicted feelings.

IMG_5407

But all was not as it seemed. They had a showdown.

IMG_5413

Suddenly, all rabbit hell broke loose.

IMG_5412

They fought.

IMG_5415 IMG_5416

There was a truce, and Angelina smoothed her ruffled fur.

IMG_5419

I have the feeling this rabbit rumpus isn’t over. To be continued. . . .

IMG_5423

My peach blossom tulips are blooming. Always love them! Peace, Fran

IMG_5460

 

Just a Robin

This will be a slightly abbreviated post, as I am taking part in a week-long workshop starting tomorrow, which is my most usual day to post a blog. Obviously, I am not the most organized person, and didn’t think ahead! The workshop will be about icon painting, and will be held at a local Romanian Byzantine church. There will be lectures by the teacher, plus we will paint an icon. I have always loved the rich beauty of these paintings. I’m a bit nervous, but excited. I will report back next week!

I do have some nice robin photos to share, taken as he sat in our pear tree. Yes, he’s just a robin, but his feathers are like silk, and he is quite beautiful. I hope you enjoy! Peace. Fran

IMG_5360 IMG_5361 IMG_5363 IMG_5367

It's been a rather brisk, wintery spring so far. Here is a hellebore after a recent snow storm.

It’s been a rather brisk, wintery spring so far. Here is a hellebore after a recent snow storm.

 

Mourning Dove Spring

Mourning doves can be shy and retiring, and you may only know they are nearby when you hear the high-pitched “whirr” of their feathers as they fly up to a tree. Some think their call is sad, though I think it’s soft and beautiful. Here are two mourning doves, probably Mr. and Mrs., relaxing in the Spring sunshine.

IMG_5338 IMG_5339 IMG_5340 IMG_5341

White Chocolate & Almond Brownies

All I know is that I was browsing through a pamphlet called “Chocolate Lover’s Cookies & Brownies,” July 1992, and I saw this recipe and had to try it. It’s a brownie/cake thing, dense with white chocolate, crunchy with toasted almonds, and with a mysterious caramel undertone.

The recipe is easy, with the hardest thing about it being forking over the money for the white chocolate. Be sure to buy tablets of real white chocolate, not white chocolate chips. I advise mentally tucking this recipe away, and then buying the white chocolate when on sale. It’s worth it!

IMG_5401

12 ounces white chocolate, broken into pieces
1 cup butter, cut into chunks
3 eggs
3/4 cup flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and line a 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt the broken up chocolate and butter in a large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. The melted chocolate and butter will separate and look weird–that’s okay. When melted, set aside. Beat the eggs together with the vanilla in a small bowl, then add to the melted mixture. With an electric mixture, beat the mixture until smooth. Stir the pinch of salt into the flour, then stir into the white chocolate mixture, using a low speed of the mixer, just until smooth.

Spread batter evenly into the prepared pan and sprinkle with toasted almonds. Bake for 30 minutes. The edges will be golden and the center will just be set. Cook completely before cutting.

Baking notes: Be sure to use low, low heat for melting the white chocolate and butter, and to stir. White chocolate melts quickly at a low temperature, and you don’t want it to burn. I toasted the almonds in the oven as it was heating up. It took about 15 minutes for the almonds to brown and crisp.

I used Baker's Premium White Chocolate Baking Bar.

I used Baker’s Premium White Chocolate Baking Bar.

IMG_5399

On a walk last weekend at Horlock Prairie, Jim and I first heard and then saw this Northern Flicker way up in a tree. Love his spots! Peace. Fran

IMG_5352

Spring is the Time for Small Ceremonies

One of the most powerful Spring ceremonies is that of planting seeds and seeing them come up. After a long winter, it’s a joy to see the green leaves emerge. These are for “Camp Joy” cherry tomatoes, which are both sweet and flavorful.

IMG_5334

Seeing and exclaiming over robins is another Spring ceremony. So glad to see them, though some stayed over winter this year.

IMG_5297 IMG_5299 IMG_5300

I made a lamb cake for our Easter dinner the other day. I suppose this is a Spring ceremony, as well, as it is fraught with peril. Will the head (or ears or nose) fall off when you unmold it? Will it topple over? It came out in one piece. I poured a chocolate glaze over it, and sprinkled it with pastel nonpareils. The recipe came from Rachael Ray, and yields exactly the right amount of batter for the mold. I also found a useful chocolate glaze recipe to pour over the lamb.

Easy Chocolate Glaze

Add one tablespoon baking cocoa, one tablespoon butter and one tablespoon water to a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add half a cup of confectioners sugar to the microwaved mixture and beat well until smooth. I doubled the recipe for this lamb. This is so easy and could be also used as a cookie or quick bread topping.

IMG_5335

IMG_5342

No one wanted to start at the head end!

Back out in the yard, I noticed a robin sitting in my neighbor Mrs. Ott’s bird bath. He remained sitting for a long time. Robins may seem to look identical to one another, but I’ve noticed that the white markings around their eyes are different in each bird.

IMG_5331

Then he began bathing!

IMG_5333

A few more ceremonies I’ve thought of:

After slogging through the long cold winter, finally reaching the finish line . . . a snow drop!
Seeing a bird flying through the sky with grass in her beak, for a nest.
Noticing that Spring light seems to shine from the Earth, not the sky.

Peace to you. Fran

 

Bee-utiful Day

 

IMG_5265

I never learn. Every year, the little dutch irises in our front yard surprise me. One day they are inconspicuous green shoots, and the next, a fanfare of glowing purple. So when they came up this Wednesday, I was surprised, as usual, and went out to take their picture. This is when I got yet another surprise. There were honeybees hovering in and around the flowers. I wondered how the honeybees knew to visit the flowers on March 16–had they received an invitation? Next day, the bees were gone–apparently the party was over!

IMG_5266

To find the bee, look for the bright yellow pollen sac in the lower middle of the photo.

IMG_5270

IMG_5269

IMG_5277

Iris in the early morning light. The bees had moved on.

Here is a recipe for light, lemony cookies called Lemon Puffs. The recipe comes from Big, Soft, Chewy Cookies by Jill Van Cleave. Somehow they seem perfect for these early spring days. There is only one caveat to know about: they must be glazed, especially with the tart lemony glaze given here. The cookie itself is a bit bland and soft, and is not super sweet. It springs to life when paired with the sweet/tart glaze.

IMG_5309

Lemon Puffs

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
grated rind of one lemon

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a big bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, and blend thoroughly until the batter is fluffy. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and pinch of salt. Add to the creamed mixture; then add the lemon juice and grated rind, blending until smooth. The dough will be smooth and soft, but not sticky. Using a small cookie scoop, form dough and drop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about two inches apart. Bake until lightly golden, about 15 minutes.

Mix 2 cups confectioners sugar with 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon). Spoon glaze over cookies while they are still a bit warm. As they cool, the glaze will harden and be slightly transparent.

Baking notes: The cookies are done when the bottoms are golden. The tops may still be pale. You can bake these a bit longer (17 minutes) and they will be crunchy. Either way they are good! And just to confirm, the baking powder is one tablespoon–it’s what puts the puff in the cookie! Don’t be tempted to use lemon extract in this recipe–the lemon juice flavors and tenderizes the cookie, as well as adding liquid.

IMG_5311

IMG_5288

Peace to you. Fran