Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Day In the Life of...Sasha, Nina and Jake

We are having a great time with our young guests and they are having a great time helping us out with daily chores and fun projects...while I was mowing, Sasha & Nina helped me with the gardening chores like picking all the ripe cherry tomatoes & green beans;
and "deadheading" my flower gardens. They really got into deadheading and I am grateful because it really needed done so we'd have more blossoms.

We also had to bake bread since we were nearly out...Nina wanted to bake regular sourdough, Sasha wanted to make rosemary bread and I made Mark's favorite, sourdough oatmeal berry, with the help of Sasha. Yummmm to all three! We had a few slices of each of Sasha's and Nina's bread for supper and it was delicious. Jake had so much bread at supper that he fell asleep at the table!  Oh, a "bread coma" as Matt G would say ---such a nice way to go to dreamland.

Nina is concentrating on kneading the dough. She did an excellent job.  I was told by the girls that they practice kneading with playdough. The practice shows. With just a little tweaking to their technique, they were as good as any adult.
Sasha was proficient with kneading too.  She remembered some of the steps she learned with me just over a year ago when we stayed with her family for a few weeks before moving to Nebraska.

Sasha proudly showing her beautifully shaped sourdough rosemary loaves. Notice the flour on her nose...and there is quite a bit around the kitchen too!
The girls are now glazing their shaped loaves with an egg wash and sea salt.
Now, I ask you, isn't that beautiful bread? Just out of the oven, fragrant and warm and lovely to look at. I think they did a GREAT job!
We decided we needed MORE birdhouses so today was birdhouse painting day. We set up the table under the Tree of Heaven and the kids each painted a birdhouse for us to be part of the Parade of Homes.

Jake is taking his painting seriously and he has a definite design plan. He declared he is painting the Christmas birdhouse.
Walking down our road to put the birdhouses on our split rail fence. Mark has a drill in his hand and not a gun - he looks like a cowboy walking down mainstreet for a gunfight!  This is just outside our driveway.

Putting up Jake's Christmas birdhouse... 
And Nina's colorful birdhouse...
And Sasha's soft pastel birdhouse. Aren't our birds lucky?

After we installed the birdhouses, we took a tour of our current birdhouses and we got this picture of bluebird eggs in one of our three bluebird houses that are all occupied.  We have high occupancy in our various birdhouses. This new subdivision of houses on our split rail fence will be welcomed by our fine bird friends.
Speaking of birds, the Dots followed me around the yard this morning while I was mowing because the bugs are great around the lawnmower.  They then went to one of their favorite places under the maple tree to rest in the shade. They are such girls - they stay together all day - searching for food, chatting, and napping together. I LOVE these girls. They have such personality. If you've never been around chickens, you don't know how funny they are and so fun to watch. 
Then, it was cookie making time...chocolate chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin.  Everyone had a hand in making the cookies.  When I went into the kitchen after the cookies had cooled to put them in the cookie jar, I noticed that there were "several" missing - certainly less than we baked. I asked the girls how many they had, and one admitted to having three, the other four so that meant that Jake ate NINE! OMG!
They are licking the spoons, bowl, etc. I hope they survive our house! 
...and then it was time for homemade playdough. Thanks to the internet we found the recipe for the original playdough.
Jake's very blue playdough... 
Nina's green playdough...
and Sasha's soon to be purple playdough. 
Here they are playing with their playdough...
WHEW! I'm in the other room with my feet up, drinking my well deserved wine, and blogging!  It's a good life!


Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my Mother's death. She was Bessie Frances Stritecky Pravecek and she was a wonderful Mother. I believe I got my love for cooking, baking and gardening from her; she certainly was a wonderful role model. She is missed and forever in our hearts and memories.

To the right is our Mother and her grand-daughter, Christy

Friday, July 23, 2010

Our World Through The Eyes of Youngsters...

We have three young guests visiting us for a week, ages 5, 7, and 9 - (soon to be 10 - this next week in fact).  It is so fun for us because they have brought a new dimension to our country place such as...
Nina chasing butterflies...

Sasha and Nina catching butterflies - 2 white with black spots and one lovely yellow one. They didn't keep them in the container very long - they just wanted to see them up close. But it was really fun chasing and catching them.

Picking and then eating the gardens bounty.  The tomatoes are ripening and the grape tomatoes are delicious right out in the garden. We picked green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries together this day and had them for supper. We are enjoying the jam every day!

Jake with the baby pheasants and guineas; hand feeding the guinea grass - a special treat. The guinea sat on his shoulder for some time. The kids have many of the birds doing this.

Nina and Sasha in the guinea shack, helping tame the chicks. Of course, they each have their favorite so those will be a little tamer! They go to the guinea shack several times a day to sit and play with the birds.

Sasha holding a baby guinea in open hands. This is just after a short time of handling.  These kids really have the touch with these young birds.
Nina saying hello to the horses and getting acquainted with the baby. Nina is an animal lover and wants to hug and touch all of the babies around here.
Swinging from the big tree in the front yard is great fun on the two swings.
Jake playing boy games with a loving sister...
Playing dressup - Sasha looks lovely...
And so does little sister, Nina.
Exploring outside in the fabulous dressup clothes...

It is so wonderful to look at the world through the eyes of a child. We just wish we had half the energy!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Millionaires Pie - To Die For!

We celebrated Mark's birthday yesterday and he requested Millionaires Pie instead of birthday cake.  It is called Millionaires Pie because it is so rich. Definitely a pie to be reserved for very special occasions.  It was long ago rated "to die for" and thus made the To Die For cookbook.

I am the type of cook that uses inspiration vs. recipes meaning I cook with what is in the pantry and refrigerator.  The upside is that cooking is creative and hopefully eating the dishes is a delicious adventure.  The downside is that I don't often repeat the dish exactly the same. So years ago, Mark began to rate the dishes in two categories - Do It Again and To Die For.  If he rated the dish, I would then write down the "recipe" recalling what I did to create the dish and voila, it would go into one of the cookbooks and I could repeat it. 

Baking of course is another matter in that you must use exact measurements so there is less room for innovation or inspiration.  As you know by now, I love to bake pies and over the years have gathered recipes from numerous sources and use inspiration for the fillings.  My crust recipe is easy and creates a marvelous tender crust.

One of those pies that made the To Die For cookbook is the Millionaires Pie. In case you have a special occasion and are prepared to throw concern for calories, fat and sugar into the wind, here is the recipe:

Millionaires Pie

Pastry for 9" single crust pie
3 whole eggs
1 cup light colored corn syrup (or substitute 1 C sugar and 1/4 C water)
1/3 C granulated sugar
1/3 C packed brown sugar
1/3 C unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 C chocolate pieces (use very good chocolate, semisweet and bittersweet mixed)
1 C flaked coconut
1 C walnut & pecan pieces
1/2 to 1 C chopped hazelnuts

Combine the eggs, corn syrup or substitute, sugar, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and salt
Layer the chocolate, coconut and nuts in the pie crust
Pour the egg mixture over all, spreading evenly

To prevent over browning, cover the edge of the pastry with foil.
Bake at 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove foil, then bake for 20-25 minutes more or until filling appears set when you shake the pie gently.

Cool on wire rack.  Cover and store in refrigerator within 2 hours.

Easy Flaky Pie Crust

(Makes 1 crust, for 2 crust pie, double recipe)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C shortening (I use Butter Crisco or unsalted butter)
1 egg yolk
1/4 C milk (I use rice milk or almond milk - just a preference)

Sift the first three ingredients into a bowl, add the shortening, and cut in.
Stir yolk and milk together and add all at once, stirring with a folk lightly.
Press into a ball and chill for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Once chilled, roll out pastry crust as desired.
The pie crust holds together and is tender and flaky.
Try to handle the dough as little as possible for the most tender crust.

ENJOY with abandon, my friends!

For some lighter inspiration, check out the garden this evening. Lush and lovely.

The dill weed under the sprinkler.

Gardens Are Good For The Soul - Whether Your Own or a Large Public Garden...

Descanso Gardens located near Pasadena, CA, is a beautiful place and one that Mark and I frequented during our life in SOCAL.  We were members and would go there to see the seasonal flower changes and to walk under the natural oak forest canopy. Being from the Midwest, I missed lilacs and they have an entire lilac garden with species that thrive in the SOCAL weather. I loved walking through the lilac gardens to soak up the familiar fragrance. And, the rose garden is like no other - acres of roses. The garden is set up to stroll through and to take time to contemplate the plants.  People take their walks there, photograph nature or some paint it; others bring their children to play and learn to love and enjoy nature. The gardens are always filled with families.

If you live in the area and haven't gone to Descanso Gardens, you owe it to yourself to go. It is a wonderful place to enjoy nature at its best - and to have a picnic. If you will be visiting the LA area, it is worth a trip to the gardens.  This link describes how Descanso is taking a lead in public gardens by revamping the gardens to the tune of $64 million to make them work better considering the natural companionship of plants and to conserve water. If you are interested, check out the link for the full story.,0,908390.story

As I work in my garden, I have the same feelings I felt at Descanso only it is my little piece of earth that benefits from my love and work.  Gardening for me is a meditation - it keeps me in the moment.  I do yoga nearly every day now which helps me stay limber enough for my gardening movements.  Yoga ties beautifully with gardening. Some people look at gardening as work and I look at it as pleasure. When I pull weeds, or plant, or harvest, I am in the moment with nature. And sometimes I just sit in my garden and appreciate the beauty around me. Who could ask for anything better than that?

This pinkish flower is milkweed which is LOVED by Monarch butterflies. The blue flowers are Bachelor Buttons - a very old and one of the few true blue flowers.

Friday, July 16, 2010

High Summer Heat is Miserable For Everyone....Even Squirrels

I'm sooooo hot. Sigh. I can barely move.
What is that? Water? Yes!

Oh, it's so cool....wet...
It's soooo hot...
The shade and water make it cooler....Sigh...fur in summer is sooo hot. I'm too miserable to move. I'll get to the nuts later.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's High Summer - When will heat get the pansy's?

I can't believe the weather - it's been cool enough to keep the pansy's thriving. Usually they are gone long before mid-July. It's high summer but here they are - still smiling!

The cooler weather slowed some things in the garden but we've had a couple days of heat and it shows. We are anxiously waiting for the tomatoes to turn red. We have been enjoying the green beans - there is NOTHING like fresh from the garden green beans - yuuummmmm!

In fact today is SO humid that moving just a short distance outside makes you sweat.  I mowed part of the yard this morning but couldn't stand the oppressive heat and humidity so decided to come in and contemplate the garden...and work on some inside creative projects. I see the garden and yard no matter what window I look out and it is undeniably beautiful and lush. It takes humidity and moisture to make it lush so I'll enjoy the view and stay cool and fresh indoors today.

See what I am enjoying!

Plenty of green tomatoes - now we just need them to turn red...

Winter Onions from a friends garden...
Winter acorn squash...
Winter yellow squash...
Patio flowers...
The country bird house in front of the cottage...
The garden pigs...ones that just lay there and don't mess about...
Oh the glorious vibrant orange hibiscus...
And the delicate fragrant David Austin rose...
The SW corner of the garden...
The SE corner of the garden...

The tomato bed...broccoli in tank behind.  Still waiting for broccoli and cauliflower.  Carrots are up along with Endaname.  Swiss chard, spinach and lettuce are in the second planting. The heavy hay mulch is really making the garden less work and keeping things in great shape in terms of moisture.  Hopefully tomorrow will be a cooler or at least less humid day.  I do enjoy the time off from the work though! Inside creative projects, a nap, and yoga are nice alternatives occasionally.