Thursday, March 28, 2013

Having Cake and Eating It

I went here for a few days:

Chicago - Brrr

It was chilly, but it was certainly pleasant to (briefly) experience actual winter scenes with snow rather than our Arizona quasi-winter with slightly less warm temperatures (although we did have that rare snowfall in February!)

We celebrated my brother’s birthday with some good meals and a delicious chocolate-raspberry cake. I got to spend time with my niece, who gave me a tour of the neighborhood, made special meringue cookies, and kept me entertained for the weekend.


Back in Phoenix, the Piemaker was not to be outdone by birthday cake, and he welcomed me home with this masterpiece.

Strawberries & Cream Cake

Wow! It’s really strawberry! And really good! The layers of filling start out separate, but over several days they soak into the cake layers until the inside of the cake is more red than white.

The recipe is from the April issue of Southern Living. I recommend it!

Cake, cookies, more cake. I know there are Easter eggs around here too. Did someone mention exercise?



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It’s Got High Hopes

This is our two-foot tall grapefruit tree, which is about five years old.

 It has 50-plus flowers.

If each flower developed into a half-pound grapefruit, this tiny tree would be holding up more than 25 pounds of fruit on its little branches.

Dream big!


Monday, March 18, 2013

The Really Big Bee

Here is the Spruce Goose of the bee world: a Carpenter Bee.
Xylocopa californica arizonensis or Xylocopa veripuncta
I love to watch these beautiful behemoths chug along from flower to flower.
An inch long, and almost as wide, this one had the whole pea patch to herself.

Each time she visited a flower, the branch bent under her weight, turning the flower and herself upside down.

My Arizona Ecology books state that there are 1300 species of native bees in the state. Many of them are too small and too fast for me to identify, so I enjoy being able to follow the leisurely activities of the Carpenter Bee.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

New Construction

What’s that on top of the cactus? A pile of sticks?

A closer look doesn’t shed much light.
But a different angle shows a little doorway.
Close up, it appears our neighbors have not yet moved in. Perhaps there’s just a bit more work to do.

The builder was definitely security conscious. Even the persistent neighborhood felines will think twice before attempting that climb.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Inspiration is Everywhere

Aloes are planted in the front, back, and every corner of our garden. For most of the year, they are unremarkable filler plants in the landscape, adding a bit of green among the weeds and gravel. But in the late winter and early spring, they become the center of attention with their beautiful, bizarre flower spikes.
front, Aloe variegata. back, Aloe barbadensis.
This is one of my favorites:
The plant is not quite eight inches tall, and hidden under a creosote bush for protection from the sun. I’ve barely noticed it since last summer. Yesterday, I saw this bright spark of red, and was amazed by the number of flowers.

The colors were so inspiring I had to make a palette from the photo.
I would never have put those colors together, but don’t they look nice?

What unusual inspiration have you found recently?


Monday, March 4, 2013

A Garden Journal

One of the projects that has been devouring all my time the last few weeks is garden-related.

Recently, someone asked how I was getting such an incredible carrot harvest (20-30 carrots per week), and wanted all the details, from the soil in the raised beds and the sun exposure, to the type of seeds and fertilizer I used.
carrots at Dec. 7, 2012
carrot plants at Dec. 20
carrots at Jan. 7, 2013
I decided this might be a good time to settle down to a task I’ve been putting off for some time: compiling all my planting and harvest notes from the beginning of the vegetable garden.

I thought it had been at least ten years, but it turns out that we built the raised beds in 2006, so we just finished the sixth year. With two seasons each year, that still adds up to twelve possible planting seasons so far.
My gardening records are graphic (literally) and very brief. I have a simple map of the garden area, with each raised bed divided into square-f00t sections.
When I plant seeds, I just write the seed name in each box or area of my map.
If and when the seedlings grow, I make notes about the plant, the harvest, and any problems. Supposedly, I keep all these sheets together in a binder so I can refer to them later.

Unfortunately, when I went to the binder to compile all the information, I was missing half of the sheets. I know I didn’t plant for a couple of fall/winter seasons, but the other sheets could be anywhere. Maybe I stuffed them into the wrong binder, or they blew away, or maybe they’ve long since been composted.

Blogging helped, as well as the hundreds of photos I have cluttering up my hard drive. Sometimes I found dated photos or a blog post to fill in missing information from a previous year.

At least I was able to get enough information on the carrots to provide a pretty complete story to my fellow gardener.

carrots at Jan. 31

Here’s an example of my multi-year garden notes for carrots:

Cosmic Purple
Excellent companion for Scarlet Nantes, same size and shape, harvest time. More of a dark wine-red than purple skin, orange inside.
Scarlet Nantes
sprouted > 2 mos after planting. Dozens of carrots only 1 1/2" long and 1/8" wide
Scarlet Nantes
100+ days to harvest, delicious 4"-6" carrots. Hundreds!
Scarlet Nantes
120 - 140 days to harvest - big sweet carrots
Scarlet Nantes
Perfect carrot - high germination rate, good shape, excellent flavor. Takes 4 mos to get to full size of 4 - 5".
Tonda di Parigi
no germination
Tonda di Parigi
120+ days to harvest, cute round carrots

And with all of the other information I gleaned from my records, I decided that it might be useful to others, if there are any people out there who are new to the desert and wondering if anything will grow here. So I’ve added a new page to the blog – Grown – where I will post this information. It’s not really a How-To guide, it’s just what worked for me.

I’d recommend that every gardener keep some sort of journal, even if it is like mine, with just the names and a few quick notes. It is invaluable when you see that you've had almost 100% success with one seed company and less than 10% with another. Or that you’ve tried twelve different varieties of tomato plant from the nursery over six years and only had success with one of them.
Valentine carrots, Feb. 14
Do you keep a garden journal?


Friday, March 1, 2013

More Citrus Recipes

Our little orange/tangerine/mandarin tree took this year off from making fruit.
It's trying to have some flowers, in spite of wind, rain, and snow.

But I still have needs! And one of those needs is for a Tangerine Chess Pie, so the Piemaker bought a whole big bag of clementines for $2.99. (We know there’s a difference between tangerines and mandarins, but we don’t care. We use them interchangeably.)
He made the pie, and we ate the pie, but we were still left with most of the bag of fruit. I snack on them everyday, but I can’t resist baking with them, too. So I started going through my recipe books for interesting recipes to adapt.

Here’s one I came up with the assistance of Grandmother’s Pies and Cakes, by Jane Fallon. 
Usually you find this type of bread with walnuts and cranberries, but I happened to have raisins and almonds on hand, so I used those instead.

Mandarin Orange Bread
Makes one 9-inch loaf

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
4 tsp grated rind (this is 1 - 2 oranges or 4 clementines)
½ cup orange/tangerine juice
2 large eggs
1 ¾ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup dried fruit
½ cup chopped nuts
·       Preheat oven to 350 .
·       Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.
·       Beat butter, sugar, rind, juice, and eggs on medium speed for 4 minutes.
·       Sift dry ingredients together.
·       Add dry mixture to orange mixture and mix with spoon.
·       Mix in fruit and nuts
·       Spoon into loaf pan (batter will be very thick) and bake for 60-70 minutes.


And I found another inspiration in Better Homes and Gardens’ Cookies and Candies, copyright 1969.
 This was my very first cookbook!

The original recipe was called “Apple-Orange Brownies”, but in addition to taking liberties with the recipe, I’ve also renamed it. The word “brownie” connotes chocolate to me.

Mandarin Bars
Makes 24 squares (approx. 2 ½ x 2 ½ inch)

6 Tbsp butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup applesauce
4 tsp grated rind (this is 1 - 2 oranges or 4 clementines)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 ¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
¾ cup chopped walnuts
·       Preheat oven to 350 .
·       Grease 15 x 11 x 1 inch pan.
·       Mix first six ingredients together.
·       Sift dry ingredients together.
·       Add dry mixture to orange mixture, stir.
·       Mix in nuts.
·       Spread evenly in pan. There will only be a thin layer of batter over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
Make an icing with: 1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons orange juice. Drizzle over the bars while still warm.
Or sprinkle with “orange sugar”: 1 part coarse-grained sugar (like Demerera or turbinado) mixed with 2 parts finely grated orange zest.


And we still have a lot of fruit left!