Monday, July 25, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Today the temperatures here in Virginia are supposed to be over 100° and it might as well as be 1,250°.'s SO hot!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Kitchen Upgrade: 1 Year Later

Well, it's been just a touch over a year since I finished upgrading the kitchen. I look back on it now and it's almost like a dream. I forget how much anxiety, exhaustion, and hard work it was, and I think, "Oh, it wasn't THAT bad."

It's sort of like pregnancy I've heard.

In the beginning...when things were innocent and easy.
We've had friends, family, and even a couple of realtors compliment us on a great job, and I think it is a HUGE improvement compared to what it looked like before.

Orange you glad we updated the kitchen?

I can proudly say that everything has held up like a champ. The cabinet finishes are wonderful and I've had no chipping or scraping, other than that one incident of knicking a cabinet with a measuring cup. I give the cabinets a wipe down every once in a while to clean up spills or drips.

My outside vented range hood is a dream, although we've learned that we have to grease the outside wall vent flap with silicone grease in the winter to keep it from freezing shut!

The ONLY touch up I've had to do recently is re-caulk the base of the backsplash with the counter top. It's pretty common that caulk can shrink and pull back a little over time and need to be refilled. That, and I went pretty sparse on the initial application.

If there's anything I hate more in the world it's caulking. It drives me nuts and I end up wiping away more than I put down to prevent it overlapping onto the tile/counter or looking sloppy. I'd ALMOST rather cut and fit trim moulding....ALMOST. :-)

Anyway, I decided to try the whole put-down-painter's-tape trick for caulking a straight line with the least amount of mess, and it worked pretty well. I still had some touch up wiping to do, but much better than free-styling it.

So, one year later I am still thrilled with the kitchen upgrade and I'm SO, SO glad I did it. It's made a huge impact on the value of our home and it's made the kitchen more user-friendly. Not to mention it's gorgeous!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Busy Busy

Well, it's that time of year again when things start to get busy. I have been complaining that I will never grow zucchini and summer squash again, but I have been impressed. About every 2 days I am picking this...

Next, the tomatoes are starting to come in. This is the second basket of this size that I've picked this week and I just made 8 pints of salsa and some pasta sauce 2 days ago:

Beside the tomatoes is my garlic for the year. I have about 50-75 heads here. The winner-winner-chicken-dinner for this year was "Lorz Italian" from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I haven't grown it in the previous years, and last year I didn't label my garlic, so I didn't know which kind was the best.

"Lorz Italian" consistently gave me big, hearty bulbs as compared to the average-sized bulbs of "Inechelium Red" and "Red Toch". I still have "Italian Softneck" in the ground, as they sent out scapes in the spring and I wasn't sure if I wanted to dig them up. I probably will...

I was thinking of what to do with all this garlic, as I won't be able to use it all before it starts to dry up. I'm thinking I will probably roast a bunch of heads and then save the paste in the freezer. I don't want to pickle them as they will probably turn green.

At any rate, I'm busy! I've been actually making a lot things for the freezer than what I've normally done in the past. So far, I've made: 4 Spinach and Zucchini Lasagnas, 1 Zucchini and Stuffed Pepper Casserole, and have shredded and frozen 4 quarts of zucchini for future zucchini bread, soups, casseroles, etc. As a bonus, my parsley is ready for drying, so I'll get on that in a day or two. 

Fun times!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday - Closure

Well, I sort of predicted it, but it actually turned out for the better. I was contacted by the company who has Leo's microchip registered and was informed that another owner would like to transfer the registration. This is good news!

That means that whoever adopted him is being responsible and cared enough to ensure that if Leo is lost, he will come back to them. From what my vet told me, very few new owners of previously owned animals actually do this, although I don't know why.

I asked the microchip company to forward my contact information to the new owners in case they would like to know a little about his past, but I haven't heard anything. I would love to have the chance to learn about his new life, but for now, I am happy to hear that his new mommy or daddy are caring for him and are thinking about his well-being.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake

Sometimes cooking accidents are serendipitous. Often, a cooking mistake or attempted recipe "improvement" turns whatever it is you're making into a flop, but sometimes - just sometimes - it turns out for the better.

Following along my blueberry theme, I spied a wonderful blueberry coffee cake recipe from one of the great, baking Godmother's herself - Dorie Greenspan. I'm sad to say that I haven't given her book, "Baking: From My Home to Yours" enough attention, even though I've had it for several years.

Her Blueberry Crumb Cake was on my radar and I had all of the ingredients except least I thought.

"Well, I have pecans, so I'll just use those." I said.

And then, I noticed I didn't have a lemon for the called-for lemon zest.

"I guess orange zest will have to do because that's what I got!"

And finally, when mixing everything up, I accidentally added 1/2 stick more butter than what was called for in the recipe. I was doubling the recipe and accidentally beat in 2 whole sticks of butter instead of 1 1/2 sticks.

"Well, if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. Let's see what happens anyway." So, into the oven it went.

To my surprise, what came out was an oh-so-tender cake, with a wonderful hint of orange, and nubby-crunchy in all the right places.

Sometimes accidents are meant to happen, and this is an "accident" that I will happily make again.

Blueberry Pecan Coffee Cake
Recipe modified/inspired by: Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the crumb topping:
5 T butter at room temperature
1/4 cup cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

For the cake:
2 cups blueberries (preferably fresh, or frozen not thawed)
2 cups plus 2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup sugar
Grated zest from 1 orange
1 stick butter (8 T) at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350°.

To make the topping: Put all the ingredients except the nuts into a food processor and pulse just until the mixture forms clumps. Scrape topping into a bowl and and stir in the nuts. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the cake: Using your fingers, toss the blueberries and 2 tsps of flour together, just to coat the berries; set aside. In a separate bowl, rub together the sugar and the orange zest with your fingers until the sugar is moist and aromatic; set aside.

Mix the 2 cups of flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a separate bowl; set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and orange-sugar mixture together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between each egg, then beat in the vanilla extract. Don't be concerned if the mixture looks curdled - it will smooth out. Add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Don't overbeat.

Gently fold the blueberries into the batter. Scrape the batter into an 8-inch buttered pan and smooth until level. Pull the crumb mixture out of the refrigerator and crumble it on top of the batter. Lightly press the crumb mixture into the batter.

Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool just until it is warm or until it reaches room temperature.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Summer Blueberries and Blueberry Pie

Hope you all had a fabulous Fourth of July weekend! Up here in D.C., it was overcast and rainy most of the weekend, so many of the fireworks displays were canceled. That's okay as far as I'm concerned because an overcast day is a perfect day to pick blueberries!

Hubby and I went to a local u-pick farm to pick these beauties, but the farm is so small and unmarketed, we like to think of it as "our farm". The owner primarily works with the state cooperative extension office as a volunteer to grow certain varieties of food and report his experience back to them. They provide equipment and funding and he grows lots of great food, which he then donates to the local food bank!

90% of what he grows is non-GMO and organic, like these blueberries:

He does sell some of what he grows to farmer's markets and restaurants, but I think he primarily does it for the fun and tax break. We come to this same farm for our asparagus, rhubarb, and whatever else he's growing at the time.

During our visit, we had company via the farm chickens. They were so friendly and amusing to watch.

They stayed by our sides the entire time. These chickens have it made, let me tell you! Free run of an organic fruit and vegetable farm - I think they were tired of the blueberries and were hoping that we'd throw them a bug or worm.

Hey, guess what? CHICKEN BUTT!!

It dawned on both me and my husband that we have never picked blueberries before this. Such an awesome first for both of us. We ended up picking 15 lbs., which were taken home and frozen for future treats. 

Yesterday, I made a blueberry pie. It was a bit of a disappointment because the filling turned out to be runny, but there were no complaints when served with a side of vanilla ice cream!

I'll have to try another recipe, or maybe I'll make some blueberry coffee cake, or some muffins, or a blueberry cobbler, or some blueberry ice cream, or.... :-)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

July in the Garden

Summer is the time of year where I start making plans for next year's gardening. I get to see what's working and what's not. What needs to be moved or removed. What to add. What to never-grow-again. What to try over or even try for the first time.

Zucchini has become one of those things I don't think I will grow ever again. This year, I was determined to grow a crap-load of zucchini, but the bugs have won out - AGAIN. Even though I put up these very clever row covers, the squash bugs and eventually the squash vine borers found their way in.

The zuchs are very happy and healthy, but the row covers prevent really good pollination from happening. I tried hand pollinating, but between that and removing squash bug eggs, and otherwise babying these things, it's just not worth it. So far, I've gotten exactly 2 huge zuchs and I'm not sure if I'll have any more that are worth the effort. Supposedly, legend has it that just one zuch plant should be enough to feed a family of four - HMPH!

However, the summer squash in the background under the other cover are doing great! Somehow, they are more resistant to the squash bugs and SVBs. Still, I am spraying the vines with BT every 7 days in hopes of killing any hatching SVB larva.

Moving on...

The tomatoes have finally caught up and again I have too many tom plants (27 plants). These things are now taller than me since I took these photos. I have a ton of parsley, as I suspected, so I think I am going to dry a lot in my dehydrator for dried parsley.

Some exciting finally looks like I "might" have figs from my fig plants this year! I bought these 2 fig plants at 6" tall three years ago and they are FINALLY growing little figlets. #figwatch

I almost gave up on them producing anything, but I've heard that it can take several years for them to grow figs. The fig plants are "Negronne" and "Olympian". At the end of the season, I am going to move them to bigger pots. If I had this to do over again, I would have bought mature plants from the get-go.

Outside the veggie garden, the perennial bed by the porch is in full bloom. It's still in evolution, so it's a bit messy IMO. I love the gladiolas, but they look out of place when they are growing willy-nilly here-and-there. I think I'm going to move them all together in clumps this fall.

From the other direction, you can see we have a huge, ugly eyesore. Hubby and I removed two large juniper bushes from this spot (I think junipers smell like cat pee!) and now we have to figure out what we want to replace them with.

For now, I have a "Little Kim" lilac planted there and have plans to put a really big planter with a Japanese Maple in it towards the front by the liriope. Hubby and I also have plans to rescreen the porch this fall/winter and add wood lattice under the porch to make it less of an eyesore.

I have a Baptista (false nettle) plant that I want to move behind the lilac and some smaller perennials to put in front of it.

Out back near the drain field, my hosta and shade garden is looking nice. I've had to grow everything out here in protective "chain mail" to keep the voles out, but something else has been out here causing havoc as well.

The other day, two of these plants were completely pulled up out of their holes by their "chain mail" root ball protectors. I know voles can't do this for bigger plants, so I'm suspecting either a raccoon, opossum, or skunk.

I've since purchased a 2 lb. bag of cayenne powder and circled each one of these plants like I was protecting them from some sort of voodoo curse. Hey, whatever it takes and it's working!

Lastly, I will leave you with a pretty close-up of a borage flower. Such detail! Happy summer to you all!

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