Monday, May 31, 2010

Feeding Frenzy

Hey! Can you see? What's she doing?
Is she?
Yes! Yes!
She's pruning the lilacs!
Here she comes!



Oh sweet!
The flowers too!



chompchompcrunchmunch



Hey! That's mine! Leave some for me!



Quit shoving!


You always hog all the flowers!



Well that wasn't much...
You think she'll bring more?



Can you see her?
Is she coming back yet?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sowing Seeds Uncertainly

Though the sky continues to look like this:
...with no forecasted prospects for improvement, (sunshine? spring like temperatures?) we decided to go forward with the annual Memorial weekend chore of planting the garden. With rain projected for the next five days it is highly possible we'll be replanting again soon! But maybe the seed will like it and we'll get lucky. It's a gamble. How shall we bet?


With a wish and a prayer that the seeds will like the coming rain we got started.
There's plenty of work for everyone and again we had lots of helpers. How could we plant the garden without our kids?



Many hands make light work and all that.





This kid has been planting corn every year since he wore diapers.



I need capable males to construct my garden apparatuses. It's a good thing I birthed five boys.



Every year it's something new.
This year instead of Italian staking or tomato cages, I'm trying a tomato wall to grow my plants on.



By the end of the afternoon, we're mostly done...



...but not without shenanigans....

Digging holes with your brother's head? It's the way kids plant gardens.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The sun will come out......tomorrow?

I live in one of the most beautiful places in America. I know many people think they live in a beautiful place, but where I live people come to visit from all over the world. We have the Cascade Mountain range, the Columbia River Gorge, the Hood River Valley with orchards and vineyards, quaint little towns, basalt cliffs, forests, deserts, wildflowers....so much natural beauty.

Check out this daily photo blog for pictures of the beautiful place where I live. Many of the photos there were taken within a twenty mile radius of my house.

There is just one big problem with our beautiful place.




The weather.



The weather. The weather. The. weather.


{{{{{sigh}}}}}


It is so unpredictable and inconsistent. Sometimes winter is cold and snowy transforming the landscape into a Currier and Ives scene. Other times it is dark, wet, gloomy and rainy for five months. Spring can be warm, sunny and filled with blossoms and flowers and buzzing bees. Last year spring was so consistently warm that I ate my breakfast outside every morning. We planted the garden once and it grew. My legs were tan by June.

This year? Spring has been cold, wet, damp, cold, clammy and cold. I'm still wearing sweaters. Building fires in the woodstove. Two weeks ago we prepared the soil and the seed potatoes for planting but we never got them in the ground because it hasn't stopped raining. It's a good thing we didn't plant them because they would have rotted and we'd have to replant anyway. It has happened to us before. I haven't harvested one leaf of lettuce or spinach yet. What I planted last fall disappeared. What I planted last March has been creeping and unsure.

The spring flowers and lilacs have come and gone and the only way I could enjoy them was to bring a cluster into the house. There was no sitting out in the garden with my coffee this year.

This weather does not bode well for the next month even. My experience has been that if April and May are cold and rainy, so is June. Is that consistency?

Living in the Northwest, people here know what to expect and we brace ourselves for rain. But after EIGHT MONTHS of it.....people are getting grumpy! Whining and complaining about our missing spring warmth, on Facebook or in the grocery store, has become the daily mantra. "When will spring come?" is fast becoming "When will summer come?"

I know that many parts of the country experienced this last year. The midwest didn't have much of a hot summer. I remember thinking, now you know how it is here! It was a fluke in the midwest, here it happens more often then we like.

But sometimes it is warm and nice! Just to keep us hoping and staying. Just to keep it unpredictable.

After two weeks of rain with peeks of sun occasionally just to tease us, the forecast is for a dry holiday weekend. Will we be lucky enough to reach 70 degrees?- while the rest of the country is barbecuing at the beach?

This holiday weekend when you are enjoying the sunshine where you are, feel sorry for me...while surrounded by snowy mountain peaks, blooming rhododendrons and green forests... I will bundle up and grill burgers in the rain.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tried and True Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have made millions and billions of cookies. Or trillions.

At least it feels that way.

When I was a teenager it was my job to keep the cookie jar full of homemade cookies. Throughout the years that our oldest kids were growing up I baked cookies several times a week until I passed the torch onto my daughters.

The all-around favorite cookie has ever and always been the chocolate chip cookie. Dipped in a glass of milk and slurped leaving drips on your chin. The only way to eat a chocolate chip cookie. Or six.

For the last sixteen months I have been baking cookies for the complimentary coffee and cookie bar at Expertec, where Mr. Dirtywrench keeps the cars and trucks in our town purring. Four nights a week the aroma of butter and sugar wafts through the house. The family has finally gotten used to it and I manage to fill the cookie jar without half of them first disappearing to the four corners of the house. And still, the favorite cookie with Expertec customers is the chocolate chip cookie.

Isn't it everyone's favorite cookie? There are countless recipes and variations of recipes for the chocolate chip cookie. Do we really need another one? Probably not- but let me just put my own tried and true, tested, tweaked and tasted recipe out there for consideration. This recipe makes a cookie that is buttery, chewy, crispy and chocolatey. Simple and straightforward but so delicious it is the one cookie I just have to indulge in when I am baking. As I preach with every recipe, good quality ingredients make a difference in the final product. These chocolate chip cookies taste best when good quality butter and chocolate chips are used.



Tried and True Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Makes 4 1/2 dozen cookies)

Cream together:
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 cups best quality butter, softened

Beat in 2 whole eggs

Add:
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups of all purpose flour

Stir in 2 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for ten minutes. Let cool on the pan for five minutes then remove to a rack to cool. Nevermind! Eat them while they're still warm and gooey.

P.S. For variety try adding one cup of shredded coconut and one cup of chopped pecans to the dough with the chocolate chips.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reunited

Back in 2000 I was pregnant with our sixth baby. My BFF, Lila, was pregnant with her seventh and we were due at the same time. We were homeschooling, homebirthing, 30-meal-making buddies who met when we were hauling our oldest boys to Little League baseball games.
We had the same midwife and had a lot of fun being pregnant together. This was taken not long before our babies arrived.



Samuel arrived first and Lila was present at his birth. When things calmed down at our house Lila promptly went home and gave birth to Esther.


This is the first picture of the babies together. Samuel is about 24 hours old and Esther is about one hour old. Did I mention that Lila always birthed Amazon babies? I think Esther weighed something like sixteen pounds. Okay, so that's an exaggeration. But only a little.




We had fun raising our babies together too. They were only one day apart in age.



I love how Esther is giving Sammy the stink-eye in this photo. What do you think she is thinking?



Esther clearly always had the upper hand in these baby photos.




For our babies first birthdays we had a party at our house and they both had their own little cake. This photo was taken that day on our back porch.

Later that summer, Lila and her family moved away to Mexico to live as missionaries. They have come back every two years or so for visits. They are here again for the summer for another stay and tonight they came over for dinner.

I couldn't resist getting Sammy and Esther together again for another picture on the back porch.

Nine years later and they are still as cute as ever.




That Amazon baby has turned into an Amazon nine year old. Sammy is still one day older than her.



Here is a picture of all our kids back in the summer of 2000, the day our friends left for Mexico.



And here are a remnant of the kids tonight. Life has changed. All the older kids are spread out establishing their adult lives, there are two little guys in this photo that weren't born yet in the above photo.
Nothing accentuates the march of time more than pictures of kids.

Well, a look in the mirror every morning works pretty well too.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dodging Raindrops In the Garden

Last week while I was busy baking cupcakes, we had gorgeous spring days with 70+ temps and bright sunshine. I managed to enjoy some of it between pouring cake batter and washing mixing bowls.

Now that my days are more leisurely, the weather has turned cold and rainy. But of course!

With our long cold spring our blooms are a bit later than usual. Instead of lilacs for Mother's Day, they are blooming now. I am always anxious to enjoy lilac time. I knew they were out there displaying their glory in the cold rain so as soon as the rain cleared for a bit today I ran out with my camera and my clippers...

We have a long old hedge of common farmhouse lilacs. They perfume the air!



These are my favorite. I acquired them in a plant trade with the baseball concession lady years ago. She took some of my common lilacs and I got these lovely (but less fragrant) darker ones. The planting is now twelve feet tall!





This new little plant with double blooms is one I got at a nursery with a gift certificate from my church. The nursery tag said the blooms would be dark purple with white edges. They aren't. It is still pretty.



I was excited to find three clusters of flowers on this new little plant that I started from a slip of a shrub growing at my church. It will be wonderful in cut bouquets some day!




This is another new little start from a friend's garden that hasn't shown me any flowers yet. Maybe next year?

That is the status of my lilac collection. Maybe I need to add a pink one this year...?

As I strolled around my yard in the momentary sunshine, I was pleasantly surprised several times. In just a week the landscape has changed so much.




This garish azalea took me by surprise as I rounded a corner. It is one of the very first plants I put in after coming to Oregon from the azalea-less Midwest. I was very enchanted by azaleas and rhododendrons when we first arrived. This plant is about fifteen years old and doesn't look a day over three.





Another surprise! This weigela, which I bought as a broken little stick from a fall clearance nursery sale is in full bloom in a place where I can't see it out any window. No wonder the hummingbirds are so busy around here.




And this rhodie, at the back corner of the house, quietly blooms its scarlet flowers. This shrub is also fifteen or so years old but often gets clobbered by heavy falling snow off the roof.




Last weekend when I had visitors to my studio, the newly mowed lawn displayed a carpet of dandelions. This week it's buttercups!



We finally got the strawberry bed completely mulched. The plants are blooming well. I can't wait for my breakfast bowl of berries!



It looks like we'll have another bumper crop of blueberries, if the bees are doing their job. It's a good thing since I have lots of summer berry pies on the wedding schedule.

What is blooming out your way?

(Apologies for the smudged camera lens that contributes to poor photo quality. I'm sure my son is grinding his teeth as he views them.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Presentation

A week of work in the kitchen produced this:
Fudge cupcakes with vanilla cream filling and chocolate ganache.
Lemon buttermilk cupcakes with lemon curd and blueberry cream icing.
Carrot pineapple cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese icing.
Strawberry rhubarb tartlettes garnished with whipped cream and a strawberry slice.

Now I want to take a three day nap.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Busy Day at the Bakery

A big catering job this week required that I hire a couple good helpers for a busy day in my kitchen.


My floral designer friend, Annie, taught me everything I know about arranging flowers so I thought I'd teach her everything I know about filling cupcakes.


She and Alyssa filled one hundred fudge cupcakes with vanilla cream filling and one hundred lemon buttermilk cupcakes with lemon curd.



Nine year old Samuel picked up my camera and did his best to emulate his big brother who has previously photographed my kitchen productions.
Samuel likes doing the close-ups too...pretty good for my little point and shoot!



Samuel likes chocolate ganache too.




Annie was a big help with preparing the boxes for transporting three hundred cupcakes- another challenge of a different type.


Alyssa has become a very accomplished pastry dough roller. She spent many hours honing her skills on last year's apple turnover projects.



That left me to form one hundred tartlettes and fill them with strawberry rhubarb filling.



These will be topped with a dot of fresh whipped cream and a slice of strawberry for garnish.



Tomorrow I'll be icing the other two hundred cupcakes before delivery to the event.

And yes....there are a number of less then perfect, "ugly" cupcakes and tarts up for grabs! If you snooze, you lose!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Surprise Visitors

I had quite a few visitors to my studio over the weekend. These were by far my favorites of all:



Look Sarah! Arabs!

Isn't Zen a beauty?! The minute I laid eyes on them I knew of course these horses were Arabs. That distinctive chiseled head and dipped nose is instantly recognizable. Zen held his tail majestically too. I learned that he is a twenty year old and had a career as an endurance race horse (something Arabs are especially good at). He's now retired to a farm where these little homeschooled girls take him out for rides.

I haven't seen a beautiful Arab in years. In my youngster days my friends and I belonged to the Arabian Horse Association, we all owned Arab horses, (my friends showed theirs) and we were very prejudiced when it came to our equine taste.

People around here tend to favor the quarter horses and I don't often see this majestic breed.



The girls promised to take me riding this summer and I'm going to hold them to it.