Sunday, March 17, 2019

Amaryllis Blooms

 Some time back, Tom ordered an amaryllis bulb mail-order. We forgot what color it was supposed to be so we've been anticipating its blooming for some time. Here's how the bulb progressed:

03/14 - Full Bloom!


 The bulb was planted sometime in January and by early February was showing signs of growth. I was surprised to see two bloom stalks erupting from the bulb.



 This is the first hint we had of what the color would be. Early signs pointed to a shade of apricot.


 The color became even more apparent just a day later.


 Two flowers began to open. But - alas! - only one made it to full bloom. The others mysteriously dried up. I may have allowed the soil to dry too much?


 Isn't the color exceptional?


 The second bloom stalk is getting buds ready to open. I'm keeping the soil consistently damp, even wet at times.


 And so the plant has provided several months of entertainment. It's amazing what nature unfolds from a dry bulb. Of course a seed is even more amazing.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Peanut Butter Cookies

 Today seemed like a good day to bake. It's only up to 20° at noon and snow flurries are brushing by the kitchen window as I wash the lunch dishes. Peanut butter cookies are on the agenda.

 Which recipe to use, though? I searched through Mom's cookbooks for the cookie she made when Bob  and I were kids. I always loved that basic recipe. I found it in her Mennonite Community Cookbook. It's undated but I know it's been around since I was a child. In fact, it's received such heavy use that the cover has fallen off.

[Note: A 65th anniversary edition was printed in 2015, thus the cookbook's first edition was dated 1950]

 Mom make copious notes (in ink) beside this recipe, most notably "Very good!". She also suggested to "cut recipe in half" and to "add two sm(all) eggs". She penned "just right" beside those notes. This basic peanut butter cookie  recipe has a date below it: 6/22/85. I assume that's the date of her notes (same color ink) because she had been making this recipe for many decades.

 Here is the recipe with full credit being given to the cookbook printed by The John  C. Winston Company and "Authorized by The Mennonite Community Association, Scottdale, Pa." The author was Mary Emma Showalter.

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup shortening
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla

My directions (not those printed): Cream shortening (I used two sticks of margarine) and peanut butter (8 ounces = 1/2 jar). As the melted margarine helps warm and incorporate the peanut butter, I mixed them together until creamy. I them added everything else except for the flour and made sure everything was thoroughly mixed. It should be satiny smooth:

 With the addition of the flour, the mixture will become quite thick:

 It must be refrigerated at this point for several hours to make it less sticky to work with. I then used a small ice cream scoop and gathered small balls of dough, placed them on a non-stick cookie sheet and crisscrossed the top with a fork. This pattern is traditional for peanut butter cookies.

 Here they are ready to go into the oven (above) and how they look when they come out (below).
 I baked them for 13 minutes (the recipe calls for 12 - 15 minutes in an oven set to 375°.

 The recipe also calls for shaping the dough into balls an inch in diameter. I used the small ice cream scoop and this produced 43 cookies versus the seven dozen called for,. Why make small cookies?

 Time now for a new pot of coffee ...

Monday, March 4, 2019

Another Pine Falls

 Tom (mostly) and I have been cleaning up limbs downed in a recent windstorm. On February 24 we had one wind gust to 58 mph. That must have been when this pine, lining the northern edge of the lawn fell.

 It's a massive tree, one that was here when I moved in 32 years ago. I thought at first that the roots pulled out of the muddy soil but when I had a chance to examine it closer I found that the trunk had actually split.
 Also, I figured it had fallen against a pignut hickory but later found it leaning against a much smaller pine. The problem facing us now is how to get it down the rest of the way so we can cut it into pieces.

 Here's the west side of the trunk. The cold front plowed through our area all day and wind gusts climbed near 60 mph and never dropped below 50 mph for long. It was just too much pressure for this tree.

 Looking south from the meadow, the tree fell to the east and was arrested by another pine.

 This shot, from the north side of the truck, shows how completely the trunk was split. I may have heard it fall. Tom says I mentioned some sound but I couldn't see the source from the house, at least not more than a dark shadow.

 For four days last week we cut and burned limbs. Tom took the lower limbs off the fallen pine with his chain saw but the tree still stands securely against the other. I suppose there is some risk of it falling if the winds again get that high but I suspect it will stand until we manage to bring it down. Though I mow nearby, there's no reason for me to be beneath it.

 We had so much debris (and we're hardly finished) that Tom worked after the sun went down. We've both shoveled ashes from the burn barrel and spread them on the garden.
 On Saturday (03/02) Tom piled on a load of limbs before leaving for work and I watched them out the kitchen window to make sure all was well. For a couple of hours I almost thought the fire had gone out. But when I stepped to the window at 8 pm I saw flames that looked like a blowtorch rising up into the sky. When I finally went to bed the worst had passed and I knew things were safe.

 So, again Pinehaven becomes less pine and more open space.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Oatmeal-Raisin-Chocolate Chip Cookies

 I was asking Tom what sweet he wanted this week and he said "cookies are always good".

 "What kind?" I asked.

 That's when he told me his step-mother, Clara, made incredible oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies. I found a recipe that adds raisins (click here) and decided to try it. Quite good ... and easy, too.

 I post these recipe links mostly so that I can go back in the future and make baked goods again without having to keep track of where I put the recipe.

 The batter for this cookie is stiffer than most. I almost figured I had forgotten to add something. But the recipe is perfect as is. It made 46 cookies of the size shown.

 I almost never follow directions. I just melted the butter in a bowl and began adding the ingredients. I saved the flour, oatmeal and chocolate morsels for last (the liquid ingredients mix better that way).

 I always use a small ice cream scoop to place the batter on a cookie sheet. I just adjust the amount I scoop to make larger or smaller cookies.

 I've had friends tell me that this would be a good recipe to substitute butterscotch morsels for the chocolate ones.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Easy Blueberry Muffins

 Fresh blueberries are on sale right now and Tom has been taking advantage of it. Two weekends ago he arrived with two containers. Last Saturday he brought another. I've been topping waffles and French toast with blueberries - not to mention a simple bowl of Cheerios - but I wanted to use up the oldest and also have something different.

 Fresh blueberry muffins fit the bill! And a recipe for Easy Blueberry Muffins on looked like the perfect recipe.

 They really couldn't be easier. Just seven ingredients.

 Tom likes to watch his intake of salt and this recipe uses none. For myself, I'd prefer salt (though the butter you slather on will likely contain some). How much? I'd guess half a teaspoon but I haven't tested this. Next time, though, I will.

 Also, you're warned that "the secret is in NOT mixing the batter too much". I think that warning is because the blueberries will break up and you'll have a purple batter. I mixed everything but the blueberries into the batter, mixed it very well, and then added the fresh blueberries and just turned them in gently.

 The muffins come out of the oven with the visible blueberries thoroughly cooked and burst open by the heat. It's really a lovely look to the top of each muffin. Why buy blueberry muffin mixes in the store? They surely cost more and the "blueberries" are often artificial and not nearly as good as the real thing.

 I used more than the 1/2 cup of blueberries (more like 3/4 cup) and the muffins are chock full of fruit.

 The only thing you need to add is butter. I ate two while they were warm. Testing is such a necessary part of baking.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

My Furry Valentine

 Each year Tom and I consider attending My Furry Valentine, Cincinnati's largest animal adoption event. This year we had to go to Cincinnati anyway and made it a point to stop by.

 It's held at the Sharonville Convention Center. We got there soon after it opened (at noon) and found parking to be at a premium. We had to park across the street and walk to the event.

 Already at noon, the rooms were packed.

 First up, cats! Lots of cats in cages. In fact there were over a thousand animals up for adoption ... mostly cats and dogs but we saw one rabbit, too.

 Retired greyhound racing dogs were available. I'm not sure of this was one but it was certainly lanky enough to have been one. Dogs and cats would be taken from cages so prospective adopters could interact with them and determine how close a  fit they made.

 I really liked the name of this agency. Recycled Doggies is based in Cincinnati. Apparently you got a donut for stopping by.

 This sweet dog was being held by a prospective adopter (or so I assume). He seemed to be in doggie heaven. He was leaned back against the man's chest and watching people pass by. He was so relaxed he seemed almost to be falling to sleep. I hope he found a home.

 Cats apparently will sleep anywhere, even in their litter pan.

 This was Mickey, probably named for his black and white coloration, mimicking the Disney mouse. But a cat named for a mouse? Tom would have brought this one home (he already has two). I'm allergic to cats ... and many dogs, too ... so the suggestion was eventually dropped.

 Tom could have spent the day there. He seems happiest when he's interacting with cats ... or books.
 Occasionally they'd announce an adopted count on the public address system. I heard 135 as the number at about 1 pm. Many of the cages had tags marked "Adopted".

 When we paid our $5 admission fee we had our hands stamped with a paw print.

 It was really a lovely day and time well spent. I'd recommend anyone interested in a pet attend next year's event. Check out their website at the top of this blog and just remember that it's held near Valentine's Day.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Forcing Hyacinths

 For the past couple of years we've forced hyacinths so we could enjoy their flower and fragrance in winter. All it takes is a forcing glass, fresh hyacinth bulbs, water and a little time.

 Tom bought two bags of nice bulbs last fall ... one white, one purple. I've held them on the enclosed porch and started them at the beginning of January. It's interesting to note that white hyacinths force much more quickly. I've done two batches and each followed the exact same timeline.

 The bulbs were purchased from A.J. Rahn Greenhouses in Cincinnati. Or so Tom seems to remember.

 Here's a photo blog of their progress:

January 6 

 I always start the bulbs on the second floor toilet tank. It's cool and usually somewhat dark. Tap water must be added to the forcing vase whenever it drops below the base of the bulb.

January 20 

 Only two weeks have passed from bag to substantial green tops. The purple one (l) is decidedly slower than the white.

January 27 

 Just three weeks after starting the white hyacinth it's beginning to open its flower. Even in these early stages, the scent is intoxicating.

January 29 

 Now that the flower has begun to bloom I've moved the bulb from the toilet to a south-facing windowsill. That will speed up the blooming.

January 31 

 The low temperature outside has been 07° and -6° but we have springtime inside Pinehaven. Here Tom holds the fully open bloom. The bulb has taken but 25 days to get to this stage.

February 3

 I've moved the purple bulb to the warm windowsill in hopes of speeding its progress. The flower is just now getting ready to open.

 Another five days and the purple is coming into full bloom ...

February 8