Sunday, March 31, 2019

Backwards [quote]

Getting the Garden Ready

 It is spring and time to get the garden ready again. All winter we've used the garden as a staging area to burn limbs and debris from the meadow. It has been almost an every-other weekend project. Needless to say, we've generated copious amounts of ash which we've spread there whenever the burn barrel filled.

 So the garden was literally black and white rather than the rich brown we expect.

 You can easily see the ashes in the picture above. Some green wood burnt poorly and we were left with charcoal (black); other dry wood and logs burnt completely (white) and resulted in fine ash. We distributed this on that garden even though it raises the pH (wood ash is highly alkaline with a pH between 9 and 13). I should measure the pH of our soil as we've probably made it way too alkaline.

 Working the ashes in sure makes the soil look more garden friendly. We use Bob's tiller every spring. It's a small model that doesn't dig very deeply but it serves to break the soil up and mix it somewhat. It's a good starting point and saves a lot of back-breaking work.

 This was done on March 28. Tom followed up the next day by spading the entire garden by hand. Next weekend he'll break those clods up with tiller again. And then the garden will be ready for planting.

 We also want to open a new garden patch at the edge of the meadow. Our wood pile has many old, rotten logs at its base and Tom broke some up with a sledge hammer. That soft wood will be turned into the soil as compost. I also carried many bucketfuls away to place beneath some of our young trees. It makes a pretty edging and will kept grass at bay.

  While working there we uncovered a nest of baby rabbits. None (there were four) had their eyes open so they were probably less than ten days old. Mama didn't seem to be returning to feed them, though, so I doubt they survive. Yesterday (March 30) was rainy and last night the rain turned to sleet and the temperature fell to 26°. That's not good news for nature's youngest creatures.

Italian Ricotta Cheesecake

 Tom and I love cheesecake. He often brings home slices from Aldi (frozen). They come with a variety of toppings, are single servings and really can't be beat. There was no sense for me to try to make homemade ... other than I saw this recipe which looked incredible and felt compelled to give it a try.

 I've never made cheesecake before. I mentioned to Tom that I'd have to buy a springform pan. A week ago he came home with a 9" Wilton pan. I was therefore committed.

 The recipe for this Italian Ricotta Cheesecake is here.

 I have a few notes for future reference:

1. Make sure to snugly cover the bottom of the springform pan with aluminum foil. I used several layers. Springform pans will slightly leak (test yours with water first and see). It's best to have a snug covering on the base to collect any leakage.

2. Even so, I sat the springform pan on a cake drip pan ... just to be sure. A little water can be added to the cake pan for a "water bath". It'll increase the humidity in the oven and is said to prevent splitting. I used very little water (not enough apparently) and my cheesecake did develop a split atop. It's not a problem, though, and easily filled with a fruit topping.

3. Ricotta cheese was in a 15 ounce package at Kroger's, Close enough to the pound the recipe calls for.

4. Baking time was 1.5 hours for me. I wouldn't even consider a shorter time.

5. I was mostly concerned about the instruction to "turn off the oven and leave the cake in the oven with door closed for 2 more hours". That seemed excessive to me. But that's exactly what I did and it was perfect.

6. The cheesecake takes many hours to cool once removed from the oven. Only place it in the refrigerator when it is completely cooled. Do not slice it until it is cold.

 The cheesecake has just completed 1.5 hours of baking. The top is a beautiful golden-brown.You can see my foil wrap in this picture.

 The next day I removed the cake from the springform pan. I ran a knife around the edge (probably not necessary because it had slightly shrunk back from the edge of the pan) and the pan lifted off easily. One crack developed on the top but the cake could be cut to hide that ... and fill with fruit.

 First slice! The cheesecake cut perfectly. Add some cherry or blueberry pie filling and you have a perfect (though high calorie) dessert. They're about 500 calories per slice.

 Cheesecake takes some time (mostly baking and resting) but it's well worth the effort.

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.