Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Wheelbarrow

I've been on the lookout for an old wheelbarrow for a few years now.  I've browsed through garage sales, antiques stores, Craigslist sites.  I've had my Hubby looking along the side of the roads and garage sales as he's on his bike rides. Why do I want an old wheelbarrow?  I had a blank spot next to our pomegranate tree.  I've wanted a wheelbarrow there, planted with a bush of some sort, to add some color and interest to the area.  I wanted it to look as if the wheelbarrow got left behind while picking pomegranates. Well, let me tell you, old wheelbarrows are hard to find!

But, I did find one and in the least expected place! We own a house across the street from my parents. We gave the tenants notice and we've been repairing and cleaning it so we can sell it.  I was at the house one Friday doing yard chores; pruning bushes, raking old leaves, weeding flower beds, etc.  My brother came over to observe what I was doing.  I asked him if Dad had a wheelbarrow, he answered in the affirmative and went across the street to get it.  Imagine my surprise when he shows up with an old rusted wheelbarrow! Who knew my treasure was hiding in my parents' garage?  I instantly told him I was taking it home and I would buy Dad a new one. The wheelbarrow isn't an antique by most people's standards, but it is at least 40 years old as they had it before they moved to their current home in 1973. It's rusted, dinged up, missing its rubber hand grips, and I just love it.

I've planted a yellow lantana in it.  Eventually, the bush will spread out and hang over the sides of the wheelbarrow. It's a hardy plant, doesn't need much water, so should do fine in its potted spot. Butterflies and hummingbirds love the blooms. The wheelbarrow and red gate have made a hum-drum part of the yard come alive!
Harley likes it, too!
Now I'm looking for a child-sized metal or iron headboard for my next gardening project.  Anyone seen one?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Take-Along Breakfast Cookies

My Hubbers is an avid bicycle rider.  He rides over 100 miles a week.  In 1997 he did a 3-month cross country ride, from Maine to Washington and down the California coast before heading inland to home. Each summer he and his biking crew plan a big ride.  This year it's to Glacier National Park in Montana.  Over the course of eight riding days they will log 550 miles and do 20,000 feet of climb. On a bicycle! Meanwhile I stay home and think I've done a good workout if I walk around the neighborhood!

The group left Sunday in our small RV.  I was requested to make these breakfast cookies.  They are a little bit sweet, a little bit savory.  My mom has been making these cookies for eons, I have no idea where she originally got the recipe. They are great for road trips as they stay fresh a while if kept in an enclosed container or bag. They provide a little bit of energy and are a good pick-me-up in the morning. Don't let the fact that a cookie has bacon and cheddar cheese in them, they are really quite yummy!

Take-Along Breakfast Cookies

¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups regular oats, uncooked
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup wheat germ
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

 Combine flour, soda, and salt; mix well, and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar; beat in egg and vanilla.   Add flour mixture, mixing well.  Stir in oats, cheese, wheat germ, and bacon.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake at 350° for 16 minutes.  Cool 1 minute on cookie sheets.

 Yield:  2 dozen.

I fondly refer to my husband's biking partners as his harem.  They have been doing bicycle trips for over 20 years now.  Our office manager, Anne, drives the RV from campground to campground each day, seeing the sights along the way.  She shops for groceries, runs errands, does laundry, and usually has their camp site set up by the time the bicyclists arrive in the afternoon. Lisa accompanies Mark on the tandem bicycle. At night they play cards, visit with the locals, and have been known to drink their fair share of tequila. There is never a dull moment with the three of them!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Birthday Pool Party!

Summer birthdays in my family traditionally revolve around our pool.  The kids don't get bored, the older generations have time to chat, and clean-up is a breeze; we just throw away the garbage and get out the hose! Our youngest granddaughter is turning 5 in a few days. Nana & Papa's backyard was, once again, called in to service.  No complaints from me, I love hosting a party!

My daughter found cute invitations and other printables on Etsy.  These are so convenient and inexpensive, you pay a small fee (usually $7-10) and get an electronic file modified with your details.  The paper products can be printed at home or at a local office supply/printing store.

We filled the pool with beach balls, had a stock of foam squirt guns at the ready. We have an inflatable water slide for such occasions so Papa got out the air compressor and filled it up.  We made "goody bags" out of sand buckets, filling them with fruit roll-ups, Goldfish crackers, sunglasses, flip flop shaped bubble decanters, and candy. Beach ball sugar cookies were our thank you gift to our guests.


One of my favorite things was a photo booth we set up.  Again, we turned to Etsy and got printable photo props such as sunglasses, snorkel gear, watermelon, etc. My daughter glued them to chopsticks for easy handling. So fun!
Instead of birthday cake we made ice cream cone cupcakes. They were decorated to look as if the little graham cracker bears were enjoying time in the pool.
The best part of the party was watching the kids enjoy themselves. Nothing fills my heart more with joy than the sound of children laughing and playing. All four of my grandchildren were in attendance, as well as some of the birthday girl's friends. I jumped in and joined the squirt gun battle!
 All the activity wore the birthday girl out! I can't believe she's turning 5!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fresno Fig Burger

My son and his family lived in Bakersfield until just recently (they've moved back "home"; my 8-month old grandson now resides in the town I live in!) Ok, I got sidetracked with that happy news! On many visits to see them we have gone to a restaurant called Eureka Burger. Though they have a varied menu, I've yet to order anything other than their Fresno Fig Burger.  A ground beef patty, topped with melted goat cheese, bacon, tomato and arugula encased in a bun spread with stone-ground mustard and fig jam. Sounds strange but it is amazing!
See the fig jam peeking through?
 I made a batch of fig jam a few weeks ago so set about recreating the burger. The only ingredient I omitted was arugula, I could only find a bulk package and knew I wouldn't use the excess.  Well, pat myself on the back, but the burger was fantastic! Each bite has some sweet jam, smoky bacon, creamy cheese. It's soooooo good!
Thank you to my friends, John and Susan, for the wonderful figs!
Eureka Burger serves honey-drizzled and cinnamon-sprinkled sweet potato fries with their burgers so I did the same.  Yummy!
If my kids crave this burger I now feel confident that they can drive across town for a great tasting replica!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Apple Cinnamon Waffles

While racing in Sonoma last month we had time to venture out into the Napa Valley one afternoon for a little sightseeing, shopping, and dinner.  One of my purchases was a bottle of apple cider syrup. Coincidentally, the apples on our little espalier tree are ripening and we're picking a few daily. I modified my go-to waffle recipe to use some of the apples and the syrup.  Both were good on their own, but we all thought the combination of the syrup and cinnamon-enhanced waffles was too much cinnamon. Instead, we opted to use good old-fashioned maple syrup. I have other ideas for the apple cider syrup, so stay tuned!

It seems strange to be baking with apples and cinnamon when we're
still experiencing triple digit temperature days, but things ripen early in California! These waffles will be really good on a crisp fall morning; as they cook the smell of cinnamon drifts through the house. The smell of cinnamon baking always inspires thoughts of fall in me. We liked them with maple syrup, some may like a little whipped cream on top. You could even make them a dessert, adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of caramel sauce!

If you have a food processor, use it to shred the apples.  If not, an ordinary cheese grater will work! The apples add just a slight crunch to the waffle.

Apple Cinnamon Waffles

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 eggs, separated
1 3/4 cups milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 apples, shredded
3 tablespoons sugar

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks well, then add milk, melted butter, and apples.  Combine with flour mixture and mix well.  Beat the egg whites in a bowl until stiff.  Slowly add in sugar, beating constantly.  Carefully fold egg whites into batter.  Bake in hot waffle iron per manufacturer's instructions.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Berry Patch Pie

I debated about doing this blog post, the pie didn't thicken as much as I had hoped and my pictures are lousy.  But the pie was soooooooo good, I just had to share!  How good?  Well, my Hubbers, myself, and a friend ate two pieces  each (in one sitting!) before I called our next door neighbors over to finish it off!
 The recipe comes from Taste of Home. It called for 1/4 cup cornstarch.  As I mentioned, the pie filling wasn't as thick as I would prefer.  Next time (and there will be a next time!) I will use 1/3 cup.

We are still able to get fresh berries at our local Farmers Market.  They come from the coastal area and are wonderful.  If you can't find all the varieties of berries called for in the recipe, just add more of what you can find. I even used frozen blueberries. It will taste good no matter!

Berry Patch Pie

Pastry for single-crust pie (9 inches)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch (see note above)
2 cups halved fresh strawberries
1 1/2 cups fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice

On a lightly floured surface, unroll pastry.  Transfer to a 9-inch pie plate.  Trim pasty to 1/2 inch beyond edge of plate; flute edges.  Line unpricked pastry with a double thickness of aluminum foil (or line with parchment paper and fill with baking beans).  Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5-7 minutes longer or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch.  Stir in berries and lemon juice.  Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until mixture just comes to a boil; pour into prepared crust. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Top with whipped cream, if desired.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lemon Mascarpone Gelato with Strawberries

This recipe hit my inbox from Sur La Table and I was instantly intrigued. I love lemon, strawberries and mascarpone cheese.  A combination of all three?  Yes, I had to make it! So glad I did, the gelato is wonderful! It's got the taste of a rich strawberry ice cream with a hint of lemon cheesecake.

I'm not quite sure why this is called a gelato.  Supposedly, gelato uses more milk to cream ratio than traditional ice cream, so has less fat, and little to no eggs.  This recipe has plenty of cream and eggs. Gelato means ice cream in Italian so I guess it's all the same thing no matter what!

The recipe seems "fussy" when reading the instructions but it's really very easy; just a few steps (and a few bowls and pans to wash!) To quickly cool the ice cream mixture an ice bath method is used. If you're not familiar with this, it's basically a large bowl with ice and cold water in it.  The container of food is placed in the bowl and stirred frequently.  The icy water surrounding the container chills foods in no time.

Lemon Mascapone Gelato with Strawberries

2 cups strawberries, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups half and half
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine strawberries with 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Cook until strawberries have softened and juices have thickened to a syrup-like consistency, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a small bowl and chill in the refrigerator until needed.

Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl; set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine half and half, cream, sugar, lemon zest, and salt.  Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Do not allow the mixture to come to a boil.  When the liquid is simmering, remove the saucepan from the heat.

In a medium mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, combine the egg yolks and vanilla.  While whisking constantly, slowly add 1/3 of the hot cream mixture to the egg yolks and whisk to thoroughly combine.  Once incorporated, transfer liquid back into saucepan and place the saucepan on the stove over medium heat.  Using a silicone spatula and scraping the bottom as your stir, heat the mixture until it thickens and reaches 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. (Do not allow the mixture to boil or the eggs will scramble.)

Remove the saucepan from the stove, still stirring constantly and pour mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl.  Whisk mascarpone into the warm custard and place bowl in prepared water bath, stir occasionally until cold.  When chilled, whisk fresh lemon juice and strawberry compote into the cold custard.

Transfer to an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer gelato to chilled container.  Freeze for about 2 hours or until gelato is firm enough to scoop.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Attack of the Watermelon Plant!

Back in late May, while shopping at the nursery with my youngest granddaughter, she spotted a watermelon plant and instantly wanted to get it.  The girl loves watermelon.  So, the urban farmer that I am, bought the plant thinking I had just the spot for it.  Clearly my agricultural knowledge is limited.  I had no idea how much space a watermelon plant takes!  This plant has taken over the space behind our pool.  Each morning I have to remove it from the patio areas as it seems to grow a foot or two each night!  It's growing up other plants, the bench, anything it can attach to! I think if I stood still for 5 minutes it would start growing up me! It's like a science fiction movie!  So far, all we have gotten from the plant are two small in-process watermelons.  We see signs that more are forming so we may get more.  My granddaughter thinks it's hilarious, she loves to go looking for a new watermelon (they are hard to find, they blend in with the vines so well!)  So, all is good, it's been a fun gardening experience for us!  Next summer I think we will stick to buying our watermelons, however, we don't have enough space for this type of gardening!

From this (yes, we garden in our pj's!)
To this!