Monday, August 18, 2014

Sign O' the Times

No, I'm not referring to a Prince album with the title of this entry.  Even though it's still 90+ degrees F outside, I'm seeing little signs everywhere that fall will soon be upon us.

The deer are even more visible as they fatten up for winter.

The beavers are shoring up their dam with our little trees.

Some of our trees have started dropping their nuts, which they do every fall.  There's a constant gentle tap, tap from them hitting our roof and deck.  We have lots of squirrels here, and they are pulverizing the nuts still in the trees.  I can look out and see a steady stream of shells falling from the trees, and our driveway is absolutely covered in the little shards.

Some of our fall-blooming azaleas have opened up.

I decided to let the Sweet Autumn Clematis have its head and twine up through our gardenia bushes.  I'm so glad I did.  It's just starting to bud out.

The liriope is sending up its purple spikes.

 Our ginger lilies will be blooming soon...

The camellia bushes have little buds...

...and the little berries on some of our bushes have obtained a hint of blush, getting ready for their big fall show of color.

The blossoms have fallen from our beautyberry bushes, and they're setting up berries, too, for late winter color.

You can see the coming season in our insects and arachnids, too.  I've been looking for spiny-backed orb weavers with no luck so far, but I did spot my first Venusta Orchard spider of the season.

I still see lots of flies and bees...

...and I spotted this late-season cicada as he pushed out of the clay and headed for a tree, where he prepared to molt.

Fire ants here are most active in spring and fall, and in the past week saucer-sized mounds have been popping up all over the place.

I always tap the top of the nest with my foot to make sure it's not a 'regular' ant nest.  Fire ants look like harmless little black ants, but they are incredibly aggressive.  Even though I tried to be quick, ants were swarming on my shoe before I was able to withdraw it from the top of the nest.  Thankfully, I didn't get bit.  Look at that activity!

The cats don't care much about the changing season.  They continue with their "all seasons" reclining.  :)

Fall is, by far, my favorite season, so I'm incredibly encouraged by these subtle signs, even though the temperatures aren't quite there yet.  I know it's coming soon.

Have a great week!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bakery in the Day Hooray

When Todd and I were trying to decide where to go for our anniversary, many things drew me toward Savannah.  The history...the architecture...the gnarled live oak trees...and the Back in the Day Bakery.  I've had this cookbook for a long time and everything I've baked from it has been amazing.  When we moved to South Carolina, I resolved to go there in person at some point. 

I saved it for the end of our second day, AFTER 16 miles of hiking, for guilt-free consumption.  Walking there made me feel even more virtuous, so I didn't have any qualms about ordering a giant oatmeal cookie sandwich with cream cheese filling, which was outstanding.  The bakery itself was in a slightly sketchy neighborhood, but had cute vintage decor.

I was surprised that they didn't have too many choices, especially for a weekend, but they did have lots of fresh-baked breads in another case.

The owners, Cheryl and Griff, were on-site, and Cheryl signed a coaster for me to stick in my cookbook.  Yes, I am a nerd!  Todd took my photo in front of the bakery, too, and I was nerdily pleased that Cheryl is in the picture, right over my left shoulder.

I'm all wet because it rained most of the day, and we hiked through it. 

When we came home, I decided to make something from the cookbook that I'd hoped I could sample at the bakery, but wasn't available:  the caramel-bottomed brown sugar cinnamon rolls with cream cheese glaze.

Before I made the dough, I made the caramel.  I love any excuse to pull out my candy thermometer! 
I mixed the ingredients and boiled them until they reached a temperature of 230 degrees F, then poured the soft caramel into the bottom of the pan.

Next I mixed the a good rise!

After the dough was ready, I rolled it out, spread it with butter, sprinkled it with sugar and cinnamon, rolled it up, sliced it, and placed the rolls onto the caramel.

I put them in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

I baked them for 25 minutes and topped them with the glaze.  The rolls greedily sucked up the caramel and were absolutely delicious!

I would halve the caramel next time, I think, and probably use my tried-and-true cinnamon roll recipe.  All in all, though, a very tasty treat!

I've been baking - a lot - but I always seem to run out of space for recipes on my posts.  So I thought I'd put a few on here. 

Two weeks ago I made Cookie Dough Billionaire Bars from the Cookie Dough Lover's Cookbook.  It's a layer of shortbread, a layer of caramel, a layer of cookie dough, and a layer of chocolate ganache.  It was good, but I ended up scraping off the chocolate ganache - it overpowered the bar.

Yesterday I made a 3 layer cake from the Sprinkle Bakes website.  It's a pretty daunting cake:  one layer Devils Food, one layer cheesecake, and one layer cookie dough.  Because the cheesecake fell a bit in the middle for me, it didn't stack prettily, even though I switched out the Devils Food cake for my favorite brownie recipe (more stabilizing).

Oh, yeah, did I mention that the whole thing was covered in buttercream?

No beauty shots here - this was taken with the aid of the refrigerator light, but at least you can see the layers!

The cake was absolutely delicious, but I think I might swap out the cookie dough recipe for the one that's in the Cookie Dough Lovers Cookbook.  This particular dough was made with a CUP of melted butter, and it was a bit heavy for me.  I ate very moderately all day and had just one sliver of it last night, and I still felt sugar-queasy this morning. Thankfully, I can always send it to Todd's work tomorrow!  Here is the original recipe if you want to give it a try! 

I also made a mini apple pie with some leftover pie dough from the freezer (chopped apples and sauteed in brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and cinnamon to taste for about 20 minutes on stovetop):

Another pie - an absolutely beautiful cherry pie last week:

I'll post the recipe soon.

A sweet loaf of bread made with leftover yellow summer squash:

And so, so many summer tarts, which is one of my favorite things to make.  Buttery tarts filled with caramelized onions, mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, roasted squash, spinach...the combinations are endless!

I've started roasting a lot of chicken, too.  Todd eats the main parts and then shreds down the leftovers to be filler in soups, tacos, etc.  Brining the chicken (soaking it in salt/garlic/herb water for an hour before roasting) makes it super moist. Annie's Eats has wonderful directions here, and the roasted garlic/red wine sauce that you made with the leftover drippings is one of my favorites, so flavorful, perfect on bread or mashed potatoes (or just by itself!). 

For us, it's all about balance.  Todd and I have healthy lifestyles and eat very moderately most of the time, and treat ourselves to a little sweet nib after supper a few times a week.  I'll usually have just a bite or two of pie (for example) and I feel satisfied, and Todd, too, will have just a little slice.  It's been a long struggle to finally get to the point of 'de-criminalizing' sugar.  It's a huge personal victory for me to know that there's a delicious homemade pie in the refrigerator, all week long, and I don't feel compelled to guiltily pick at it.  If I crave, I have a bite, put it back, and go on with my life.  Happy day!  Overeating sugar torpedoes my workouts, which are fairly intense, and that helps keep me on track as well. 

I have one more Savannah post, about the amazing Bonaventure Cemetery.  I hope to get that out in a few days.  Have a great week! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Unencumbered View

Todd and I recently took a short trip to celebrate our anniversary.  We decided to stay local this time, so we spent a long weekend in the Savannah area.  Sunday was spent on Cumberland Island.

Cumberland Island National Seashore (about 90 minutes south of Savannah) is a pretty unique place.  The 18 mile-long island is only accessible by boat.  There are no paved roads or trails, and no more than 300 people per day can be present on the island.  The Carnegie family originally owned about 90% of the island, building huge mansions there, but eventually donated the property to the National Park Service.

It's a beautiful ferry ride, about 45 minutes long, to reach the island.  We traveled on the Intracoastal Waterway, with Florida on one side and Georgia on the other.  We saw dolphins!

 The island is home to about 200 wild horses.  They were brought to the island by the English in the 18th century, and have thrived.  They're tame, but they bite!  We saw several of our old friends, the dung beetles, taking care of their leftovers on the trail.

The old Carnegie mansions are in ruins.  They were something, though, in their day!

Thomas Carnegie died before their big 59-room mansion was completed, but Lucy Carnegie and her 9 children lived there full-time.  She employed 200 servants to keep things running smoothly.  Two hundred servants for ten people!  Forty of these little cottages served to house them.  They almost remind me of English cottages, minus the palmetto trees, of course!

I fell in love with the live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss in Savannah.  They're at the island, too, and some of the gnarled branches went all the way to the ground!

We saw deer and raccoons, but no alligators, armadillos, or wild pigs, which also populate the island.  Now, picture this:  a white-sand beach, warm water, a beautiful sunny day, and not a single other person around.  Most people clustered at the first beach access point, but Todd and I hiked about 4 miles up the coast and had the beach to ourselves.  Lots of Great White sharks in the vicinity, though, so we didn't go more than thigh-deep in the water! 

We saw lots of birds:

Dead horseshoe crabs were all over the beach.

I finally saw the elusive ghost crab, too.

They've got comical cartoon eyes on long stalks, and love to dig.  This is a ghost crab hole:

Look closer and you can see him hiding:

The dunes around the beach were pretty, too.

It was a long, hot hike back to the ferry though, and we had heavy backpacks.  Someone was pretty exhausted by the end, and had a little nap before we boarded. 

That 8-mile hike, coupled with the 8-mile hike the day before, was pretty draining.  I was happy to rest in the car and concentrate on my knitting on our drive back to Savannah!

I'll try to make an extra post this week to include our day in Savannah, and also the beautiful, haunting Bonaventure Cemetery. 

Have a great week!