Monday, April 6, 2015

Needs More Cow [Bird]

When I heard a week or so ago that a friend was pregnant, I immediately started knitting.  I made these teeny tiny baby socks - aren't they cute?

I also baked her a batch of cookies.  I didn't have the time - or the skill - to do any elaborate decorating, so I decided to do a batch of half chocolate/half chocolate chip cookies (recipe here).  I didn't have any illusions about the success of the cookies.  No matter what I've tried...melted butter, softened butter, chilling, no chilling, 2 - 3 minutes of mixing, barely mixing, long bake time at low heat, quick bake at high cookies taste great, but they spread.  I never seemed to achieve that chunky, bakery-style look, and I'd given up.  I lumped the two doughs together with no care to proper size or shape...

To my surprise, they baked up beautifully...thick, chewy, and pretty much perfect.

Did I mention they were huge?  Here's one with a quarter for scale.

Next time I'll add chocolate chips to the chocolate dough, but otherwise...perfection!

Alas, for every kitchen victory, there's a crushing defeat.  I wanted to make little cookie "hamburgers" for April Fool's Day.  Despite the fact that I was absolutely swamped with work, I cleared a few hours for the task.  I discarded the idea of using a vanilla cupcake sliced in half for the "buns" and decided to make vanilla whoopie pies.  I used a new recipe, and they spread like crazy.  Argh!!  I used a cookie cutter to get the smaller, tidier shape, but of course the edges were rough.

I baked a batch of brownies for the "hamburger" portion, but was distracted by work and ended up baking them a bit too long.  They were a little too cake-y for my taste.  They were so fluffy, in fact, that I had to slice them in half through their middles to get the right height.  It was a mess.

Finally, I was nearly out of the red food coloring needed to turn the vanilla frosting into "ketchup."  I ended up using an old bottle that was well past its prime.  The frosting was flesh-colored, not red, and had a terrible taste.  Sandwiched together, it did not really resemble a hamburger.

The leftovers were tasty, though!

In my free time, I finished not one but TWO 2,000 piece puzzles.  I can lose myself for hours in a puzzle, but I keep one set up at all times so I can pick at it when I have a few minutes.

I also finished a pair of socks.  I've made these before, for a friend, but these are for me.  I love the scales.  If you look close, you can see the glitter!  There's a strand of glitter thread running through the yarn, so it's subtly sparkly.

Meanwhile, I'm still enjoying the azaleas...

...and photographing the birds.

I'm reading a book about the history of birding, and I thought I'd tally up the birds I could identify, off the top of my head, seen here at our house.  I counted 39 birds on my list, which was pretty exciting!  Just yesterday I counted a new bird.  "Large, glossy, blue body, brown head, seed eater, medium-sized..."  Out came the field guides.  It was a Brown-Headed Cowbird, lunching with two Southern Grey-Headed Sparrows. 

As I watched (half-hidden in an azalea bush), the Cowbird shook and fluffed his feathers aggressively...

...and chased off the Sparrows.

Cowbirds are clever and resourceful.  They don't make their own nests, but sneak into the nests of other birds to lay their eggs (sometimes several dozen a season!).  The unsuspecting nest owners feed and raise the young cowbirds as their own!   Pretty smart!

Have a great week!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


"Oh what a beautiful morning!  Oh what a beautiful day!" My grandmother used to sing.  That applies double to today.  Sunny, breezy, and 75, and oh, the azaleas.  Some have popped, others are getting ready to pop, and the late bloomers are just budding out.  I am in azalea love.

I have *just* started gathering them up...

...and putting them in vases. 

Big vases, tiny bud vases, old mason jars...all are pressed into use in this season.  Every bookshelf, every table, every free surface is positively overflowing.

Meanwhile, I'm also enjoying the green I'm seeing everywhere outside.  I get great pleasure from seeing new shoots coming out of dry, dead piles.

The dogwoods, with their very short-lived flowers, are showing off.

They make a great display indoors too!

Of course, there's the ugly side.  I'm prepping for a big work convention in April and just haven't had time to do the necessary yard work.  The driveway is littered with fallen branches.  The stone walls are overgrown with ivy.  Leaves are choking the path edges.

Well, I'll get to it when I get to it.  That's what I tell myself when I'm out filling bird feeders or picking flowers and ignoring the work piling up inside.  But it's so beautiful outside, with the birds singing and busily building nests, squirrels chattering, chipmunks dashing, trees budding out all around...

Always finding some new small delight, like clematis buds that weren't there yesterday...

Or discovering that one of the many peony bushes I planted 2 years ago is finally going to bloom...

Well, it's just hard to stay indoors.  Working from home takes a certain amount of discipline, and for me that's sadly lacking in the springtime!  I don't let it bother me too much.  :)  

Have a great week! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Perpetual Astonishment

"Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment."  - Ellis Peters

It must be true, because I don't remember a more beautiful season.

The beds, of course, are a terrible mess...leaf-choked, overrun with Helleborus seedlings, drooping ferns that need cut back, the works.  I hope I've got time to get my hands in the dirt this weekend. 

I've loved seeing the little creatures return with the increasingly warm weather.  I saw my first daring jumping spider of the very favorite!  What a beauty!!!

These brown marmorated stink bugs have overwintered in our walls (shudder!) and come out, a few at a time.  You'll notice that they have tiny red simple eyes (ocelli), like cicadas, located behind their large compound eyes.

Their bodies are shield-shaped.

Not to be confused with leaf-footed bugs.  Also shield-shaped...

...but with a distinctive leaf-life growth on the hind legs.

Carpenter ants, too, are busy building a nest by the base of a tree in our front yard.  

I knelt down to watch them industriously removing grains of sand from the entrance until they perceived my presence and stopped.

I let them get back to work after a few minutes, but I'll keep track of their progress.

Hope you're seeing some green wherever you live.  Have a great week!