Monday, September 15, 2014

Fawning Over Fall

We've had our first "cold spell" (down into the 70s!), and all of a sudden it seems like there's been a flurry of animal/insect activity!

I spotted a little fawn in our side yard.  Now, whitetail deer usually give birth in early spring, but there are so many of them around here, with no apparent predators and lots of food, that I wonder if it's affected their breeding practices. 

This little ornamental turtle crossed our front steps the other day. 

We discovered a yellow jacket nest at the base of a blooming azalea recently.  They're nasty little things that love to repeat-sting.  Poor Todd checked the nest area and gave the ground one tap, and promptly got stung on his chin.  That did it for yellow jacket eradication - for that day, anyway!

Two weeks ago, a little Carolina Wren began overnighting in our little front porch alcove.  He was somehow able to grip and balance on a tiny ledge there.  He comes every few nights and I really look forward to his visits!  I've named him Percival Wemys (after a character in Lord of the Flies) and he is a very charming character!

With cooler days I've started taking the pets outside in our little fenced side yard.  I don't dare let them loose, with the foxes, owls, and hawks around, but I can keep a sharp eye on them within that small space.  Borga is very alert...

...and Tabitha, our great escape artist, takes just a moment to discover the gap in the gate recently skewered by a falling limb.

The beautyberries are turning deep purple now and they're so lovely.

I've been baking a lot, as usual.  Last week I made some basic chocolate cupcakes with vanilla buttercream, using Sweetapolita's recipe I think they turned out really well, even thought it was almost dark by the time I got around to finishing the pictures.

They're bakery-style, with a very light and soft crumb.  I'm not much of a cupcake person, but it's nice to have a good standard chocolate cupcake recipe in my arsenal. 

Looking forward to cooler days with more exploration and baking.  Have a great week!  

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Day of SIX Pies

I was going to title this post "The Day the Music Pie-d", but figured that was too ridiculous, even for me.  Whichever heading you like, it's still going to be all...about...the...pies.  (All photos courtesy of my husband's terrible camera.  I really need a new lens for mine!)

It all started when I bought a mini pie pan.  I don't mind a cluttered cabinet and I can never have too many random kitchen gadgets.  I have all sorts of molds and pans that rarely get used, but I keep them - just in case.  Besides, I had plans for the mini pie pan.  Could I not also bake cake rounds and make a tiny 6-layer cake?  What about giant cookies for ice cream sandwiches?  Clearly, this item was an absolute kitchen necessity.

I was intrigued by its original purpose, though.  Six tiny pies?  What if I could make six different kinds of pies?  Would that take the entire day?  What if I pulled all ingredients and assembly-lined the process?  Did I currently have the ingredients for six different kinds of pies?!?  Yes.  I had bags of frozen cherries and mixed fruit in the freezer, and I'd frozen 3/4 cup pumpkin puree AND sweetened condensed milk, so I wouldn't need to open a can.  I could make homemade chocolate pudding for a pie filling, and I had fresh apples and peaches...and that was it.  Even though I had piles and piles of work to do, I decided to devote the afternoon to pie pie baking, that is. 

Time to make the pie dough:  10 minutes
Time to chill pie dough:  1 hour
Time to cut out pie circles with a cereal bowl:  10 minutes

I put the rounds in the basins and refrigerated the pan.

Time to pull out ingredients:  5 minutes
Time to mix ingredients for each pie:  10 minutes

Putting all the ingredients on the counters really sped things up.  After all, the fruit pies all needed the same basic ingredients - corn starch, sugar, salt, and spices.  It only took about 10 minutes to do the entire process!

Then I pulled the chilled pan from the refrigerator and put in the fillings, then crimped 'rustic' tops.

Total time:  7 minutes.

The lower left corner pie was blind-baked.  That is, I baked it with weights inside (rice) to help it keep its shape and then filled it with chocolate pudding later. 

The amount of filling I'd made (1/4 of a full-size pie recipe) was too much for these basins, but that meant I had plenty left over to make more mini pies.  Into the freezer!

Cooking time:  45 minutes

While the pies baked, I made homemade chocolate pudding in the microwave (5 minutes) and cleaned up the kitchen (significantly longer).

The mini pies turned out just as I'd hoped.  There was only one accident...the bottom crust on the peach pie was too thin, so one wall collapsed and leaked filling.  No big deal.

The final tally?  One peach, one apple, one three berry, one cherry, one chocolate, and one pumpkin pie.  And oh, so good.  Really, it didn't take long at all.  Not much longer than making one single pie.  And I am completely charmed by these little pies.  Now that I understand the thickness of the dough needed, and the amount of filling that each basin holds (about a cup), I can make these any time!  I quartered the pies for easy sampling that night and made a "pie buffet", which was really fun.  Todd loved the flavors but thought the filling to crust-ratio was a little off, and I agreed.  Next time I'll make lattice tops or leave them open-faced. 

It's nice that my recipes make exactly enough filling for two batches of mini-pies, so the next time I make them will be even easier!  Although it was already pretty easy.  Twenty minutes to mix and shape dough (not counting fridge rest time) and about twenty minutes to pull ingredients, mix, and fill the pies. 

I jotted down the recipes for my personal cookbook, so I'll paste them in here in case anyone is interested in making them.  Hope you give them a try.  Have a great week! 

 Mini Pie Pan PIES

Apple Pie ¼ recipe
2 Granny Smith apples, sliced/diced
1 ½ teaspoons white sugar
1 TB brown sugar
1 teaspoon flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
¾ teaspoon lemon juice
butter to dot top of pie before sealing

Three Berry Pie ¼ recipe
1.5 cups berries
3 TB sugar
1 TB cornstarch

Peach Pie 1/4 recipe
2 peaches, peeled and sliced
3 TB sugar
1 ½ teaspoon flour
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Cherry Pie 1/4 recipe
1.5 cups cherries
1 TB sugar 
pinch salt
pinch cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
drop of almond extract
1 TB cornstarch

Pumpkin Pie 1/4 recipe
3 ounces canned pumpkin
3 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 egg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 - 3 TB brown sugar

Chocolate Pie 1/4 recipe
3 TB sugar
2 TB cocoa
1 ½ TB cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions for ALL Pies (except chocolate pie)
Freeze crust for 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix all but butter together.  Pour into crust.  Cover with remaining crust and place on baking sheet.  Bake 20 minutes.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake an additional 25 – 30 minutes.

Directions for Chocolate Pie
Combine first 4 ingredients, then stir in milk.  Microwave, uncovered, for 2 minutes.  Stir.  Continue to microwave in one minute increments.  When thick, stir in vanilla and refrigerate. 

Blind bake crust:  Put dough in pie pan with pie beads/weights.  After 20 minutes, remove pie beads.  Bake another 5 or so minutes, until whole crust is golden.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Chive Talkin'

I am so pleased with the late summer garden here.  The chives recovered from the black bean aphid attack, and are just beautiful now.

 One of the things I especially love in the garden is height.  My blazing stars didn't make it (the deer - sigh), but the chives, planted all along the edge of the side bed, provide a lovely height against the shorter daisies, marigolds, and zinnias. 

On the other side, I have sprawling lantana and butterfly bushes, all taller than I am. 

It's just as untidy by our front door.  I've scattered impatiens and transplanted liriope, moved ferns and helleborus, and I'm pretty pleased by the disorder.

One of the fun things for me about digging around in the garden is, of course, the insects.  I get a kick out of finding their hiding places.  I often see their shadows on the backs of leaves.

Sometimes they're so swift that by the time I move to the front of the leaf, they're gone.  I did catch that last shadow, though - a katydid.

The leafhoppers love the lantana, and I love the leafhoppers.  Look at the range of colors and patterns on their bodies!  They are little works of art. 

Of course, we always have butterflies.

I found a beautyberry bush sprouting up in the middle of one of the beds.  Of course, I left it there to add to the disorder, but not before helping myself to some of the branches with ripe berries (ripe in the fall, not the spring - whoops!).  They make beautiful bouquets.

So do the other flowers.  Usually I spread out the blooms with random greenery, but this time I decided to do an old-fashioned, "come as you are" mix.

 Someone gave me a limelight hydrangea stem this week, and I immediately cut it in half, rolled it in rooting hormone, and planted it.  I'm hoping to get some growth so I can plant it.  The deer have eaten my hydrangeas here, but I can save it for our next place.  They aren't exactly rapid growers, so I've got time.

 I hope you've got some color around you too.  Have a great week! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Come on baby, let's do the {peppermint} twist...

Before too much time goes by and I forget, I wanted to post a few completed projects that I enjoyed working on. 

First, an anniversary gift for Todd.  We're both fans of post-apocalyptic literature and zombies, so I wrote a 70-page choose-your-own-adventure book set in a post-apocalyptic South Carolina, with zombies, and Todd as the star.

"Pat" stands for Post Apocalyptic Todd, and I assure you that the mechanic coveralls he's wearing with the PAT name tag make sense in the story!  It took forever to finish, but was a labor of love.  His card was more simple - a chest of drawers with brads for drawer pulls to give it a little depth.  Socks on the back.  I also do a store-bought card every year where I write the more serious message.

I haven't had much time for card-making or fun projects lately, but when I heard about a friend's good news, I had to bake cookies.  I got the idea from Bakerella to make small round sugar cookies with royal icing on top, swirled to look like a peppermint, then wrapped in plastic to further mimic the candy.

Take your favorite sugar cookie recipe and roll out the dough.  Use a small round cookie cutter to make your shapes.  Mine was about an inch across.

Bake and cool.

I love having leftovers for later!

After they've properly cooled, mix your royal icing to a piping consistency (Sweet Sugar Belle has an amazing tutorial and recipe if you need it!), and outline your cookies.

Add a bit of water to your icing and flood the cookies.  The piped barrier keeps the icing from spilling over.  Next, tint a portion of icing pink, and dab 5 drops of it around the perimeter of the cookie. 

The swirl is easy!  Just dip a toothpick into the pink dots and drag inward, then swirl.

After they've dried overnight, wrap them.  I used plastic sandwich bags with the tops cut off.  Tie with baker's twine, and hopefully you have a reasonable facsimile!

I found a cute box for them, and I couldn't resist a little pun on the card.

I had so much fun making these, and I never need much of an excuse to make a celebration for good news! 

Now the cleanup is another story...sigh.

On to the next project.  Have a great weekend!