Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Final Countdown

As the weather stays warmer (especially at night) we get the urge to start planting everything. I would like to remind you of some statistics about Colorado.

Taken from the Colorado State extension:

Last spring frost date confusion - People quote different last spring frost dates for the same area depending on their risk tolerance. Last spring frost dates are important to home Gardeners to help them plan when to set out frost-sensitive annual flower, vegetable and even tropical container plants.
Last Denver frost dates: In Denver the last spring frost date at a 50 percent confidence level is May 2nd with a growing season of 157 days. If you want to be 80 percent statistically confident it's May 12th and 90 percent confident, May 18th. All dates are based on 47 years of data. The latest last frost date was June 2, 1951.
Last Colorado Springs frost dates: Dates are not very different considering their 6170 feet elevation versus Denver's 5,290 feet. It is May 5th for 50 percent confidence (153 days), May 13th for 80 percent confidence and May 18th for 90 percent confidence based on 25 years of data. Their latest date was June 3, 1951.
Last Castle Rock frost dates: Gardeners at 6,250 feet Castle Rock can plan on a last frost date of May 23 with a 50 percent degree of confidence. In Fort Collins, it's May 10, Boulder, May 5 and Brighton, May 2.

This is essentially saying to pay attention to the weather forecasts. Gardeners usually use the rule of thumb to not plant much before Mother's Day since it falls around the last frost date. After Mother's Day, go crazy!!! The extremely cold hardy perennials can be planted (think of things that you see with either lush looking foliage right now...or even blooms) but wait another week or two for veggie, annual and less hardy perennials to be planted. If you go out this weekend to nurseries or The Home Depot et al try to write down names of the roses that you love...because you shouldn't be getting them...yet. If you DO fall in love with some and just have to buy it, make sure you harden them off before planting them. In nurseries (let's say Picadilly...he he) we keep our roses in extreme warm conditions. Partly because we pot up our roses and we want them to be flowering and looking beautiful by Mother's Day...and partly because it takes them awhile to be hardy for the cold! We have now just moved some roses into our regular greenhouse, but again, it is a sheltered environment.

If you are like me, and have no patience attention to the forecasts and if you've planted your containers already, bring them inside the garage or group them together and throw a sheet over them for protection from the cold.

Mother's Day is right around the corner! T- minus 12 days and counting!!!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Queen of Hearts Overbaked those Tarts . . .

I took the plunge this week and made a fruit tart. I'm more of a cake/cookie baker than a pie/tart baker so it wasn't as if I was betting on a sure thing when I decided to do this. Granted, it was a pretty tart, all in all, but far from perfect. I didn't expect perfection, though, and maybe you shouldn't either, especially if you've never made one before.

The first problem I encountered involved the crust. Despite my anxious hovering, the outer edge obviously overbrowned, thanks at least in part to my recalcitrant oven. I can hardly wait for that old tin can to keel over so I can start combing the stores for a beautiful new convection oven. You know, one of those polished-nickel-finish professional-looking jobs that every food magazine is touting these days? It's only a matter of time, or so I keep telling myself. (We're going on fifteen years with the current oven. Can it really be that much longer??)

Forgive me, I digress.

Back to the tart. I had no trouble at all making the tart dough itself. Against my better judgment I used one of Martha Stewart's recipes; she and I are not always sympatico, if you know what I mean. There's a bit of a rift in the trust department, as far as her recipe reliability goes. I've been let down, and more than once. But yesterday, turning the other cheek, I gave the old gal another chance at bat and used the basic tart dough recipe from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook. I wasn't wholly disappointed this time. In fact, the dough came together very smoothly and rolled out with no glitches whatsoever. It was an extremely cooperative dough, with an unexpectedly pleasing buttery color. (Leave it to M.S. to take the color palette of the unbaked dough into account when concocting the formula. She probably used paint swatches to get it just right.)

Using a French rolling pin, I rolled the dough out between two pieces of parchment on my cold marble pastry slab. (The slab had been in the freezer for about 20 minutes.) That worked like a charm and kept the dough from getting too soft. The paper peeled off cleanly and the dough settled comfortably into a nine- inch tart pan. After a little tucking, and the requisite docking with a fork, it resembled a cozy blanket, what with that pretty scalloped edge. And the warm golden glow it gave off had me mesmerized . . .

So I put the unbaked tart shell in the fridge to chill a bit before baking. Once cold enough, I laid a piece of parchment over the dough and filled it with dried beans to act as "pie weights" and keep the shell from puffing up in the oven since it would be blind baked. Put it in the oven.

It soon became clear the outer edge of the crust was well on its way to browning, long before the rest of the dough could reciprocate. After about ten minutes of baking, I covered the edge with a larger sized, overturned tart-pan ring.

That helped, I'm sure, but ultimately the whole thing just got too toasty. The shell was usable, and use it I did, but it was certainly not as picturesque as I'd hoped it might be. I set the shell aside to cool.

Same breezy process with the pastry cream. (I used the recipe from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion cookbook; the King's never really let me down.) It blended together just as the recipe described, with no problems. The recipe didn't even mandate straining the pastry cream, and yet it ended up quite smooth. I put the hot pastry cream into a glass bowl, covered the surface of the cream with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, and it went into the fridge to chill.

At this juncture I started preparing the fruit. Shooting for a vivid tart, I used blackberries,
strawberries, and kiwis. I actually did a test run of the fruit placement on the inside of the tart pan ring, to see what arrangement would look best and to make sure I had enough pieces/slices of each fruit. (I thought I was leaving nothing to chance . . . how poignant.) After I sliced the kiwis, being obsessive, I rounded them with a cookie cutter to eliminate the uneven edges left from the knife. The stage was just about set.

It's amazing how little pastry cream you need to fill a shallow tart shell. After seeing the amount of pastry cream the recipe yielded--perhaps one and a half cups--I was afraid there might not be enough, but the opposite was true. After I'd poured and smoothed the cream in the shell there was actually some leftover. Fruit placement, the next step, was relatively stress free.

Now, as you probably know, the final touch on a tart like this is typically a glaze, both to add that beautiful sparkly quality and, in some cases, to help stave off deliquescence. (For the unitiated among us, deliquescence refers to something becoming soft, fluid, melty. Not a good thing when used in reference to a tart.) There are as many recipes for tarts as there are for pies, cakes, cookies, and every baking expert seems to have their own opinion on the best type of glaze to use on fruit.

There are those who advise using heated, strained preserves, typically either apricot, currant, or strawberry. There are those who advise using strained jam mixed with a liqueur like kirsch. There are those, Martha Stewart among them, who advise using a homemade sugar syrup comprised of granulated sugar, water, and lemon juice, boiled and left to simmer for a while. The latter is what I used. As I gently brushed the crystal clear syrup onto the fruit, its impressive shimmer warmed my heart. (Yes, yes, I used one of those new floppy silicone-bristled brushes, have no fear. No stiff old bristle brush for me. I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know.)

At this point, one could say I rested easy. Grabbing the camera, I photographed the tart for a few minutes and felt pleased with its overall appearance, despite the darkened crust. I put the tart, in a covered glass cake dome, into the fridge as it wouldn't be sliced for hours.

Perhaps three hours later I looked at the tart again, the way a new mother admiringly peeks in on her sleeping newborn. Sigh. . . Said newborn was looking alarmingly watery on top. Crestfallen, I delicately dabbed up the watery liquid with the corner of a paper towel, being careful not to mess up the cream. Long story short, the tart kept deliquescing throughout the evening. That sparkly glowing aspect, which in my hubris I had so coveted, was now sadly diminished . . . along with my dreams of a tarty triumph.
Postlude: The tart was sliced and eaten about six hours after it was glazed, and it certainly wasn't bad. But, next time, I'm holding off on the glazing until perhaps half an hour before serving. And, I'm going with the strained jam method instead of sugar syrup. I suppose I should have known there was a reason Ms. Stewart mandated the glazed tart should be served "immediately." But I find it disagreeable to admit she was probably right. Most disagreeable.

(To comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the word "COMMENTS" just below.)

Swine flu? Not exactly.

I sometimes forget that I do have asthma. It doesn't act up a lot; maybe once a year, and usually a couple of days using an inhaler takes care of it. Not the case this past cold. I have been miserable and finally went to the doctor. Evidently, my lungs sound terrible and he prescribed me on a steroid for four days along with an antibiotic. So..THIS is how my kids feel when they have an asthma attack?!? NO THANK YOU!! I'm miserable and sore from coughing. I can't wait until the light at the end of the tunnel.

My biggest concern, as always, is to be able to spend time with my mom on Sunday since she did her last chemo today. I would not have been able to do this if I was coughing all over the place. I so hope I will be well by then!

The doctor did ask if I had been to Mexico recently....awesome. Nothing like the fear of swine flu in your brain.

The weather was beautiful today, but I spent all of my time working on stuff for my father-in-law. I'll be working at Picadilly tomorrow. The weekend is full of cloudy days again. Perfect to plant some more things. ;) I have new pics of my latest tulips that have bloomed. I'll post them tomorrow, probably. This is the first year that I have tulips blooming along with my iris! Too cool!!

Monday, April 27, 2009


I tell you, if you wish for something hard enough, it bites you in the ass. We've been wanting moisture because we just didn't get enough during the winter...and it's been crazy with the ups and downs of temps. I don't think this year will be a good one for my gardens. Things are either flattened by the snow, or freeze tipped, or....

I went outside and shook my flowering Mt. St. Helen's Plum. It's a newbie, so all of the branches were completely bent over. So were the branches on my serviceberry, my prunus cistena and my lilac. Ugh! I KNEW I should have taken pictures yesterday!! Bye, bye blooms!

And...what's with the beautiful weather during the week, and crappy weather on the weekends? We've got STUFF to do!! Things to sell! Places we want to go! But NO. Rain, wind,'s enough to make me want to move to Arizona.

Okay, I'm done ranting. I just want warmer weather. Please?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What's next . . . McCupcakes?

In the last five to ten years, depending upon whom you ask, cupcakes have taken on an entirely new aura. The cupcake extravaganza, expressed in terms of shops dedicated almost solely to the petite cakes, presumably began in New York City. What was once just a chic Manhattan fad, like most chic Manhattan fads, eventually infiltrated even the most white-bread suburban hideaways of the not-altogether-sleepy Midwest.

No longer just a fad, independent cupcake shops of every stripe abound these days, sprouting like dandelions where one least expects. They entice with their unavoidable cuteness, their coy come-hither window displays (often featuring color schemes heavy on pale pink and chocolate brown), and--most critically--their promise of a momentary return to those vanishing memories of childhood bliss. In other words, they are virtually inescapable. But then, who would want to escape? Not I. Nor you? I didn't think so.

Of course, there are those among us who believe the flurry of such shops opening in the last few years is directly related to a sense, at least among society's more enlightened members, of the value of moderation in all things. That moderation includes the need for dietary self restraint, coupled with the irrepressible hedonistic and very human urge to indulge impulsively from time to time.

The demure cupcake, though majestic in its own quiet way, satisfies this urge perfectly. It's relatively inexpensive, certainly so when compared to the cost of purchasing a whole cake. It discourages the opportunity for one to eat to excess, especially given that its size is fairly standard and predictable. It arrives on your plate, or in your white paper bakery bag, as a single self-contained unit, making it easily portable and thus eliminating the need to wolf it down immediately if one chooses not to do so.

So there it is, in a nutshell (or, more appropriately, a cupcake liner). Whether motivated by nostalgia, economics, moderation, portability, or the simple unquenchable craving for something soft and sweet, there is always a good reason to invest in the tender joy of a cupcake. What harm can it do?

And as far as the ongoing proliferation of cupcake shops, where to draw the line, you may ask? Well, don't start worrying about that just yet. Don't you have enough on your mind already just wondering where your next cupcake will come from?

I've been sick

the past couple of days. Since I haven't been sick since last year, this is a real whopper. Fever, chest and head cold and real weak. Trying to get better fast by sleeping and drinking fluids. Just what the doctor tells us to do, right?

I need to be better soon. Mom's last chemo is just around the corner...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just one more

I spent the day with mom and dad today. It was nice and relaxing. My uncle is in town and he spent some time teaching me how to make the best lasagna I've ever had. I'm hoping I can remember the recipe, but know he's only a phone call away...

Mom is still recovering after chemo #5. She received her first shot, and will not do it again. Extremely painful, and the idea of doing nine more shots after that is just too much. I understand. After all of the poking and prodding and everything she has gone through, she is ready for it to be over. Who COULD blame her? With this, we're not sure if she'll be able to do the last chemo in three weeks or have to wait longer. Dad is worried that this will change the outcome, but also understands that a person can only take so much.

Mom found out that she is anemic, too, so now not only do we have to worry about her white blood cells, but also her red one's. (Or did I say that backwards?) So...they'll be monitoring that, too. She's been very weak, hardly able to stand without her legs getting wobbly and I just hope that she gets her energy back enough to withstand this last chemo. The idea of one more chemo is enough to bring her to tears. Each chemo is becoming harder and harder. I thank God she only has one left because we use that as a mantra in getting her spirits lifted. "Just one more. just one more..." I know the chemo is working. The numbers show this. I just wish it could be over for her so her body could heal. I love her so much and hate to see her in such pain and her body so weak.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rain, rain, go away!

Ugh! I'm so tired of the rain! I guess I can't complain because there are some in Colorado that has received over two feet of snow...but 45 hours straight rain is very unusual for these parts. It's been cold, rainy and windy so I have been cooped up in the house. I just want to be outside! Thank goodness for warm weather in the forecast, I just might go nuts. I have realized that I would not do well living in the Pacific Northwest. I just can't handle the gloomy weather and it really does bring my spirits down. I have been searching garden sites like and just checking out my fellow gardening blogs wishing I was outside planting. I did end up buying a few things from Bluestone Perennials and might buy more during their annual sale that happens in May. I've been missing out on Bluestone's catalog because I moved and forgot to change my address with them. I finally remembered to send an email to them to get an address change. I can't wait to see what they have!

The boys have been handling the weather better than I have. Staying in pretty good spirits. Riordan ended up going outside for about 30 minutes when the rain finally stopped. I came back in with his shoes soaked. For awhile there, our back yard had tiny lakes all around. I haven't been able to work at Picadilly and have had some extra time to clean the house before the next round of work begins.

Here are some of the items I bought from Bluestone:

Brunnera Jack Frost
A beautiful shade lover that has variegated leaves.
Tiny forget me nots wave in the breeze during the Springtime. I've been wanting Brunnera since I first visited the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Lobelia Cardinalis
This one is planted in my Nursery's garden. It says it likes shade, but ours is planted in full sun. I love how long the flowers lasted, and also love the green and red foliage. I'm not positive where I'm going to put this, but most likely in my hot garden bed up front.

DIGITALIS purpurea Dalmation
I'm a huge lover of Foxglove but have yet to get it to reseed itself. I'm hoping with more plants, I'm beating the odds and something will actually bloom. Foxglove's are very poisonous, so I will be keeping my dog far away from this plant in my backyard.

Astilbe White Gloria
I love this plant. Some people tend to be afraid of white, but I've got an idea to incorporate in my shade garden variegated leaves, blues, pinks, yellow and whites all along the side of my fence. This plant will be a part of the plan. This goes along with the Brunnera above, some blue lupine (that I haven't bought yet...heh, heh) and another plant that I still can't seem to remember the name that I bought last week. I will also be adding a Patriot Hosta. I already have planted the Mohican Viburnum, scattered yellow columbine, Fothergilla and some Japanese Anemones. I need to find some more summer shade lovers because it will be absolutely stunning during the spring, but will lose the color later. Any suggestions out there would be appreciated!

I know it seems as if I've only bought cooler tones this year, but I skipped over a lot of the blues and purpes for yellows and reds last year. I'm putting my cooler tones in the backyard while keeping the hot beds up in the front. All in all, I still have plenty to move around from front to back to keep things looking nice and really have to finish my rabbit fence to surround my flowers so my dogs doesn't trample and eat them this year. I like the rabbit fence because you still can see through it and it doesn't detract from the plants. I'll see if I still think that way when I plant more.

Here's looking forward to the sun!

Inspiration is just a Bakery Away . . .

I've been visiting some fantastic bakeries lately. Not buying a doggone thing, but loving just about everything I've seen. You might say I've been in these bakeries in spirit, though not incarnate. I've been virtually visiting an array of utterly stunning and unusual establishments' websites, looking for ideas and inspiration to fuel my daydreams. I stumble upon these sites now and then via other baking related blogs, through magazine articles, by perusing readers' comments in a wide spectrum of foodie websites, and sometimes by googling odd or not-so-odd baking terms/phrases. You name it, these wonderful bakeries and pastry shops are lurking out there, waiting to be found. I thought it might be fun to share with you a list of a few of these extremely appealing, occasionally daring, always yummy-looking shops.

Particularly encouraging to me, for some of these enterprises, are the "pin-stripe-suit to pastry brush" stories that describe their beginnings. Frequently, or so it seems, these businesses are conceived by individuals who've left the corporate world either by choice or by force. They're often started by people who are bound and determined to pursue a different kind of professional life. I can relate to that dream. And so, now and then, I love to take a few minutes to meander hypnotically through such sites. Maybe you feel the same way?
That's just a tiny group to start with. I'll add more as I find them and deem them worthy of our list. If you find any you deem worthy, please let me know!


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Nothing Comes from Nothing, as the Song Says, but Something Definitely can come from Leftovers

What does one do with a little bit of this and a little bit of that after a cake or cookie project? A few tablespoons of shaved chocolate, a baggie full of chopped pecans? A scant cup of chocolate ganache that was tossed into the freezer at Christmas time? Well, sometimes odds and ends like this can contribute to a joyful amalgam. That's what happened with the cake pictured here. On a Sunday afternoon a month or two ago my husband mentioned he would like to bring a cake to work the next day for a small birthday celebration. So, being in a baking mood (which is most of the time, of course) I set to work and quickly baked a two-layer yellow butter cake from scratch. Nothing fancy or too laborious.

Things were looking a little dicey when the new frosting recipe I tried didn't come together well. Though it tasted good, it didn't look smooth and worthy of coating a special-occasion cake. So I used it only to fill the cake, not on the outside. Afterall a cake's visual appeal is often partly illusion, is it not? Next, I defrosted a container of ganache leftover from a holiday project and used that to cover the outside; perfect, I thought. But, despite ganache's natural lusciousness, more illusion was called for. Out came the chopped toasted pecans. I think these were leftover from a cookie project, also at Christmas. But just which cookie, I can no longer recall. No matter, the pecans complemented the ganache perfectly in taste and substance. For the final touch, I sprinkled the top generously with shaved/grated chocolate, a combo of dark and milk chocolate Callebaut. (This intriguingly flavored, very high-quality chocolate can be purchased in roughly hewn chunks from a local gourmet market near my house. I use it frequently for a variety of purposes when baking. It's pretty versatile and extremely handy to have around. Not really too pricey either, all in all.) And the final touch for this impromptu celebration cake? A charming little starfish crafted in a flash with a tiny bit of the dark Callebaut, melted in the microwave and poured into an inexpensive Wilton candy mold. Voila! An easy and relatively quick cake worthy of an office celebration.

So, if anyone ever tells you there is no room for improvisation or creativity in baking just tell them to back off, because we all know that's simply not true!

Lotsa stuff goin' on

We've heard the final decision and I really can't argue with the logic. This will upset our lives for awhile, but I'm so thankful that the consequences weren't worse. He's a very bright kid that made a big mistake...and he does need to know that it just won't go away. He received a phone call from a friend that I let him answer and it upset him that the person wanted to know why he did what he did. He tells me it's none of their business. This is true, but I told him it's not going to go away. People are curious. They want answers, and eventually he'll have to talk about it.

Brian and I are very thankful that a resolution has been made and I am grateful for the prayers.

Today through the end of Saturday we're supposed to have a big storm that is slowly moving through CO. We've been hearing everything from 6 inches to 20...and we will fall somewhere in between. Right now it's raining (thank you God!) and it's supposed to turn to snow around midnight tonight. I so wanted to take a nap today. I worked half a day and on dreary days like this all I can think of is lying down in my warm, soft bed and closing my eyes...but I needed to pick up Daegan from school.

Riordan went on his first field trip today!! He went on the bus for the first time, too. I felt bad that the weather was crappy, but was able to talk to his teacher when picking up Daegan and she said the animals were very active and the kids had a great time. I so wanted a picture of him on the bus!! The boys are off school again tomorrow and of course won't be able to do much of anything due to the snow. It will be a heavy spring snow, so maybe we'll be able to make a family of snowmen or something. I was planning on working tomorrow and Saturday, but with the weather the way it is, not much for us to be able to do. No customers will brave the storm.

I wanted to give an update about Brian's job searching. He's still putting his resume out there, but was told by his current temp employer that they put him in the budget through the 3rd quarter which is the end of September. I have this feeling that they are waiting for after the hiring freeze to hire him back. I don't want to get my hopes up, though. Brian called me today wanting to know if he could apply for a job that says he would be doing 25 to 50% traveling, and I told him he needs to at least apply and see what it entails. I would miss him dearly (we've been very lucky to not have to spend a lot of time apart) but I am anxious for him to get a job, and do not want to limit his options. We have expenses that are coming up, and if the price is right...who knows? We have been so very lucky that his current employer still needs him to be there during the projects that Brian leads.

Lastly, I would like to lift up my friend that is in California that is dealing with some personal issues. I just pray that he finds himself out there, and that he can stay sober to live and love life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Working brings sanity

It's been a hell of a week. Without going into details because I promised, Brian and I have been worrying about our eldest. Tomorrow will be rough. I worked today and tried not to think about what tomorrow could bring. It was a good day. Davey ordered a whole bunch of perennials (YAY!) and I got to order the annuals that I want to pot up in containers for selling. We're way behind on this...and I'm hoping they'll turn out all right before Mother's Day. We have this beautiful book that shows some ideas for containers and I decided to pick three designs and just do multiples of the same designs. Easy on ordering and actually making the containers. I wish I could find some pics, but they aren't available on the internet.

Hey guys? Pray for us at 1:00 p.m. tomorrow. That's when it all goes down.


Monday, April 13, 2009

More spring pics

Yesterday morning I was able to go out and take a couple of shots of things in bloom...not as much as I'd like, but at least we have SOME color!! It was cloudy and rainy all day, needless to say the tulips weren't cooperating with me.

Same tulips today with the sun out! They're happy little campers.

I have a quite of few other tulips that haven't bloomed yet. New to the gardens. I'm very excited to see how they turn out. Things are greening up in front of my eyes. What a lovely sight!

Friday, April 10, 2009

My Favorite Blueberry Muffin Recipe

I like to use frozen Maine blueberries when I make these. They're small, tasty, available all the time (you can get them in a big bag at Costco, for eg.), and not horrendously expensive. The texture of these muffins is beautifully soft, not tough or rubbery at all. They are delicious and they smell great when they're in the oven. Don't expect them to stick around your house for long. My kids absolutely love them.

This recipe is from the book Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, on page 72. I hope they won't mind me sharing it with you. This is an excellent book, by the way. I bought my copy used for about half the cover price.

Makes 12 muffins.

Flourless cooking spray for greasing (if you decide not to use paper liners)
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour (divided use)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. nutmeg (the CIA says "grated nutmeg" but heaven knows I never have a real hunk of that around)
3/4 whole
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups of fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry, or unthawed frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin pans lightly with cooking spray or use paper liners. Sift the 2 cups flour, the baking powder, salt, and nutmeg into a bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, blend the milk, egg, and vanilla extract.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and smooth in texture, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the wet ingredients, mixing on low speed and scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed to blend the batter evenly. Increase the speed to medium and mix until the batter is very smooth, 2 minutes.

In a bowl, scatter the 2 tbsp. flour over the berries and toss to coat them evenly. Working by hand with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, fold the blueberries into the batter, working gently and just long enough to distribute the berries evenly.

Divide the batter evenly among 12 muffin cups. Bake until the top of a muffin springs back when lightly pressed, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Let the muffins cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove them from the pans to finish cooling.


I planted, planted, planted!!

Today was an awesome 63 degree day. Perfect weather to divide (even more) plants, move plants that weren't in the right spot, and plant the new plants I bought today. Tee hee!

Here's the list of the new ones:

Echinacea Sunrise

Veronica 'Reavis' Crystal River

Malva Sylvestris Zebrina

Baptisia False Indigo

I also moved my centaurea, my lone surviving Bridges Penstemon and divided my Solidago and Rudbeckia. I am slowly filling in the holes that were noticeable last year. I also bought a couple of perennials for the only shady part of my gardens...and am finally visualizing what I want it to look like. Pictures will come...later in the season!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chemo #5

Today mom and dad received good news from Jenny, one of mom's nurses at the cancer center, and also the lead nurse of her trial. Mom's CA125 is down to 19! This is only after 4 chemo treatments. She just had her fifth chemo yesterday, and has one more to go. We are very positive that the chemo is makes her weeks from hell worth it. Mom sounded great (she kept yelling things out so I could hear her in the background as I was talking to dad) and dad sounds wonderful, too.

They figured out that instead of mom getting the ONE shot right after chemo (you know, the one that left her with migraines?) she'll come back one week after her chemo and take 10 consecutive days of shots instead. It's more of a hassle, but this allows mom to get through her week from hell period and the chances of headaches are a LOT less. Dad was going to call and see if she could receive the shots in Longmont rather than Ft. Collins since the trip is shorter.

Dad said that her being in the teens is awesome and once we get her lower than 15, we can sigh a big sigh of relief. The next step is how to KEEP her numbers down. :)

Do a happy dance! Mom is doing great!

Double Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Yep, this is one of those recipes with the "hidden" veggie. They seem to be all the rage lately, and they're not always all they're cracked up to be, but this one is a delicious exception. Seems like everyone and their sister are cranking out cookbooks chock full of this kind of stuff. This recipe won't disappoint you, though. It's moist and tasty. The chocolate pictured below (with the sliced zucchini) is from a milk chocolate Easter bunny who sacrificed his life for the greater good. The good of cake, that is. You can use regular chips or any broken bits of chocolate you have lying about--dark, semisweet, or milk, as you prefer--in this recipe. Even a mixture of all three, though I admit I haven't tried it yet, sounds interesting to me. Whatever you have on hand should do nicely.

2 and 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 cups softened unsalted butter
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 large eggs
3 and 3/4 cups sifted all purpose flour
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa (use Dutch process cocoa if you, like me, crave intensity)
1and  1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 and 1/2 cups grated zucchini (drained if very wet)
1 and 1/2 cups semi-sweet mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

Mix sifted flour, cocoa, soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a large mixer bowl at low speed, beat the sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs until blended. Increase speed to high and beat until fluffy (about five minutes). Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture alternately with sour cream. Scrape bowl as needed and continue beating on low until well blended. Increase speed to medium and beat for one minute.

Fold in zucchini and chocolate pieces. The batter will be thick. Spread evenly in the pan. (The pan will be pretty full, and the cake may puff up in the oven a bit beyond the rim.) Bake approximately 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the top comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan, on a rack, for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and complete cooling on a rack.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

And now for a little 20th century classic American poetry . . . because poetry and baked goods just go so well together . . .

The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm

The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

--Wallace Stevens, 1945

**Stevens was an insurance executive by day, and a brilliantly original American poet by night. So you see, anything is possible. Even creating enduring poetry in the midst of what appears to be a garden variety, middle-aged guy's daily existence.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cutting down in springtime and other mundane things.

I survived the day. Wasn't sure if I was going to. My back is killing me, but ibuprofen seems to be handling the pain. I potted up over 150 grasses today and had dirt in my eyes, up my nose, in my hair, down my shirt, in my get the idea. Long day indeed.

I just wanted to put out a friendly reminder for those that have russian sage, butterfly bushes, and warm summer grasses, it's time to cut them down to about 18" from the ground. We leave them intact for better winter survival, and also because the grasses look beautiful in the wintertime. If you have Karl Foerster, you'll notice it is already greening up at the bottom. Both butterfly bushes and russian sage start new growth from the ground up, so cutting off the old growth keeps the plants healthy.

On Saturday,the winds were so bad that the plastic top on our green house ripped off. Poor Davey and the guys had to move all of the perennials from one house to the next. I spent a lot of the day starting to move them back. Davey asked me how I'd like to organize it and I got really excited about how I'd love to see the perennials look and offered my ideas. I'm not working again until Saturday, but I'd love to go in and organize some more.

I am so excited to start buying more things for my backyard. I've been eyeing some peonies, Home Run roses, Blue Sea Holly and about 50 other perennials. I don't think I'll be able to stick with just shrubs in the backyard because my true love is perennial gardening. So many to choose from! What will I do when I run out of room???

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stella's Sour Cream Pound Cake

This is a very good pound cake with a wonderful velvety texture. One of my mother's classics.

2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour (sift first, then measure out 3 cups)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup good quality dairy sour cream (use a high-quality brand like Breakstone or Daisy; thicker and creamier works better than moister generic brands)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. lemon extract

In large mixer bowl, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop and scrape bowl as needed.

Sift together flour, salt, and soda. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream, beating on medium-low speed after each addition. Add extracts and vanilla; beat well.

Pour batter (it will be thick and fluffy, and it won't actually "pour" like typical cake batter) into greased and floured 10" tube pan or bundt pan. Smooth out top of batter to make it even all around and, because of the batter's thickness, try to ensure air "gaps" don't exist that will create bubbles in the finished product. Bake in 350 oven for at least one hour (my mom used to need to bake it about 1.5 hours in her oven, but that's much too long for my oven); don't underbake. Cake may test done with a toothpick inserted but not have reached the stage that will produce the nicest texture. This may be a trial and error proposition based on the idiosyncracies of your own oven. Cake top may be fully golden brown long before cake is really done baking, so beware. Cover cake top lightly with foil if you're afraid it will overdarken but cake is still not done.

Cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing from pan to cool completely on a rack. When completely cool, the cake can be glazed (chocolate ganache, lemon zest glaze, vanilla glaze -- all are good) or left unglazed, as you prefer.

One interesting variation that my teenage son requests, is to use granulated sugar, vs. flour, when greasing-and-flouring the pan. The sugar lends a subtle, sweet, crusty aspect to the outside of the cake.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


Riordan and I went to McDonald's the other day so he could play on the playground and release some of his never ending energy. During the meal, he started to rock out (not sure what led to this, but I had to take a picture to share with his daddy and Uncle Gus). I texted it to Brian and then emailed it to Gus. Gus sent back this picture:

Even from thousands of miles away, Gus still can make me laugh...I miss him so much! Gus will actually be on leave sometime starting next week for the next two weeks. He's going to Germany and meeting his girlfriend. Stacey is all kinds of excited, and Gus sounds like this will be a much needed vacatiion. Remember, he's not allowed to leave the compound (I think that's the right word) so he's been stuck on a very small part of the world for months and months. Since he's more in danger of getting hurt on the plane than where he's stationed, I say a quick prayer for him that he and Stacey have safe travels. I love you, buddy.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rip Van Winkle

I have decided that I am a better woman if I take naps during the day. It's amazing the amount of energy I have in the evenings if I lay down for two hours. If I don't take naps, I'm pretty much useless after 8:00 p.m. The problem is, it takes me forever to actually fall asleep, although it seems to be better if I work my ass off during the day, get my things done and then try to fall asleep. If I have ANYTHING that needs to be done, I can't turn off my mind, and then I don't fall asleep.

Brian always cracks me up with his love for naps. I'm starting to understand why he loves them so much. You feel so much more refreshed the rest of the day!

Naps rule.

It's been so cold today that I actually saw something that has never happened before. My cat, Hera,was trying to curl up with our dog Tessa to get her body warmth as she tried to sleep. Tessa is still young, and immediately thought it was time to play, but I can see it happening when she grows out of her puppyhood and can actually sit for more than 5 minutes at a time. I've seen pictures of dogs and cats laying together, curled in a ball, but have never seen it with my animals. Too cute! As I type now, Hera is laying on my arms on my lap. It makes blogging a bit more difficult to finish.

Sleep is pretty much all you can do on a day like today.

Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.

Today was a bit disappointing. The weather forecasters were predicting 5-10" of snow and we barely got a 1/2". It's been super windy and miserable outside. Davey sent me a text message saying I didn't have to come in, so I've been doing inside work which makes for a very long day. Daegan is feeling a bit better. He slept in until 10 this morning which I don't think he has ever done. He has the same sleeping habits as I do, with the same internal alarm clock that wakes him up daily. He had a fever of 100.4, but after giving him some Tylenol this morning, it hasn't come back. I miss his joking around when he's sick. He's in the "sick fog" that kids get into. Always hard to see. I remember when my kids were little that I wouldn't mind them being a little sick because they would want to cuddle more with me. That doesn't happen often anymore...

Tomorrow we'll be going to a skating rink for Daegan's birthday. We've had three out of 8 people RSVP, but I'm expecting to see at least two more because people rarely RSVP anymore. I just hope that Daegan is pretty much back to normal by the afternoon! He already had his birthday be a letdown, I'd hate for him to feel icky at his party.

I worry because mom is coming, and I don't want her to get a cold right before her chemo. I think I'll call her this evening to tell her to wear a mask when she's there if she feels like she needs to. The last thing we need is for her to get a cold.

Today is a day that I wish would just be over. I can handle a lot of things, but wind gusts up to 40 miles an hour freak me out. Once in awhile, it sounds like our house just might blow over!! It reminds me of when I lived in Kansas and a huge storm was brewing...usually leading to a tornado warning close after. Here's to a new day!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The day after

Poor, poor Daegan. He came home feeling pretty miserable yesterday. Had a low fever and was exhausted. I gave him some Tylenol and let him rest his eyes before dinner. He looked so pained when he heard we were having his favorite meal (spaghetti) and was upset that he wouldn't enjoy it very much. I also had pie ready for him...which he ate, but not with his usual gusto. I let him stay home today so he could take a nap and take it easy. Plus, he was invited to go to a Mammoth game for his birthday with his uncle and aunt and he did NOT want to miss that!! His fever seems to be gone, I'm hoping he takes a nice nap and feels good enough to go tonight.

Yeah, it's probably a bit weird that I let my kids stay home so they can do something fun in the evening...but he was really looking forward to it. My son is everything to me...along with his happiness.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


First off, I want to thank everyone for the kind birthday) wishes via email and telephone. It really meant a lot to me this year. I haven't had too hard of a time turning 34 (maybe when I pass the 35 hump, it'll be harder) but it freaked me out when Brian started talking about his twenty year reunion coming up in two years which means mine is coming up in four. HOLY COW!!! This blows me away. It's been 16 years since I graduated high school? BOOM...I felt old.

Brian and I spent the day together on my actual birthday. We went to test drive the Toyata Venza just for fun, walked around the booming city of Longmont, met with my parents for lunch and then went to one of my favorite places to shop...The Flower Bin. I actually didn't end up buying anything, but I sure love to look around. It was so nice to be able to talk to Brian without the constant interruptions from the kids.

Today is Daegan's 9th birthday. We're doing our family celebration tonight, and then he's having a party at the roller skating rink on Sunday. We've never invited so many kids to a party before, and I hope they all can come. Daegan is very senstitive about things like that.

I remember the day Daegan was born. Since I had been induced with Corrin, I wasn't sure what actual contractions felt like that meant he was coming. I had had contractions with Daegan since I was 33 weeks pregnant, so I wasn't sure. We were with Kaiser at the time, and I remember telling Brian that we should stop by there before heading to the hospital because I was afraid if I wasn't in labor, our hospital fee would be outrageous! So, here I was, concerned about the contractions and we stop to be checked out. Some Joe Schmoe brought me into a private room, checked me out, and said, "Oh yeah, you're ready, time to go to the hospital!" So, we drove to Denver and went to the hospital. Checked in, did all of that, and then the doctor came in a checked me out., I was hardly dilated. No more than I had been the previous week when the checked. So, we waited around, waited...not wanting to go home. I believe the doctor took pity on me, because she removed my plug...and made things happen.

There was a snow storm happening, and quite a few people had quite a drive to get to Denver, so we kept putting off calling our family until we knew for sure Daegan was coming. Once the doctor said, "Oh yeah, she's getting somewhere now, I can tell by how she's hugging the wall as she walks through the hall" Brian called our parents. By the time my mom and dad got there, I had received my epidural and all things were great. Epidural FTW!!

When Daegan was born, he was 8 lbs. 13 oz with the biggest sized head I had ever seen. :P Perfectly formed, looked like a 2 month old!!

Seems like yesterday he was born. Time flies so quickly!

Happy Birthday Daegan!