Friday, May 27, 2016

Pro Bono

As I've mentioned before, there are always a number of things that volunteer themselves in my yard, as I'm sure they do in yours. They can threaten to overwhelm other plants at times, but mostly they are beautiful and useful in their own way. But last year, I noticed several other volunteers - plants that would usually need to be started from seed or bought as seedlings and planted on purpose, that instead had wonderfully decided to grow without my knowledge or consent. The trick was recognizing them for what they were, and letting them continue to grow and mature as needed. They have returned this year even stronger and more prolific, and all I had to do was leave them alone!

The most spectacular has been this columbine that decided to grow next to the mailbox. It was just a scraggly plant with a handful of buds and a few flowers last year, but now it's a dizzying array of blooms supported by a sturdy foundation of stems and leaves:

dark maroon columbine

These classic little johnny jump ups have spread themselves out in front of the house, adding fantastic punches of color long before the other perennials in that area have had a chance to flower:

Although it hasn't started to blossom yet, this wonderful bellflower has produced several times more stems and buds this year, and I'm excited (and impatient) to see what it has to offer:

It's been a delight to watch these friendly interlopers, and I'm grateful they've chosen to grow and flourish in my yard. And if more decide to come and stay, that would be perfectly fine with me :-)


Every few months, I help a friend by volunteering as part of her "kitchen crew" to prepare a meal for families who have unexpectedly found themselves between homes. It's just a few hours of my time, doing something I already love, that hopefully provides a bit of relief and respite for those that need it. I always look forward to the next time I'm invited to participate, and disappointed whenever I can't make it! What are some of your favorite ways to volunteer your time and energy in your community?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Orange You Glad: Orange Cake with Rosemary Sugar

A friend's mother makes a tried and true dessert from a clipping she has in her recipe box: Lemon Loaf, a delicious and tangy confection that's tender on the inside while crunchy and sweet on the outside. It's a classic quick bread with a soaking syrup poured over while the loaf is still warm, and I (and everyone in my friend's family) love it. But you know how this mouse thinks, and of course I had to tinker just a bit. I wanted to know how it would work made with orange instead of lemon. After all, they're both citrus, and both excellent flavors in their own right. It was only logical it would be just as delicious as the original. What I didn't know was that the addition of a "secret" ingredient would make the whole thing sublime:

Orange Cake with Rosemary Sugar Slices

Orange Cake with Rosemary Sugar

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
zest of one orange
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup rosemary sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature

For the topping:
1/4 cup rosemary sugar
juice of one orange

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter an 8x8-inch square (or similar capacity) baking pan and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, salt and orange zest until combined. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then stir in the eggs. Blend in half the flour mixture, followed by the milk, then the remaining flour mixture and stir until smooth. Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing out to the edges, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Remove and let stand while stirring together the sugar and orange juice for the topping, allowing the sugar to dissolve in the juice as much as possible. Using a toothpick, gently prick the entire surface of the cake, then spoon the topping over, allowing it to soak in as you go. Let cool completely and serve.

Notes: The rosemary sugar provides a subtle, piney note that balances the brightness of the orange. Definitely try it if you have it! But please still make this cake with vanilla sugar or regular sugar if you don't. I decided to bake mine in a cake pan, but you can use a standard loaf pan and bake a little longer, watching that the edges don't get too dark. If the cake is still around after a day, I suggest storing covered in the fridge, but remove and let warm to room temperature before serving.


Monday, May 16, 2016

All in a Row

This Spring has been particularly cold and rainy, and the garden had a very late start. While I typically sow seeds in mid-March, I waited another full month after that - and even then I was worried they might not make it. Yet so far, everything is slowly, but surely, coming into its own. First on my list in the Spring are always snow peas, my favorite mangetout and an absolute pleasure to the eye as well:

Spring Snow Peas

A new packet of "Rainbow Lights" Swiss chard has provided dainty rows of these little darlings, who only need a while longer to be snackable:

My supply of nasturtium seeds is starting to dwindle, but I sowed a single row in any case - after all, how else would I be able to harvest and save more seeds? I was so relieved to see their lily-pad leaves standing proudly in the sun. Not only will the flowers be edible, but the leaves will make a spicy pesto one day:

Even better? Without my thought, planning, worry, or effort, both the chamomile and the borage reseeded themselves in abundance, taking up a whole bed of their own:

So, even if it's late in the game, even if you've never tried, get a few packets and plant some seeds - a little care, watering, and time will still give you results you never expected. And the reward of seeing things grow will far exceed your expectations, too :-)