Sunday, May 1, 2016

What's New in the Garden

Hello! I thought I would share some developments in our garden. This weekend's weather was quite a change from what we had all week long. Yesterday was a chilly and drizzly day, but as it turned out, it was the perfect day for gardening. We visited a nursery not too far from our house that I recently heard great things about from a neighbor. They sell only perennials and have been in business 25 or more years.

Paul and I had such fun wandering around, admiring their beautiful selection of plants. They were all incredibly healthy, and the prices were very affordable. The variety of hostas, coral bells, ferns and other shade plants, as well as all the sun-loving flowering plants, was amazing. The staff was helpful and friendly. We left with 13 plants and a bag of potting mix for less than $160 (not counting the ornamental dwarf pine my husband splurged on, which was $66; the man raised it from a "baby" plant, so he had many years invested in it). 

When we arrived home, Paul immediately got busy digging holes, which was quite a task considering the massive tree roots along the back fence line that come from the large water oak in the yard behind ours. But he was a real trooper, getting all but three plants in the ground. I was so proud and so appreciative of all his hard work at the end of an already busy day.

To the shade garden we planted:
  • Two hostas: "Empress Wu" and "Goodness Gracious"
  • Three astilbe: "Visions" (pictured below) and "Fanal"
  • Two heuchera (coral bells) "Snow Angel"
  • One ghost painted fern
I plan to return to the nursery in the fall (or whenever he has his next sale) to buy more shade plants (no, I'm not telling Paul just yet!). We'll see how these plants fill in and then add a few more to create a fuller garden.

For the sun garden, Paul chose a hardy gardenia, below. I can't wait until it blooms. The flowers smell wonderful and they will look pretty at night ... some day we'd like to have a "night garden" with all white flowers that glow in the moonlight.

Paul also chose two sun-loving varieties of coreopsis (common name, tickseed): "Jethro Tull," below, and "Zagreb."

The dwarf Japanese white pine (pinus parviflora "Adcock's Dwarf") is planted beside the temple and Japanese maple. I guess we could now refer to this area as our "Japanese garden."

Other plants that Paul added to the garden a few weeks ago are two new hibiscus (they die each winter, and new ones are planted each spring). There will be even more dahlias in the garden this year -- Paul surprised me and planted more tubers! I was thrilled, as dahlias are my favorite flower. The Asian lilies are also doing nicely and are ready to bloom.

The hydrangea my husband planted last May, below, appears very happy, and is going to flower this year! This is a plant a coworker of my husband's gave him. How nice is that! To see how much it has grown in one year, see this post and scroll to the bottom.

Spring is such a pretty time in the garden. Temperatures are cooler and there is a good amount of rain. Soon though, summer heat will be bearing down on these plants. I hope they continue to thrive. We'll do our best to take good care of them. 

What's blooming in your garden?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Greetings! Yesterday was a glorious spring day -- the perfect day for a home tour. I didn't bring my camera, but I plan to head back to the neighborhood to snap some photos of the more charming homes, which I will share with you in a future post

There were eight homes on the tour. One was brand new but designed to look like a 20s bungalow from the outside. Another was built in 1998 and had the most incredible garden and screened porch (the inside was lovely, too, and beautifully decorated). There was a plain brick ranch built in the 50s and decorated with hip, vintage mid-Century furniture and art. The rest of the homes were older, some with brightly painted interiors and others more neutral and sophisticated. Each house was unique and delightful, with some amazing gardens. There were peonies in bloom, lots of ferns and hellebores in shady spots, a couple of beautiful water features and even an aviary in one yard with bobwhites, finches and parakeets!

Changing subjects ... last weekend I made a batch of cranberry-chocolate chip cookies that were very yummy, so I wanted to share with you my adaptation of the recipe. I used all butter instead of a combination of butter and shortening. The recipe calls for scooping the dough into balls and placing them on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 20 minutes before baking. I did one tray that way and the rest went straight into the oven. The difference was subtle, with the freezer cookies being lighter in color and spreading a little less. Either way they turned out great.  

Cranberry-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar (I've recently started using Trader Joe's organic granulated sugar)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli semisweet chips)
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on medium to high speeds for 30 seconds. Add brown and granulated sugars, baking soda and salt. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in the egg, corn syrup and vanilla until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer, then stir in any remaining flour by hand. Add the chocolate chips and dried cranberries and stir to combine. 

2) Using a small ice cream scoop, drop dough 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8 minutes or until edges are lightly brown (centers may not appear set). Cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Pecan Sandies

Looking for an easy and delicious cookie recipe? Try making a batch of pecan sandies. Only six ingredients are needed: butter, sugar, flour, salt, vanilla and pecans. No leavening agent or eggs are required. These little cookies come out crisp and sandy, hence their name! They're buttery and perfect for people who love pecans, like my husband and my best friend. Give them a try!

Pecan Sandies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey brand)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur 100% organic flour)
1 cup pecans, chopped

1) Position oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and salt and beat until blended. With mixer on low, gradually add flour and beat just until combined. Stir in pecans.
2) Using your hands, roll dough into 1-1/2-inch balls and place on parchment lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart. Lightly flatten each ball with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass or metal measuring cup.
3) Bake until golden brown, 15 to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Transfer to wire racks and let cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

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