Monday, May 10, 2010

Spiders That Have Crawled Into My Life

Anyone who really knows me knows that I am creeped out by most bugs, especially spiders. I have been known to shriek during certain encounters, particularly when I am caught off guard by sudden movements from these arachnids.

That being said, I have to admit to a morbid fascination with them that I believe stems from my love of macro photography and natural curiosity. I don't normally hunt them out, but when I happen to see something interesting I like to pull out my trusty point and shoot and take a few shots.

The following pictures are of spiders I've seen over the past few years. The original plan was to look up each species of spider, but after several hours of looking at images on the internet I couldn't take any more adrenaline rushes or feeling the goose bumps coming on. I can't believe what a primal reaction is stored in my body, but I guess that's self-preservation kicking in. Just be warned that these photos may cause extreme discomfort. If you can get past that, you may be able to appreciate the beauty in them. I've personally found myself referring to jumping spiders as "cute" recently, which is a giant leap for me. For some incredibly beautiful EXTREME closeups of some jumping "cuties", look up Thomas Shahan's photostream on Flickr. So, without further adieu...


Phidippus Putnami or Daring Jumping Spider?

This beautiful jumping spider was photographed at Reflection Riding a couple of years ago. I remember being really scared because it would rear up like it was going to leap at me, then jump around quickly. I've since seen video footage of these spiders jumping onto the camera...these guys are pretty bold! I've put out some inquiries on the species...I thought maybe it was a Daring Jumping Spider because they're known to have iridescent blue or green chelicerae (where the fangs are), but Glen from Spiderzrule says that it isn't because it would have to be either brown or black with a white spot. I've seen pictures of a sub-adult Phidippus Putnami in Thomas Shahan's photos that looks similar, but his spider didn't have the iridescent green chelicerae. Maybe because his is a young female, and this could be a mature male??? I just don't know.





crab spider

I found this alien looking spider guarding the lock to my driver's side car door. It's a crab spider, though I'm not sure which one. Crab spiders don't move very quickly, but ambush their prey while hiding inside flowers. (see more info)



This guy came in with one of my peonies from the garden. I don't know what it is, but it's very quick, likes to jump, and is extremely shy.


a very shy guy





Jumping Spider


This cutie is a very tiny jumping spider who is about to eat the bug that looks like a chunk of dirt beside him.





I found this one hiding in a rose outside...






This scary looking monster had built a web barely past the sidewalk outside our front door. It was hanging from really tall trees about face high...Yikes! It hid in the tree during the day, and descended its web at night. There was nothing little about this spider or its web.


Photographed at night from our front steps



Jumping Spider

Here's another little jumping spider I found on someone's car in a parking lot.




This one was found indoors.



Jumping Spider

This little guy was found on a bush, and he feasted on bugs while I was photographing him.

Trying to hide on the underside of a leaf


Enjoying a winged meal



Wolf Spiders really creep me out!

This Wolf Spider was hiding on the back fence in his darkened tunnel.




Granddaddy Long Legs

This Granddaddy Long Legs was hiding underneath a leaf. My husband says he is especially freaked out by these spiders.



I don't know what species this is but it reminds me of a recluse...[shudder]. It was found in the house.




This spider was so tiny I could hardly see it. It was sharing the same bush as the Granddaddy Long Legs, not very far away from him either.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Recipe: One Wild and Lucky Salad

One Wild and Lucky Salad...Beautiful!

This salad was inspired by posts from my FB friend Lana Sutton. She had been showing how people can eat from their yard..."weeds" that are edible and tasty, and she shared some ideas and pics of salads from her own yard.

I've been wanting to try this for a couple of days, so I ran outside this afternoon to pick some wild violets before my husband mows tomorrow. I got brave and sampled some yesterday (amazingly no tummy ache followed), and found the white ones seemed sweeter than the purple, so I picked more white blooms than purple.

Some people that know me know that I used to find 4 through 8 leaf clovers quite often while growing up...in fact, I used to keep track of them by placing 2 per page opening in my Bible...at last count I had over 969 of the 4's, and 30+ of the 5's, etc...(that's not counting the ones I gave away, didn't pick, or threw away because they wilted before I could press them). Unfortunately I misplaced that particular Bible while in college, so I've now got several scattered throughout different books I own. Clovers wilt very quickly once picked, and have to be pressed almost immediately.

The knack for finding them (especially 4 leaf clovers) has continued into my adulthood, so I wasn't too surprised when I went to pick some clover for my salad that I found these "lucky" special ones.


This 5 leaf clover is featured atop a piece of arugula,
my favorite salad green.



I didn't have all the ingredients in my yard - I had to get the spinach and tomatoes from the store, but it's still satisfying to know that most of the salad came from our very own back yard!


One Wild and Lucky Salad


Spinach
Arugula
Wild violets (white and purple)
Grape tomatoes
Wild onions
4 and 5 leaf clovers (may substitute 3 leaf clovers)


Wash, drain and place all the ingredients except the wild onions into a salad bowl. Remember, presentation is key - you want to be able to see the clover, flowers and tomatoes pretty well because the colors and images are spectacular. I started with the spinach, then arugula, tomatoes, flowers and clover in that order.

This salad is best served quickly before the flowers and clover wilt, but can be refrigerated for a few hours if it needs to be, with only slight wilting.



Wild Onion Vinaigrette

Equal parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Wild onions (the bulb w/o greens, washed and minced)
salt (to taste)

Just mix the ingredients well, and drizzle a little with a spoon onto your salad. I only used a tablespoon because it has a strong presence and I wanted the flavors of the vegetation to come through.


Wild Onion Vinaigrette


There are many wild "weeds" that can be used for a Wild and Lucky Salad, including dandelion flowers. I still need to research this more - hopefully I'll find other edible treasures in my backyard!

The day's bounty of 4 and 5 leaf clovers

Let me know if you get adventuresome and try your own yard salad...I'd love to hear all about it!

Close up of a 4 leaf clover with
wild violets, grape tomatoes
and arugula.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Recipe: Lavender Potatoes

Corey and I really crave these new baby potatoes
cooked with Lavender.



A lot of my recipes are inspired by foods I've had in the past, and this one is no exception. Growing up, my mother would make us very similar potatoes when they started coming on in the garden. However, my mother is a traditional Southern cook and would never consider putting lavender into any dish. Here's my version of "Mama's New Potatoes".


Lavender Potatoes


Ingredients:

New Potatoes, washed (for me, the tinier the better)
Butter, melted
Lavender Buds
Salt
Garlic Powder


Parboil your washed potatoes with salt and 1 - 2 tbsp lavender buds until tender. Drain and place onto a baking sheet lined with foil.

Brush potatoes with melted butter, sprinkle with salt and garlic powder. Place some lavender buds atop each potato, and bake at 350°F until the potato bottoms are browned (anywhere from 20 - 40 minutes, depending on how browned you like the skins).

These tiny potatoes turn out creamy and fragrant - perfect alone, or beside a nice roast. Oh, and the butter and seasonings left on the foil...you'll be hard pressed to keep yourself from cleaning up with a little bread or potato! ;-)

Friday, April 2, 2010

It's Spring? Quick, Grab The Camera!

Finally - Spring is here!

Finally - Spring has pounced on our backyard, and for a few brief days we've had glorious blooms and blossoms that will disappear about as quickly as they arrived. Even my Moso bamboo has started to shoot, and it's very early for that (I'll save the bamboo for another posting).

I'm so glad that warmer weather has arrived, because this past winter was long and hard. I thought the low temperatures we had were supposed to kill of a lot of the bugs, but I've seen more insect activity recently than I've seen in quite a while.

The ants are busy as...bees!

My husband and I planted some really beautiful trees when we first bought our house about four years ago. We planted three Yoshino Cherry trees between our fence and drive behind our house. The blossoms are the palest pink, and only stand out as pink when you see them against the Callery Pear tree that was here when we moved in.
Close up of Yoshino Cherry blossoms with Callery Pear in the background



Yoshino Cherry blossoms with Callery Pear in the background

Another stand out in our back garden is the Japanese Weeping Cherry. We originally bought two, and planted one in full sun inside the fence, and the other just outside the fence in partial to mostly shade. The latter one died, and is now officially my "Nightmare Before Christmas" tree!

The one that survived has a couple of branches that reach up instead of weeping...I like to imagine it's saying "Haha! I survived! Victory is mine!" (Guess we should name it "Stewie-san")

Weeping Cherry Blossom


Callery Pear Blossoms


Callery Pear Blossoms

God, Karma, and Luck


Wow...some "karmic circle" that started 5 years ago just closed this morning with an accidental phone call I received. Wow. WOW. I'll be thinking about this one for years.



Lesson learned: God works in our lives even when we don't always see exactly what He's doing behind the scenes.


Romans 8:28
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
"

Shortly after the phone call I found a "lucky" four leaf clover in the back yard (that's it scanned in the photo above). Today's blessings are already turning out to be much better than the challenges of yesterday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recipe: NOT Kasha Varnishkes

I guess I'd better do some quick explaining here...this recipe was inspired by a recipe for "Kasha Varnishkes" (a Jewish classic) that I saw on a television program a while back. I wish I could remember which show it was - probably Martha Stewart, but I really don't remember.

The dish looked so good, but on the program they used chicken fat in the recipe. I don't keep chicken fat around, and didn't feel like buying some chicken just to render the fat from the skin. However, I do - in fine Southern tradition - keep bacon drippings in a special tin in my refrigerator. These drippings are from Applewood Smoked Bacon that we buy at The Fresh Market, and they're great for anything from seasoning vegetables to making "Fodder" (A wonderful and fresh Southern dish that my mom makes when the garden first comes in during Spring). They also remind me of some really nice pork smaltz I've had in Germany.

Needless to say, I was all for substituting bacon drippings for the chicken fat, but then there was the matter of kasha...I didn't have any at the time, and I couldn't find any at The Fresh Market either. I decided to substitute pearled barley for the kasha. At this point the only things recognizable from the original recipe were the bow-tie pasta, caramelized onions (that's what sold me on the recipe to start with), salt and pepper. But what a wonderful recipe of substitutions it turned out to be!

I've made this dish several times because Corey and I both like it a lot. Hope you do too!

"It may not be kosher, but it sure is scrumptious!"


NOT Kasha Varnishkes (aka 'Bow-ties for Gentiles')

Ingredients:

2-4 servings Bow-tie pasta aka Farfalle pasta (cooked al dente)

1 Large yellow onion or 2 small ones

1/4 - 1/2 cup pearled barley (pre-cooked measurement), cooked

2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced (optional - not in the original recipe, but I occasionally add it in)

2 - 3 tbsp bacon drippings

sea salt

fresh ground pepper



The most time consuming part of the cooking process is preparing the bow-tie pasta and the pearled barley. The barley cooking instructions say to boil it for 45 minutes, so I'd recommend starting the barley, then the pasta, then prep your onions and garlic while they're cooking. Don't forget to add salt to the water while they're cooking - that way you don't have to add as much later on.

Cut the onion(s) in half, then slice them thinly before caramelizing them in the bacon drippings. Usually I cook them in a pressure cooker (w/o the lid, of course) so there's plenty of room to add the cooked pasta and barley. If you're going to add garlic, add it to the caramelized onions once they've reached the desired color, and continue to cook for about 30 seconds before adding the drained pasta and barley. Salt and pepper to taste, carefully stir to distribute barley, pasta and seasonings evenly, and serve.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Food For Casablanca


My husband made a very interesting observation as we watched Casablanca for the first time on Saturday - everyone seemed to be drinking, but no one was seen eating. Well, we had a dinner that day that would have had everyone in Casablanca running to the table, and the theme was appropriately Moroccan.

Our friends Elizabeth and Brian (last name "Cook" - very fitting as Elizabeth loves to cook!) invited us to their house for a Moroccan dish she wanted to try out, and to watch Casablanca - our version of "Dinner and a Movie". She and I shared the cooking duties - I supplied some freshly ground spices, chicken, chick peas, dried apricots, cilantro and couscous for the savory part of the meal which, except for the couscous, is cooked in a crock pot - and she supplied the remaining ingredients, and started cooking it early in the day for us. I've posted the recipe for "Easy Crockpot Moroccan Chicken" below, but you can view the original recipe posted by French Tart at this url: http://www.recipezaar.com/Easy-Crock-Pot-Moroccan-Chicken-Chickpea-and-Apricot-Tagine-137530

Elizabeth added the optional carrots, cut at an angle she explained, to "absorb the flavors better". Neither of us had the ras el hanout spice mix, so I used the alternate spices listed, grinding the cumin and coriander (or did I accidentally use cardamom?!) myself. It would've been nice to have the rose petals that are included in the ras el hanout, but it was so good that we didn't really miss the rose flavor.

Meanwhile, I racked my brain for a dessert idea that would complement the meal. I finally decided to make a rice pudding - something mild and delicately flavored with coconut milk - but topped with fresh pineapple purée and a dried apricot garnish that echoed the apricot in the curry. I would have liked to have served the pudding warm but I had to make it in advance, so I prepared individual cups for everyone including little Sophie, and refrigerated them. (See "Lesson Learned" below)

I searched for a good rice pudding recipe, and as usual sort of put in my own flair, as explained below. Here's the url for a highly rated recipe I found posted by Erica G. : http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Creamy-Rice-Pudding/Detail.aspx


We all had a great evening enjoying our "Dinner and a Movie". Brian and Elizabeth had seen Casablanca several times, but Corey and I got to see a great classic for the first time. I've spent a lot of time photographing the food (except for the raw image of the plated food taken by Elizabeth), playing in Photoshop, and finally writing this blog entry, but it was time well spent to document this adventure in cuisine and film. Check out Elizabeth's take on our Saturday get together at her blogspot A Girl In Her Kitchen


CREAMY RICE PUDDING

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup uncooked white rice
  • 2 cups milk, divided
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. In another saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups cooked rice, 1 1/2 cups milk, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until thick and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup milk, beaten egg and raisins. Cook 2 minutes more, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Serve warm.



My Version:


I used 1 cup jasmine rice cooked in 1 cup coconut milk and 1 cup water, used my homemade clarified butter (ghee - it has a toasted nutty flavor) instead of regular butter, omitted the raisins, used the rest of the 12 oz. can of coconut milk with the remaining milk and beaten egg for the pudding, replaced white granulated sugar with Demerara Cane Sugar (has a molasses flavor- you can read about it at Wikipedia), added puréed fresh pineapple and dried apricot as garnishment, etc. In other words, I didn't really follow the recipe, I just used it as a reference guide.


Lesson Learned:

In retrospect the rice set up a little stiffer than I had liked - it was perfect when made, but while it was chilling the rice absorbed more of the creamy pudding than it would have if it had been served immediately. Also, the fresh pineapple was really light and frothy when it was first puréed, but expect some separation of liquid and pulp if it sits for a while. This will not affect the flavor, just the texture.















Easy Crockpot Moroccan Chicken


(We halved the recipe and it served 4, plus leftovers for 1)

OPTIONAL


Directions

1. Heat up olive oil in a frying pan/skillet & saute chopped onions & garlic for 5-10 minutes.


Add chicken stock & gradually mix in flour or cornflour until well mixed & not lumpy.Add honey & tomato paste & mix well.


Add herbs,spices & finely chopped ginger with salt & pepper to taste.


Finally add tinned tomatoes & mix well.


Pour the above tomato,onion & spice mix into slow cooker or tagine.


Add chicken & chickpeas & mix well.


Add dried apricots making sure they are covered by juice. (Add

the carrots if using.).


Give it a gentle but good stir to mix everything together well.


Crock Pot or Slow Cooker - Cook on high for about 3 to 4 hours OR automatic with keep warm facility for up to 8 hours. (Please note that the cooking times depend on your crockpot, the cooking times I have suggested work fine with mine which is a Morphy Richards Slow Cooker.).


If cooking in a Traditional Tagine, do as above & cook SLOWLY over gas or barbeque for about 2-3 hours.


Electric Tagine cooking - same as the slowcooker. If you need to thicken it up towards the end of the cooking time, add cornflour which has been mixed with a little water & add to the tagine - mix well.


Serve with freshly chopped Coriander/Cilantro sprinkled on top & either with couscous, rice, fresh flat bread, pitta bread or salads. It is also good (if not traditional) served with fluffy pureed or mashed potatoes & pasta.




Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Disappearing Art of "Tatting"


I learned to tat today quite by accident, really. I was going to learn from my friend Linda, and about an hour before we were supposed to try and meet up I popped into Hobby Lobby to get a needle and some thread. The only tatting needle they had was included in a DVD 'how to' kit, and they only had one of those. Fortunately, I was able to go online with my phone and use a 40% off coupon, so I got the DVD and a small amount of thread.

Well, Linda's schedule didn't quite match mine, so I decided to pop in the DVD. It was actually very well made - well enough to teach me how to start tatting, and yes, I've now made my first "rings and chains" project (had to pick up more thread first).

I'm still hoping to get some great tips and techniques from Linda...I can't wait to tat some more! I'm very encouraged by her positive feedback, and I agree - not too bad for my first day ;-)

The DVD Title:

"Learn the Easy Art of Needle Tatting and More"
by Barbara Foster, Handy Hands, Inc.