Tuesday, October 29, 2013

All about the Pumpkin

Fall has a strong hold on the Garden Spot with lots of fall activities going on. Last week the weather was mild and warm so we were able to get outside to plant bulbs. I wanted to add more color to the center garden, which causes me so much angst because it grows weeds really well and I have a very hard time keeping up with them. We planted two varieites of daffodils and tulips, so that we have spring color as we step out the front door. We had a good little helper. Since Jacob had fall break we brought the boys home for a couple of days. Nathan is always eager to go outside and help with the chores.

Halloween has never really been one of my favorite holidays. I was terrible at dreaming up cool costumes, but the children sure enjoy the holiday, so for them I am doing a little more decorating now that I have a bit of time on my hands. I bought these window gells that added so much color to the kitchen window. The late afternoon sun glistens through the pumpkin gells, making them sparkle behind the lace curtain. I tried to capture that sparkle, but the effects just didn't shine through. Then as the sun set, I wanted to capture the setting sun behind the gells--all orangey and fiery. As I held the curtain back with one hand and snapped the photos with the other hand, the result was an erie, ghostly effect that I rather like. Just playing around with the camera.

Mission: Finding the Perfect Pumpkin

All over the country, parents took the little ones to pumpkin patches to find the perfect pumpkin over the week end. Here the kids wade through the weeds on a farm looking for their best pumpkin. Mom with little Lily on her back pokes around in the weeds.

There is nothing like a warm fall afternoon walking a field road with blue sky above and a ripening harvest soaking up the warmth. (Grammatically speaking, this sentence is unclear as to who is soaking up the warmth: the writer, the harvest, or the kids. I'd say all three).

It is very hard work pumpkin gathering. Grandpa pulls the wagon full of pumpkins, daddy carries Ellie, Lily gets a free ride on her mamma's back, while the other 3 need encouragement to keep going with tired feet and parched throats.

They look pretty happy. Sometimes the four of them don't get along so well, but this day they had a great time working together to find their treasures.

I finished Nathan's afghan. He loved it.

Ellie celebrated her 7th birthday Sunday. She will be 7 tomorrow. 

Lily ends the weekend by waving and in her sweet baby voice saying "bye."

Indeed Autumn has descended on the Garden Spot. It is becoming my favorite season--until the daffodils begin to bloom and the world turns green again.

Despite all of the pine trees we have here at the Garden Spot, we do have these two brilliant red bushes at the front of the house. I don't even know what they are, but I love them next to the blue spruce.

The roses are done. Look at sad St. Patrick. Once brilliant yellow, it droops on the stem, weighted down with the heavy mist that has been falling for two day.

The goldfish in the little water garden just hang immobile in their cold home, nearly dormant, very still rather than clustering at the surface, mouths gapping as they beg for food. 

Which Camera Should I Use Now?

Every now and then a blogger will ask for advice on which camera to use or what lens to add. I have an assortment of cameras. Two point and shoot Olympus with auto telephoto lenses, 7 pixels. Small, light, versatile. I carried the one all over England, Ireland, and Scotland, along with my ancient Pentax Spotmatic 35MM SLR that I bought way back in 197-something. I loved that camera, but once I crossed over to digital, the Pentax era ended. I liked the results the little Olympus cameras gave, but I decided to make the move to the Canon Rebel, a DRL, 12 pixels. I like it. I am still trying to figure out how to use it to get the best results. But I see my friend's photos that she takes with her Nikon and they are amazing. Sharp and clear. I do get frustrated because sometimes my photos are a bit out of focus. I don't have the best eyes, so I blame the problem on my eyesight, but I have read on various photo sites that the standard Cannon lens that comes with the camera is just okay, that it is better to upgrade the lens, which I may do. Now I am asking, "Any suggestions?"

I did make an upgrade. How do you like the results of the last 3 photos that I shot this morning? I just stepped out of my front door and snapped these. I am pretty impressed. Hubby and I made the big leap yesterday. We bought iPhones 5Cs. $99. each. We can now text, which I have so totally resisted all of these years. And him? Ha. We will see if he does text. The girls are excited. But these little phones do have an amazing 8 pixel camera. I may be using the iPhone for more than just calling. 

A Cottage Autumn View

I leave with you that last fall photos taken from Jen's front yard. What a view.

We will have cold, cloudy, rainy with a threat of snow weather all week. I'll be inside sewing for Christmas. We still have some bulbs to plant, but they will have to wait.

Hey. Who made pie last week? Raise your hand. I bet it was delicious.

To our friends in the UK and in Holland: Hope you survived the awful storm that did so much damage. We know bad weather here. Storms do so much damage, leave a mess behind, and then have the nerve to come again next year. Hope everyone is safe.

Have a great week.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


This one is for all those pie maker-wanna be's.  Yes: YOU CAN.

Truly the last of 2013 roes.
As a little girl,  I watched my momma make pies. She never followed a recipe, probably because she had been making pie for so many years that she didn't need one: About a cup of this, a bit of that, a few apples, some of this, a dab, a bit, throw in some. . . . Her pumpkin pie was always wonderful. And most of the time she made it out of winter squash, those giant, oblong, faded orange squash that no one really likes to eat. Dad didn't grow pumpkins, so mom used whatever she had. In those days, we ate what dad grew in the garden year round, as mom canned or froze everything. For meat, he hunted deer and elk and our farm pond provided fresh fish. We were pretty self sufficient back then. I gave up a long time ago trying to cook like mom did, especially her fried chicken because it never turned out like mom's. Her baking and cooking secrets went with her in 1990; today I just have memories and have had to find my own way around the recipe books. I do use her Joy of Cooking cookbook, an original published in 1940, a gift from her mother-in-law.

When we first married, we lived with hubby's grandparents on the family farm. I'd watch his grandmother cook. Now that woman could cook. Everyone loved her pumpkin pie. I'd watch her roll out the crusts. She could literally walk or spin it a circle as the dough slid easily on the red linoleum counter top underneath the light pressure of the rolling pin. She would end up with a perfect round crust. I never got her recipe for pie crust either, but her pumpkin pie recipe, hardly a closely guarded family secret, was on the Libby's pumpkin can. 

The first Thanksgiving after she passed, I volunteered to make the pumpkin pies. Expecting rave reviews because I followed her recipe right from the can, I was rudely disappointed when the whole in- law family declared nearly in unison, "This doesn't taste like grandma's." Now, I know that our grandmothers hold the dearest spot in our hearts and their recipes are sacred; however, I never made another pumpkin pie for the family again. I began making killer pecan pie. I let them try to replicate the recipe. Each year they'd taste and test the pumpkin filling, following the Libby can recipe to the final grain of cloves. Some years the pies were better than others, but never quite tasted like Martha's. Now, as we all age, the recipe is taking on another modification as Splenda subs in for sugar to accommodate the diabetics in the family--and with good results. Certainly not grandma's pumpkin pie, but close, they declare.

So over the years I have learned not to try to replicate someone else's recipes because to do so is just an impossible task. Instead I have developed my own specialities. And I find myself answering exactly what my momma used to say when people ask "what's in it?": "Well I threw in. . . and I added. . . and this time I tried. . . ." Lesson learned: develop your own cooking style, make your own favorites, start your own food traditions. We can learn from our grandmas and our mommas, but in the end we have to be secure enough to go out on our own to make our tradition.  I have my favorite cookbooks: Betty Crocker, Better Homes and Gardens, (both wedding gifts in the mid '70s) and The Joy of Cooking, along with the internet, especially Cooks.com

My Pie (Channeling Martha Stewart)

The Head Gardener got a call from his farmer friend to disc the vegetable field. He salvaged a couple of huge hubbard squash. I asked him cut this one in half for me, I scrapped out the seeds, then placed it face down on the cookie sheet with a bit of water and baked it for an hour at 350 degrees F. 

I found the squash pie filling recipe online:

  • 2 1/2 cups of mashed squash (cooked)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tbls. sugar
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp each ginger and ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
I doubled the recipe to get enough filling for 4 pies. I baked 3 and froze the rest.

I was inspired to change the way I make my crust after I had rhubarb pie at my friend's house a few days ago. She used shortening to make her crust which was smooth, flakey, and perfect. I switched out the 2 sticks of butter that my Martha Stewart Recipe calls for with a cup of butter flavored Crisco. Here are the results:

I was in trouble from the beginning because the dough would not roll out or stick together. I kept adding more flour to get it to stick together. Unfortunately, I ran out of flour. I could barely get the rolled crust in the pie plate without it breaking apart. I couldn't get it to roll out to the proper size either, so I picked and patched, then poured in the filling and over-baked it.

With plenty of squash left over, I followed my tried and true Martha Stewart pie crust recipe the next day:

The key to her recipe: use very cold butter,  1/2 a cup ice water, (water is a variable depending on the humidity-- could require more or less) and process in a food processor only long enough to get the dough to stick together. Some use forks to get incorporate the butter with the flour, others use the pastry blending tool, but I am lazy and want instant gratification, so if Martha Stewart and Ina Garten use the food processor, so do I.

The dough will be cold, smooth, buttery, and workable, but it must be chilled before your roll it.

Well chilled dough should roll out without cracking or splitting. I never have been able to get my dough to spin on the counter top, nor do I get a perfectly round crust either, but I think this one turned out pretty nice. Be sure to give the counter top a good dusting of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the it. Brush off excess flour.

Transfer the dough to the pie plate by rolling it over the rolling pin then carefully place the rolling pin at the bottom edge of the pie plate, rolling it back to the other edge to lay the dough out. Carefully lift and scoot the dough into place so that it evenly covers the pie plate. If the dough breaks, it can be patched together by wetting it slightly to join the pieces together.

Pat the crust into place, making sure that you press it gently into the crease of the pie plate. Using my thumb and forefinger, I press the dough between them to make the ridge of the crust.

I am so excited by now. The crust looks perfect.

I add finishing touches by using little leaf cookie cutters to place fall leaves around the edge of the crust. I dip them in a bit of milk to get them adhere to the crust. You could get fancy and dust the leaves with sugar. Now, the pie is ready for the oven.

You will have left over crust that you. One rule of good crust is not to over work the crust or it will be tough, but I hate to see the crust that I trimmed off go to waste, so I roll it out, smear it with some butter, sprinkle on some brown sugar, and sugar and cinnamon, roll it up, and bake it along with the pie--like momma and Martha used to do. Makes a nice snack for the kids, husband, or yourself.

So here are the finished pies. I over baked them again. I need to pay more attention to the baking part. The squash pie recipe called for 55 minutes at 425 degrees F. I need to remember to reduce the heat perhaps to 375 F. I took a pie to friends last night. Reviews were decent, despite the overly brown crust. The filling is good, tasty. 

The hump in the first pie is a bubble in the crust. My best guess: butter tends to that. So I think I needed to press the crust down a bit more firmly.

I know those who buy the frozen crust or the ready made. Be brave. Make your own. You can do it. As with anything, making a good pie crust requires practice. If you fail, keep trying. 

Thanksgiving in the US is a month away, so you  have plenty of time to practice. If your garden produced an ample supply of butternut, acorn, or hubbard squash and you are running out of ideas as to how to use them up, make a pie.

I had fun with this post. My husband thought I was a bit crazy with camera in hand as I was working, but then he understood and he ate the pie, burned. scorched as it was. 

Have a great week end.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Finding Fall

Do you ever get just plain desperate for a blog idea? How do you jog free some creative ideas for the next post?

I grabbed my camera and headed outside in the late afternoon sun to see what I might capture. I have worn out the Aren't the Horses Handsome, the Cute, Precious Grand Kids, the canning, the too many weeds laments, the  brag posts on the Gorgeous Tomatoes, the Awesome Peppers, and would you look at those Cukes. The Roses are Fading has become cliche. I needed inspiration on this gorgeous fall day.

So I wandered over to the neighbors and shot their front garden. Their glorious mums planted around the rusted old plow scream" FALL" so I poached a photo.

With most of the flowers fading or gone, there is little left in the garden to photograph--or is there? 

Out by the mail box on the road side the last milk weed sports its seed pods that are just beginning to open. I want to spend more time photographing the seeds. They are awesome. 

No seed collection would be complete without the pine cone. 

Or the rudbeckia

You can see how the black berry lily came by its name with its collection of black berry looking seeds clustering at the top of the stalk.

The Jerusalem artichoke has very interesting seed pods.

Finally, the clematis seed head, puffy, puppy dog looking. 

Another Sign of Fall

This morning as week end company left, I heard my friend calling her 3 year old grand daughter to "Hurry, come see." I thought she had spotted one of the cotton tails that roam the acreage. Instead she wanted to show her a couple of hot air balloons floating above. They floated right over the house about half a mile high. Another sign of fall around here, hot air balloons floating in the early morning cold air with slight breezes to carry them on what must a glorious journey. Have you ever ridden in a hot air balloon? Me neither. Don't like small baskets air born half a mile up. Nope. Not me. 

Fall Planting Plans

Saturday started out as a simple trip to town to drop off the plastic pots for recycling at Ft. Collins Nursery, lunch at our favorite Mexican restaurant, and groceries.  Ha. Who ever heard of a quick stop at the nursery to just drop off plant pots?  Nope. Me neither. Not only did I go inside to take a look, I bought daffodils and garlic. Hard neck garlic for our area.  We haven't planted garlic before and I want to plant some this fall. Let's head over to Bath Garden Center, I suggest. Of course, he agrees. More bulbs. I have a plan for the front weed patch garden. More daffodils and narcissus. More giant alliums. A fewMediterranean Bells, new to the garden. I've got a plan. More tulips. More of everything. More color for next spring. I want to be blinded, overwhelmed (as was Wordsworth when he saw a field of daffodils; so over come was he that he had commit his vision to verse) with color. 

No doubt you noticed my absence over the last couple of weeks. We  had out-of-state company last week and friends from the Western slope this week end, so there has been lots of cleaning and preparing for company. Hopefully now things will be quiet and I--we-- can get out in the garden to put my plan to work. As long as the weather holds.

Colorado put on a nice show for the guests from Texas. They woke up Friday to snow. Wet, drizzling snow.

We expected a killing freeze along with the skiff of snow that drifted over the Garden Spot.

The roses were in their fall glory with the cooler weather.

So I picked as many of the mature blooms as possible and my guest arranged them in a beautiful bouquet that lasted several days. 

We had planned to take out guests to Estes Park to see the elk, shop, have a nice lunch. September's flood swept away 85% of the highway, leaving Estes Park an impossible destination. The first week end in October is Elkfest in Estes Park, CO when the bulls are in rutt. They put on quite a show in the alpine meadows as they court the ladies to assemble their breeding herds. The city cashes in by turning Mother's Nature's call to procreate into a festival; however, although Elkfest went on as a planned,  few attended because they couldn't get there. So we took our guests up Poudre Canyon, always a nice mountain drive. As you can see, the trees at the top of hill look as though they had been flocked. The colors were stunning with the white flocked trees, the blackened landscape that had burned last year in the forest fire, and the bit of green lingering from summer.

And, higher up the valley, snow. Real snow. The visitors were happy.

The house is empty again. I have hopes of getting outside to plant the bulbs and to get to the garden center to buy more. I have a big space to fill, but the weather is supposed to turn cold and wet. 

Thank you for stopping by. I enjoy reading your comments. I get back into my blog routine now that life has returned to normal. Have a great week.

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