Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy Spring, Everyone!

Dear friends,

It might not feel like spring in some parts of the country, but rest assured that it's on the way. My irises say so. Forgive the slightly blurry photo; it's starting to rain here AGAIN.

Copyright Bobbi A. Chukran/Earthly Gardener ©2015

IMHO, nothing says "cottage garden" more than purple irises. I also have white ones, including some that an older lady in town gave me a few years back, and a few that I recently "gathered" from an old family cemetery near here. I don't think the residents will mind. :-)

Also blooming are the grape hyacinths and the coral honeysuckle.

For those of you who are into bees and gardens (well, yeah), here's a new "Nameless, Texas" short story I just posted on my writing blog--"Miss Essie and the Green-Glittered Tiara." Enjoy!

Happy blooming,

bobbi c.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Christmas Cake--A Memoir of a Culinary Nature

In Memory of Jennie Neal, AKA "Mamaw" 

All of our childhood holidays usually centered around family and food, and Christmas was no exception. We usually had turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving, but for Christmas, our grandmother would make something different—maybe a glazed ham, or chicken and dumplings. No matter what, it was served with all the fixings which included mashed potatoes, candied yams, ambrosia salad and home grown and canned pickles and green beans that had come from Mamaw's huge garden. There was the relish tray with fresh green onions and radishes, olives and pickles.  There was always a relish tray.

And of course, there were desserts—usually pies—coconut cream, chocolate cream or banana pudding. And only at Christmas, we had a special dessert--Mamaw's Date Nut Cake with Boiled Caramel Icing, a sinfully sugary concoction that consisted of not much more than tons of pecans, dates and a little flour.

The original recipe, written on the back of an old cookbook page
 I can still hear my grandmother's voice complaining "The pecans sure are dear this year," but then she'd smile and tell us we were worth it. I wondered what she'd think if she saw the ancient pecan trees growing in my back yard now, and the carpet of nuts that literally cover the ground.

The main thing about that cake was that it had the most delicious carmelized brown sugar icing.  It's a complicated process starting with white sugar that you burn on purpose then mix with the other ingredients.

My grandmother has been gone for years, and now and then I try to recapture the taste of that special cake. I actually have Mamaw's hand-written recipe for it, but like a lot of recipes written by long-time cooks, sometimes key instructions are left out, or are vague.

I've tried to make the boiled caramel icing for years, and only remember it hardening like it was supposed to a few times. When made right (like, by her), the icing had the consistency of the best maple fudge and it was a kid-magnet.

I keep forgetting that classic definition of insanity (repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results every time), so, since we have a bumper-crop of fresh pecans, I decide to make the cake for Christmas. And of course, I expect the icing to turn out perfect this time.

And of course, it doesn't because the moon phase is out of whack or it's too humid or too hot in the kitchen or I didn't beat it for long enough or something.

(Warning! Even THE JOY OF COOKING says that boiled icings are tricky. NOW they tell me.)

So after fiddling with and watching the icing for hours, refrigerating it overnight then still finding it soupy this morning ("This looks like a floating island cake," I said), as it sloshed back and forth in the liquid icing.  Then I had a memory flash of the batch of peanut brittle I tried to make when I was a teenager that literally got up and dripped off the countertop onto the floor. I never learn.

So...I've made my own new holiday traditional dessert. It's called "Mamaw's Date-Nut Cake with Bobbi's Spoon-on Caramel Icing." 

At least it tastes the same, so I'm happy with that.


Copyright © Bobbi A. Chukran. All rights reserved.


Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Content theft notice

If you are reading this post on the Texas Outdoorsmen website, blog or Facebook page, I'm notifying you that I have not given them permission to repost my copyrighted content, articles or photos on their blog OR Facebook page.

I have made an attempts to reach owners of this site to request termination of the "scraping of content" (i.e. theft)  from my blog but have not heard from them at this date.

It seems that they are stealing content from many garden sites, and legal action will be taken if this continues.

Bobbi A. Chukran
Editor and Owner,
Earthly Gardener

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Feeding the Winter Birds

Great tips for where (and where not) to put bird feeders in the winter.  We feed a lot of birds here during the winter, and I was glad to see some good advice on this topic.

"Birdies? Did you say birdies?" Sorry Missy, birdies are just to watch out the window.

Happy holidays, all!

bobbi c.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What am I doing in the garden now?

Dear friends,

I guess the question should be, what am I NOT doing in the garden now. We've had a bout of cold weather, cold enough to kill off the larger-than-ever basil plants, and then warmer weather, with huge fierce, blustery winds that make me shriek "Auntie Em! Auntie Em! It's a twister!"

I never could stand brisk wind.

However, the wind did help us harvest an amazing crop of pecans this year. We have two ancient pecan trees in our back yard, and so far we've collected a five-gallon bucket.  That's just a fraction of the amount laying on the ground, waiting to be picked up.

In spite of the short freeze, the rosemary is very happy and blooming now--and is attracting tons of honey bees. We do love those bees around here!

Honeybees on Rosemary in November
Luckily, Husband harvested most of the basil before the freeze, and the house smelled like THAT for days. Don't get me wrong--I love basil, but can't eat or smell lots of it at once without getting a headache. He's a great kitchen helper, and whirred the leaves with olive oil and froze them for future use in pestos, etc. And I'm drying some for my Super Secret Italian Mix.

Sweet Marjoram
 The sweet marjoram is growing happily in a large galvanized tub, away from the regular oregano since they tend to cross somehow and end up all tasting the same.  I use small amounts of it in the afore-mentioned Secret Mix and it really makes a difference.

Since we have tons of fresh evergreen rosemary year-round here, I don't rush to harvest it before a freeze. I try to wait until after it blooms, though, but it's not really necessary.  It seems to taste the same, but I like to leave the flowers for the bees. Did I mention we love bees? ;-)

In a former garden in the Texas Hill Country, I grew rosemary as a border around other areas and it did fine on the solid limestone underneath. In my current garden, on the Blackland Prairie soil east of Austin, the bushes grew twice as large in the first two years. Gotta love having "real" dirt!

I do dry some, though, because the flavor is different from the fresh rosemary. A teeny bit of it also goes into the Secret Mix.

As soon as this wind dies down, and I've pulled the bush-that-was-my-hair out of my face, I'll take more photos.

In the meantime, if you have a harvest of your own, check out the short article on How to Dry Herbs in Your Microwave. Bottle some up and give as holiday gifts. People love homegrown mixes!

And if  you're feeling creative, here's how to make a rosemary topiary, from Susan Wittig Albert's Pecan Springs Journal blog.

Happy digging,

bobbi c.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cooler weather, fall is here!

Dear friends,

I know I've been a bit lax at updating this blog but have been busy with the "money-making" activities, AKA work. LOL. I have a new annual Thanksgiving short e-story out, Death at Do-Lolly's Diner, in addition to the two previous ones and am working on a Christmas comedy based on one of my prize-winning plays. More news soon about that.

I also got news that one of my non-fiction stories/essays will be published in the SEEDS newsletter from Texas Gardener magazine, later in November. It's been years since I wrote for TG, and am pleased to be able to contribute there again.  I'll post the date when it's confirmed.

But for now, I thought I'd share some fall and Thanksgiving photos with you. Just because. :-)

A volunteer sunflower
Crossvine blooming and the hummingbirds love it!

A strange but beautiful pumpkin we picked up at a fall stand near San Angelo, Texas

A Halloween/fall centerpiece

Late fall garden harvest

A photo from the punkin patch in Salado, Texas

Goldenrod's blooming and the butterflies love it! Right outside my office window.

And more pumpkins.

 Happy fall, y'all!

bobbi c.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fond farewell to Ginger Snap. . .

Husband and I had to finally say goodbye to our oldest cat, Ginger Snap Ann, AKA "Granny Cat." She wasn't always the easiest cat to live with, she frequently fought with our other indoor cats, but we loved her, just the same.