Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Spring In Pittsburgh Is Finally Here

After so much back and forth with rains and warmer days, we are finally feeling the effects of Spring here in the Pittsburgh area.  We will be having rain off and on all week, but the temperatures are predicted to be pleasany.

Budding Forsythia Bushes

I need to walk more and I truly miss my Tipper who I would walk when the weather changed.  Yesterday as I was walking I stopped to talk with some neighbors who have forsythia bushes along their fence.  They are just starting to bud this year.  In years past, they have been in full bloom along with the daffadils.

Dogwood 2014
Last year on my walk I spotted the neighbor's Dogwood Tree and it's blooms.  They are not as full as previous years but they were definitely starting to show their white blooms.

Dogwood Spring 2013
In 2014 at this time the Dogwood Trees were just full of blooms.  As I've stated before, what a difference a year makes in the growing patterns of the flowers.

Purple Azalea
Even though the dogwood isn't as full, the Azalea Bush is in full bloom and showing beautiful colors.  I'm thinking of putting an Azalea behind my Madonna.

Tulips for the Madonna

The Madonna across the alley from me has some spring blooms cropping up just in time for the Month of Mary in May.

Tulips under the Rhododendrongs

The tulips are starting to bloom very nicely and this group of bulbs flowered just below the Rhododendrons that I featured last year.  This year the buds are just starting to get big enough and should be open soon.

Blossoming Tree

I'm not sure what this tree is in one of my neighbor's yards, but the blossoms remind me of crab apple.  I'll have to ask my neighbor what kind of tree this is but it is in full bloom.  What surprised me was that there was a bird in it singing but it never flew away.  The birds are getting used to my comings and goings and don't flit away as much when I go in and out of my kitchen.

So spring has sprung, the grass has risen and I know where the birdie is.  In the tree waiting for the blossoms to turn into fruit.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Asian Lily Explosion - Thank You, God

In 2012, I planted two Asian Lily plants in my walk up surround.  They were sparse but pretty.  Since I haven't had much luck with anything in this garden other than wildflowers, I wasn't hopeful that they would flourish any better than the other plants I have tried in that spot.

Wow! what a difference a year makes.  Early the next spring I found the plants flourishing and growing tall.  I never expected these lilies to be so profuse or to sprout such beautiful flowers. Early on this year they looked like tall stems with nothing on them. That is usual for all of the bulb plants I have planted in this location so I was resigned to just getting stems and no flowers.

Can you imagine my surprise and the wonderment when these small buds started to form.  As they grew, my awe grew right along with them and this is what I find greeting me every morning as I walk to my car.  This has  been a wondrous experience and one that I'm sure that God has his hand in.

My Madonna with her profusion of lilies

 Thank you, God, for surrounding my Madonna with such a wonderful profusion of color.

My Madonna after her refreshed paint
Since then my Madonna has been painted by a neighbor to reflect her beauty and the surrounding gardens are waiting for this year's profusion of flowers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Walk Through Nature's Splendor

I miss my morning walks with Tipper since she went to doggie heaven two springs ago. I tried to get her back into form so to speak.  She gained so much weight over the winter months that she waddled and had problems getting up on the sofa.  It broke my heart to see her pleading look at me from her new bed next to mine because I could no longer lift her to sleep with me.  That was not the whole meaning of my walks though.  I too had gained those extra pounds that needed to come off.  The whole meaning of my walks would be lost when I saw what nature was blooming all around me.
Hiroshima Cherry Tree 2016
This spring I was so awed by the beauty of the Hiroshima Cherry Tree that we had planted at the American Legion in Aspinwall in honor of my son who had died while serving in the Navy.  The snow white flowers bloomed and soon there will be cherries on it to feed the birds.

New growth on the rose bushes

In my own rock garden my rosebushes are sprouting new foliage for this year's growth.  It wont be long before the stocks get tall since these are long stemmed rose bushes.  As the buds start to show I will await my summer roses which give me so much pleasure.

As I would round the corner with Tipper, this awesome display of white and purple blossoms strikes me with it's beauty.  These two dogwood trees were planted years ago by the current owner's grandfather and it was so nice talking with him and watching the respect on his face as he talked about his grandfather.

Dogwood in neighborhood

These traditional spring flowers have a whole legend about them that is so significant of this time of year and the whole Easter season.

Nestled below the white beauty is this gorgeous Azalea Bush with all of it's regal splendor.  This one has such beautiful lavender and pinkish purple buds.

My yard used to be alive with Violets growing among the grassy edges but alas my concrete driveway disturbed them and they never grew back.  But, to my wonder their beauty still surrounds me in my neighbors garden among the lily of the valley.

As I continue along my walk I am reminded of why we are on this earth and what beauty God has given us for our enjoyment.  There is a suggestion that my day lilies may be coming up.  We will see if they bloom this year.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Convention Hospitality Room Dishes

Next week is the state convention; so what do I bring for the Hospitality Room?  My husband and I would drive to conventions and we bought an igloo cooler that could be plugged into the car cigarette lighter and then adapted to regular electricity in the hotel room.  We were then able to travel with things that would be available at home for entertaining.  The following recipes are some of my favorite suggestions for entertaining and taking to the Hospitality Room.

picture from billscottgroup.com

I have two favorite dips for parties and usually my daughter makes the spinach dip that is served in Round Rye Bread that is hollowed.  The dip is poured into the hollowed out part and the bread that was pulled out is then broken  up into bits around the bread.

I find that the dip is gone before the bread and the bread is then left to be thrown away.  My suggestion is to put the dip in a shallow bowl and then slice the bread into larger cubes so that there is less to throw away.

It has been my experience that vegetable trays although popular to bring are not ones that are eaten at parties.  I'm always looking for ways to use the leftover vegetables.  When I saw the above photo for illustration, I was intrigued by the notion of combining a popular dip with a tray that may or may not be eaten. Once the chunks of bread are gone, this tray offers a second choice for the dip.

My second favorite dip is one that my friend shared with me a few years ago at Christmas time.   It is a very tasty Shrimp Dip that you make with salad size shrimp.  I make this shrimp dip more than just at Christmas time because everyone in my family seems to like it.

I had bought an extra pound of shrimp when I made the Macaroni Shrimp Salad .  This is a good place to use it even though it is sometimes hard to find the salad size shrimp at our local market.

Another great dip is a crab spread which is made with cream cheese and seafood cocktail.  This one can be taken to the convention and made there since the cream cheese needs to be room temperature.  It can be served with crackers around it or in a serving tray by itself. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Yesterday, TODAY, Tomorrow

What lies ahead?  The Answer should be, "Don't know, don't care."  I say that because if you are constantly living in the future or what you want to be your future, you will have missed the most important time of your life, "The Present."  Today, was given to you as a gift and you should appreciate the special time it affords you to do just what you were intended to do with your life.  For some, that is bringing joy to others through service and caring and for others that is giving the care giver the opportunity to extend their special gift in life.  We are afforded exactly enough time to be what is important which is an article of significance to those around us.

What makes me think this way?  I don't know but I do know that I'm where I'm supposed to be when I'm supposed to be and that I only meet those along the way that are supposed to have a significant part of my life.  When my Mom passed, I stated that she had now passed on the baton and it was my turn to take over.  My husband gave me the biggest compliment for being able to recognize the significance of the passing on of responsibilities through death.

Take time to smell the Roses.

The catch phrase is, "Take time to smell the roses."  If you are not aware of your place in life, you can't do that.  My whole theory is be happy with what you are and where you are even if that means sitting on the porch in a rocking chair. Yesterday is gone.  Tomorrow may never come.  Today is a gift to be used to the fullest.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Red White & Blue Porch Planters

A few years back in my search for blue flowers, I came across this little blue buttercup flower that I stupidly threw out the name card at The Home Depot on Route 8 north of Pittsburgh.  It is somewhat purplish in the centers but the flower itself resembles blue.   My red, white and blue porch box was the center of my display over the summer months.

For those of you who don't know my story, I am the proud gold star mother of a navy man.  In the spring my flag comes out and flies in my garden from May until Veteran's Day in November.  I have replaced my flag many times but it is part of my summer garden display.  So the one you see above is ready for replacement but I haven't found one yet this year.

Four years ago I found the begonias that you see pictured at Giant Eagle in the Waterworks.  I bought two plants to be hung on my double plant hanger right off the middle of my deck out back.

I was so proud of my find because they were red and would compliment the white ivy geraniums that I have out back.  Well the best laid plans of men so to speak.  The two plants were so heavy that putting the first one up bowed the cast iron plant hanger.  I tried reversing the plants and hanging the ivy geraniums on the double hanger but they also bowed the hanger.  At this point I gave in and pulled the old and worn out hanger out of the ground.  It was originally bought when we moved into this house some 12 or 13 years ago and has seen it use.  I gave it to a neighbor who will use it at his summer cottage to hang hummingbird feeders.

Last year, I tried lobelia for the blue which as you can see is gorgeous in hanging planters.  I started with seeds and nothing grew.  I bought a few small plants and put them in my boxes and again they didn't make it.

I should have bought the hanging planters I saw at Home Depot and done the red in white ivy geraniums in the box planters on the railing as I had done in years past.

This year I went a different direction and I bought Fuschia hanging planters for outside my deck.  I am trying to attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  I still have the box planters but they are going to need some thought as to what to put in them this year.

I tried to winter my fuschia plants and followed the instructions but I ended up with dried up plants that broke off at the roots.  I will abandon that idea this year and just concentrate on my hibiscus that I bought to attract butterflies.  I think this year I'm going to try to do the hibiscus for the entire garden and I'm up for a Yoshima Cherry Tree like the one we planted at the Legion in my son's memory in the back yard to attract my birds.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Choosing & Using the Right Cooking Tools

Over the years, I have lost some very helpful tools and acquired others.  Life is so much simpler when you have the right tools to do the job.

Making a good meatloaf is the result of having the right tools.  It is better for flavor to use ground meat that is higher in fat content.  This now means I have to shop for ground meat in the pick 5 section of my supermarket because they insist on making lower fat content packages in the regular section.  This causes the meat to ooze fat while it is cooking.  So I make my meatloaf in a stainless steel pan that has a groove around the edges to collect the fats during cooking.

The meat sits in the middle on a flat surface while the edges are curved to collect the oil drippings.  HINTS: I always save a coffee tin to catch the drippings so that they don't go down the drain or make a mess in the trash basket.  My son started putting a sheet of aluminum foil lining the bottom and sides which can be let congeal and then thrown away.

Once the meatloaf is cooked, it is handy to have a spatula large enough to lift the entire meatloaf from the pan onto the platter for setting before cutting.

I bought the pan which was actually advertised as a lasagna pan.  With the lowered edges I can't see the benefit in making lasagna in the pan, but it is perfect for my meatloaf.  The elongated spatula that is pictured, I acquired when two of my daughters were working for a pizza shop that went out of business.  The owner of the shop told the girls who also managed the shop for him to take whatever they wanted.  There was a similar one at Bed Bath and Beyond but it cost $95.  I found the exact same spatula online at a restaurant supply website for $3.

Another tool that was acquired from the pizza shop was this double handled block cheese cutter.  I use this when I make home made pizza.  It cuts the entire pizza with one cut.  I can then use the cutter to make the pizza 6 or 8 cuts depending on how many I'm feeding.

I also use this tool to cut and shave my 10 lb. block of chocolate that I am melting down to make my chocolate molds or for dipping pretzels.  This work by cutting off chunks big enough to be shaved or broken down further using this tool.

 This smaller spatula is a find that I made on a trip to Bed Bath and Beyond.  I use it to cut my lasagna or frittata.  By using the spatula to measure and cut in squares, I have the perfect size pieces for serving.

My son uses it to flip over easy eggs because it is easier to handle and has a cutting edge that fits under individual eggs.

This spatula would also work well at that birthday party for cutting the cake after the first slice has been made by the birthday person.

The pie crust cutter is another tool that I have found other uses.  I do have a hard boiled egg cutter that I formerly used to cut up my hard boiled eggs for potato and macaroni salads.  I have since found that using the pie dough tool works better and chops the egg into smaller pieces that lend more flavor to the salad.  This also serves to not leave egg whites in chunks which to my taste detracts from the flavor of the salad.

I then use the hard boiled egg cutter to cut the last egg for decorating the salad along with slices of fresh pepper if I'm taking it to a party.

It takes time and experimentation to find the right uses for all of the tools that you may already have in your kitchen.  Just because you bought it for one use doesn't mean that it can't be used for something totally different and become a tool you would miss if you didn't have it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Weather Man Be Nice, Planting Season is Approaching

It's pretty sad when the biggest topic of the day is the weather.  We have almost made it!  It's April 17th, the day after Easter!  This past Winter was one out of my wish list for Winter weather.  We had two snowfalls that needed to be shoveled.

The rest of the season was handled by salt pellets of some sort or another to melt the little bits of snowfall.  Because of the cold weather and the snow being so light, I was able to clear a path on my sidewalk with my leaf blower for some of the storms.  There were hardly any ice days of which to speak.  I had to buy an extra supply of calcium chloride.  What I had left over from last year came with tiny pellets of black substances such as ash.  Not only did I need to clear off the snow, when it was all over I had to clear the black pellets off my sidewalk.

I'm am attempting to move on to Spring and Spring subjects, but again the forecasters came in with their scare tactics.  Punxsutawney Phil predicted and early Spring and I'm hoping he was right. True, the counties East of Pittsburgh are expected to get early snow but we here in the Burgh should dodge the ball once more and only get rain..  The snow is daunting in that the chill factor comes into play but it isn't anything that we seasoned Pittsburghers are not used to.

So, once more I'm in the planning mode for what will be my subjects for the coming weeks.  Coming soon will be Easter and the Easter Lilies.  Coming up In May will be Mother's Day, which by my friend the horticulturist's advice is the time that it is pretty safe to plant outside.  I left last year's hanging planters and the front porch planters outside this year.  It's time to plan what is going to go into them.

Two years ago I had Ivy Geraniums hanging planters and it was a profusion of wonderful red and whites.  I over populated the front porch planters with them that year so I have to be choosy if I plan to do the geraniums again and only put one plant per container.  Then I can put some other smaller blue flowers around them to keep up my Red, White and Blue Theme that I try to achieve each year.

I love Bougainvillea but they are too hard to keep and I've only been able to keep them one season.  I first found this plant at a local volunteer fire department flower sale and I got so many compliments on my hanging planter that year that I continued to try to grow them in hanging baskets.  Reading the article I linked I see that they are a climbing annual and can be grown in our area if gardened properly.  Perhaps I will give this one another try this year but in my back yard with a trellis instead of the front garden.

I've been searching the internet for a Butterfly Bush.  I would love to see butterflies and humming birds in my yard.  The ugly garage on the far side of my property was torn down yesterday so I need something to break up the edge of my property line now.

This what I want to see from my porch
Source:  www.network54.com

After reading an article though, I've decided on Fuschia instead of the Butterfly Bush.  Those are more controllable.

That's my thoughts for today.  I guess I'll have to work on my plans for summer a little further before I purchase anything for this year.

I'm not one to start my gardening from seeds so I will be haunting my favorite places to find plants soon.  I have mostly bought from Home Depot and KMart but I recently saw an ad from Lowe's.  I also shop for hanging plants at a local florist, Burke and Haas, Always in Bloom.

Last year, I found a hanging honeysuckle for hummingbirds at Winschel's Hardware Store on  Butler Street in Etna.  I plan to look there again this year because I planted the remaining planter in my yard and it did not make it to bloom this spring.  I was so happy with this hanging planters because it attracted hummingbirds within a half hour of my hanging it on the porch.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Project Italian Easter Bread

Easter Bread was traditionally a Good Friday project in my Mother-in-law's house.  She started the morning hard boiling her eggs and then dying them.  After she finished her eggs, she started her Easter Sweet Bread.  The difference from her weekly bread baking was that this bread was made with eggs and sugar.  She would lessen the amount of water she used with her yeast and add the same fluid amount of eggs to the recipe. 

This loaf of bread is not traditional Italian.  Can you spot the error?

I pulled this picture from a yahoo search at http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images?_adv_prop=image&fr=yfp-t-701&sz=all&va=italian+easter+bread.  There is something wrong in that there are an even number of colored eggs on this loaf of Italian Easter Bread.  I was taught by my husband that it is considered bad luck to have an even number of eggs in the bread.  I normally put three eggs on my loaf but this is the shape of the loaf that I make.  The link will take you to various types of Italian Easter Bread shapes that can be made.

Yeast Dough ready to be kneaded down

In order to make Easter Bread you need to start with your regular yeast bread recipe and then alter it for sweet bread.  Where it calls for warm water and the yeast, you first remove about a cup of water.  After the yeast has fermented into the water, replace the removed liquid with six eggs at room temperature.

Braided Bread with colored eggs ready for the oven

The whole  Easter Bread recipe is made the same way as yeast bread except for the addition of the eggs and sugar.  Some even add a drop or two of yellow food coloring but that is just for looks.  Instead of normal loaves of bread, our family makes the braided loaf that is similar to the one above.

Pan of oven baked Fritta or Frittata

Traditionally, Easter Bread is made on Good Friday and then refrigerated because of the hard boiled eggs in it.  This bread is not eaten before Easter Sunday.  A loaf is taken out of refrigeration about an hour before the Fritta is ready in order to be eaten at room temperature with the traditional Easter Brunch.

We will talk about Fritta on another day.  As always, "Munga" and "enjoy."