Aug 28, 2014

End of August: Seize the Summer Update

Seizing the Summer 2014

Summer food? Made and enjoyed, including dinner outside. We’ve gone to the pool 17 times (and hopefully a couple more times this weekend if the weather allows!). We made it back down to the beach and had an amazing time.

So what’s left? We still need to get Oliver an ice cream cone and... the non fun stuff. The garage is still in progress. The street construction is happening, but much slower than we expected. I might have to get the bulk of the driveway sealed while it's still warm out and wait to do the end (that they are going to tear up). We'll see how it works out. We'll get it all done. The important thing is that we've really enjoyed the summer!

Aug 27, 2014

Seeding the Garden... with Seeds from the Garden?

In the raised bed garden I waited so long to pull up the lettuce that it bolted and flowered. I knew I needed to pull it up if I was going to put in more seeds for a fall batch of lettuce.  That's when a gardening-enthusiast friend pointed out that if I waited a little bit longer, I could reseed the lettuce with seeds from the existing lettuce. What a novel idea! Hah!

So I waited and then noticed over the weekend that the lettuce flowers had turned to seed. It was time! So I pulled up the very tall lettuce stalks and shook out the loose seeds into the freshly raked soil. I mixed them in... and now I'm waiting. If nothing comes up in a couple weeks I'll put in some real seeds - but it's a fun experiment!

Over by the sweet peas (in the giant bramble of blackberries, raspberries and sweet peas) I noticed there were dozens and dozens of seed pods. I googled how to collect the pods for seeds and I learned that I should collect the brown ones that haven't popped open yet. They need to be dried out and then can be opened and the seeds collected. This area is already so thick with sweet peas I'm sure it will be overly seeded for next spring already, so it's probably a good thing I collect some of the seeds!

So I collected the brown ones, with dozens of green ones to check back on. I think sweet pea vines would be great to try out in the back where they can be wild and beautiful. Along the fence or in the irises/reeds in the back. I have lots of seeds I to collect on!

Aug 26, 2014

World's Best Chocolate Mocha Birthday Cake

I've been on a bit of a cooking kick lately around here lately, so I thought I might as well share the birthday cake I made for my sister's birthday. It's pretty easy to make and it tastes amazing. You'll never be able to go back to boxed chocolate cake mix again (or worse, flat sugary bakery cake). The recipe is actually a modified version of the chocolate cake recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa powder box. As the Barefoot Contessa will tell you, coffee actually enhances the taste and flavor of the chocolate - a mocha cake makes the best chocolate cake.

World's Best Chocolate Mocha Birthday Cake

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup coffee (cooled to room temperature)
1/2 cup canola or sunflower oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 or 3 round cake pans. I like to line the bottom of my cake pans with parchment paper (trace the bottom of the pan over the paper, then cut out the circle) for a perfect, easy removal every time.

While mixing together the ingredients, boil a cup of water in a tea kettle or microwave.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl (flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt). Add the eggs, coffee, oil and vanilla extract. Mix with a whisk or an electric mixer for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water to the batter and mix together well. The batter will be really thin.

Pour batter into cake pans and bake 30 minutes for 3 pans or 35 minutes for 2 pans. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks. Frost with the world's best chocolate mocha frosting.

World's Best Chocolate Mocha Frosting

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup coffee (cooled to room temperature)

Melt butter and stir in cocoa. Add vanilla extract.  Alternately add powdered sugar and coffee, beating to spreading consistency.

Place the first cake layer on a plate. Frost the top of the layer generously, but not too thick, using a spatula. I've found that if you make the interior frosting layers of the cake too thick, the upper tiers can slide a bit and make the cake lopsided. But if you don't add enough frosting in the middle, the cake to frosting ratio is out of balance and it's too dry. Add the second layer and top that with more frosting. Place the third layer (if it's a 3 layer cake) and frost the top of that, then frost the sides of the cake. Smooth out the top frosting with the leftovers. The recipe makes plenty of frosting for the whole cake.

Decorate as you see fit. I like to top the cake off with super dark chocolate shavings for good measure (I am totally addicted to Green and Black's organic fair trade 85% chocolate bars).

Serve with birthday candles and coffee, wine or tall glasses of milk.

Aug 25, 2014

Birthday Pop Art

My sister's birthday was this month. I wanted to make her something special because she's awesome.  I thought some custom modern artwork with sentimental value would be nice, something that would go with the style she has in her apartment. (I also picked her something nice from Anthropologie to balance it out because you can't go wrong with Anthropologie.)

One of the panels I did was of Cape Cod. Downtown Chatham, the lighthouse, the beach house. It was such a fun trip and I have to admit it looks pretty cool as pop art. I made the artwork with photos and filters in Photoshop.

Aug 22, 2014

Summer Evenings

While I pick the garden in the evening, Georgia lays in the grass and relaxes, soaking up the last of the golden summer light.

Aug 21, 2014

A Quick Stop on Citrus Lane

For anyone who has read the blog for a while, last year I did a 6 month subscription to Citrus Lane. It was a lot of fun, but towards the end I felt like we grew out of it. For a refresher these were the boxes: February’s Box | March’s Box | April’s Box | May’s Box | June's Box | July's Box | August's Box. One year later, I still visit their shop often for gift ideas and all sorts of great stuff. Then they had a box special for August at a very heavy discount, so we decided to give them another shot - maybe they could win me back?

Or maybe not. The only thing in here that really screamed "good for a two year old boy!" to me was the cool it buddy ice pack... just like the one we got in a box last year. Always good to have a backup though.

The rest of the box was sort of themed "things to do while sitting nicely"... something that Oliver doesn't do much of these days. The petit collage alphabet flash cards are beautiful - but he's more likely to rip, bend, fold and color all over them than sit nicely and learn his alphabet. Our several sets of destroyed dollar spot flash card sets are evidence of that.

The tea for two set by Green Toys is cute, but Oliver isn't much for tea parties. I do think it's important to make sure Oliver has a full spectrum of toys for gender neutrality (like his kitchen set that's stocked with all sorts of cool stuff), but sitting for tea with some stuffed animal friends isn't going to happen. I tried. Instead the tea pot is holding some army guys that are "napping" in the play fridge. The other thing is that it's definitely a special mini tea set for the CL box - there are only two cups and saucers with the tea pot instead of the set of 4 with spoons you see in the stores (and what I'm linking to since I couldn't find a set for 2).

The last thing that's not shown is a free video download to help him learn a second language. Once again it requires him sitting nicely and a willingness to learn. Perhaps I have a wilder more stubborn two-year-old than other people, but aren't they all? Even with his favorite movie (Disney's Frozen like every other kid in the world), he's running around like a maniac and jumping around on the furniture. I don't think he'll be absorbing French from a nice video anytime soon.

They probably should have just sent a box full of ice packs...

Aug 20, 2014

Garage Progress

We’ve made some good progress on the garage from where we started. It’s walkable! All the small trash is gone, the boards are cut up and out on the curb. Now we just have the big stuff left and there's still lots to do, but we’ll get there. We need to build some shelves and the work bench and organize all the little things...  At least we can get the bike out!

Aug 19, 2014

Slow Food Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

After the quick and easy key lime pie ice cream, I thought it might be fun to experiment with a real ice cream recipe. The kind that takes time and a gentle touch. The New York Time's "The Only Ice Cream Recipe You'll Ever Need" fit the bill perfectly. I love fresh mint ice cream and this version came out amazing. It's a lot of work but totally worth the flavor.

I started with fresh mint, lots of it. I put it into the chopper and pulverized it with the sugar. I then put all of the ingredients but the eggs into a sauce pan until the sugar dissolved.

I tempered the eggs before adding them to the mixture, then gently cooked the custard until it started to thicken, stirring constantly with a whisk. It's important that you don't use high heat and over cook the eggs - otherwise you'll end up with scrambled eggs in your ice cream mix.

I strained the ice cream through a sieve after it cooled, removing the mint leaves. I let it chill for 4 hours and put the mix in the ice cream machine. When the ice cream was thickened I added chocolate chips whole. If I could do it over, I would have smashed them up first with a meat tenderizer. However since I waited 4 hours, I didn't chill the ice cream until Oliver had gone to bed and I didn't want to wake him by hammering chocolate in the kitchen. However I would recommend breaking them up a little.

Mint Ice Cream Recipe

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
⅔ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
6 large egg yolks
1 cup dry mint leaves
1/2 cup chocolate chips, smashed

1. Pulverize mint in a food processor with the sugar.

2. In a small pot, simmer cream, milk, sugar and salt until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream. Return pot to medium-low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Let the ice cream steep off the heat for 30 minutes before straining.

3. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cool mixture to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

4. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Add chocolate when the ice cream mixture has thickened. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or store in freezer until needed.

Aug 18, 2014

August Garden Update

This has been a great year for the garden. We haven't had good gardening weather like this since the first year we built it. That was a very good year.


I've never seen cucumbers do this well before - even the first year we planted. The entire trellis is thickly coated in vines and for mid-August there are so many healthy leaves. Usually by now there's a lot of powdery mildew and die-off. We have so many cucumbers I barely know what to do with them all. It's been the best year for cucumbers ever. The carrots are still growing well. The musk melon was off to a very slow start - it has just started flowering so I'm not sure if we'll get any melons. The watermelon has been growing like crazy and we have several decent-sized melons but I'm having a hard time keeping them from rotting. Even the melons hanging on the trellis start to go black on the bottom. We've had one almost ripe one we tried to salvage, but so far no real fruit.


The tomato bed is a sort of paradox. The plants themselves are not doing very well. They've been sick with blight - lots of dead leaves and limp branches. However we've had a ton of tomatoes. TONS. Even though the plants look terrible, there have been lots of flowers and fruit. All of the plants have been producing prolifically - we've had a wider variety of heirlooms in larger quantities than any other year. It might look terrible but its been delicious.

Beans, Herbs, Lettuces

The green beans have been plentiful, I didn't even plant them all the way around the tower and we still have a ton. The rainbow swiss chard has been thick and healthy (and beautiful in all the colors!). The lettuce shot up and flowered, I need to pull it up to make room for a fall planting. The oregano and thyme are doing well in the herb section, but my basil completely died and dropped all its leaves. It's funny - last year was a terrible year in the garden for most things, but the basil was so happy. This year most of the garden has been prolific but the basil died.


The flower garden has done well. The zinnias are plentiful (so many beautiful bouquets!) and taller than me. The dahlias are doing well, plenty of blooms. I need to plant a few more next year so I have more. The snapdragons did not do well and are pretty much dead. The two sunflowers are taller than the garage. They are ridiculously tall, it's hard to capture in a photograph how tall they are. The stalks are so thick, I've never planted sunflowers before and it's definitely a fun experiment!

Fruit & Peppers

The blackberries are now winding down. They were very tart but perfect for jam! The brown turkey fig tree (that I thought was dead) is covered in little figs. Some of the citrus fruits (1 lemon, 1 lime) have ripened on the deck in the pots. The peppers in the pepper pots are also doing well - the bell peppers are big and the jalapeƱos are plentiful. It's really been a good year all around.

Aug 15, 2014

Jam & Pickles

It's been a high volume cooking week around here with lots of food posts. We've trying to take advantage of Summer. Lots of good food and lots of pool time so far.  This week I also made refrigerator pickles and another round of blackberry lime jam.  I posted the pickle recipe here previously if you'd like to make your own (so fast and easy!).

This was my third round of jam, so it went very smoothly. The more I do it the easier it gets! This round of blackberry blueberry lime was even more delicious than the first, if that's possible.

There's still more I want to make, but I think we're off to a pretty good start.