"Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie."
-----Garfield cartoonist Jim Davis

Friday, April 11, 2014

COMO CONSERVATORY SPRING FLOWER SHOW

The Minneapolis/St. Paul area has so much to offer and for all of you who think we have awful weather, now is the time to visit.  Spring has sprung and every day we see mother nature spreading her wings.  I love checking my garden every day to see how much the bulbs and other plantings have grown.  It is truly a delight!  

It is also time for the Como Conservatory Spring Flower Show.  Here is a little sampling of what is on display.

As beautiful as this is, the tulips bordering the center pond haven't opened yet.

The fragrance from the hyacinth was wonderful!










A variety of bonsai were on display in the outside courtyard.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

IRISH SODA BREAD

I'm a bit late for a St. Pat's Day staple, but Irish Soda Bread works well year round, and the beauty of it is that it is made with ingredients that are found in most kitchens, and it comes together very quickly.  Also, there is almost nothing better than home baked bread, fresh from the oven, slathered in butter!  


Irish Soda Bread is unique to Ireland.  It came into existence in the 1840's when bicarbonate of soda was first introduced to Ireland.  Bicarbonate of soda is used to leaven bread in lieu of yeast and kneading.  Using simple ingredients, even the poorest families could have bread at mealtimes.  Whole wheat or white flour, baking soda, salt and buttermilk were the basic ingredients.   Irish immigrants who prospered in America began to add eggs, sugar, raisins and other ingredients.   The following recipe results in a delicious and quick Irish Soda Bread.

IRISH SODA BREAD.
*  4 cups all-purpose flour
*  1 teaspoon baking soda
*  2 teaspoons baking powder
*  1 teaspoon salt
*  1/4 cup white sugar
*  2 eggs
*  1-1/4 cups buttermilk (See note below.)
*  1/4 cup vegetable/corn oil
*  1 cup raisins (optional)
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Prepare baking sheet using silpat, parchment paper, or grease.  In a large bowl, stir together all dry ingredients (flour, soda, baking powder, salt and sugar).  In a small bowl, stir together the wet ingredients (eggs, buttermilk and oil).  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour in the buttermilk mixture; add the raisins if using; then stir all just until everything comes together.  Do not over-mix or the dough will become tough.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and with floured hands shape the dough into a ball.  Place it on the baking sheet, and cut a large cross in the top with a sharp knife.  Bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.

The Irish were historically quite religious.  The cross cut in the top of the dough was made to ward off the devil and to protect the household.   I found that it resulted in a bread that was properly baked, inside and out. 

If you do not have buttermilk on hand, just add 1 tablespoon of white vinegar to a cup of milk and allow it to stand for 10-15 minutes.  Alternatively, if you are in a hurry, simply microwave the mixture for about 30 seconds. 

The end result is a somewhat sweet, somewhat dense bread.  I haven't seen it sold locally, but who cares?!?  I can make it myself, and so can you!  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

HAPPY APRIL FOOLS' DAY!! BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!

For whatever reason, April 1 has been popular as "April Fools Day" since medieval times.  It is the day that people play practical jokes on each other.  In France and in French-speaking areas, the April 1 tradition has been depicted with a fish, and the day has been known as "April Fish" since that term was first coined by a French poet in 1508.  

This is a vintage postcard made in France.  It is a real photo that has been hand-painted.

The middle postcard was postmarked Williamsport, PA in 1907.  The lower postcard was mailed in France in 1905.

MACY'S FLOWER SHOW - "THE SECRET GARDEN"

I just got back from visiting the Macy's annual flower show titled "The Secret Garden."  There was nothing very "secret" about this garden!  Not here in Minnesota!  Not after this winter (with a snow storm in the forecast)!  It seemed that the entire state was lined up to get in!  Actually, it wasn't clear why this was called "The Secret Garden."   Nevertheless, we so much appreciate Macy's and Bachman's putting on this annual flower show.  Please enjoy this post... away from the crowds!


Bamboo




Very tall "bride" with trailing gown of red flowers.


"Delft"







Notice the "80"?

This probably qualifies as a "secret" garden.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

SAVANNAH - CREAMY SHRIMP AND GRITS

Once a year for the past 14 years a group of eight friends (including us!) have been going on a weekend trip together.  We cook, we shop, there may be golf, there may be a dinner game mystery; but we have really enjoyed the fun time together.  The location has typically been within a two hour drive of our homes, to a VRBO, a bed and breakfast, or to a lake cabin or lake home.  Since this year we are celebrating our 15th get together, we decided to do something special.  After a lot of thought, we decided to spend four (or more!) days together in Savannah, Georgia.  Although we are all well traveled, we found that this is one of the places that none of us had been to previously.  More on that in a later blog post.

We needed to get together to do some advance planning, so I decided to host a potluck "Southern Dinner" to include us watching the movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" which takes place in Savannah.   For the dinner I decided to prepare Shrimp and Grits.  You can immediately tell that I am a northerner since southerners will tell you that Shrimp and Grits is a breakfast entree, not a dinner entree.  Oh well...


CREAMY SHRIMP AND GRITS.  Serves 8.
GRITS:
*  4-1/4 cups low-salt chicken broth
*  3/4 cup whipping cream
*  6 tablespoons butter
*  2 garlic cloves, minced
*  1 cup corn grits (or corn meal)
In a large heavy saucepan, bring broth, cream, butter and garlic to boil.  Gradually whisk in corn grits.  Return to a boil, whisking constantly.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, whisking often, until grits thicken - about 15 minutes.
SHRIMP:
*  4 ounces of bacon, cut into thin strips
*  1/2 cup butter
*  1 whole fresh red pepper, seeded and cut into pieces
*  2/3 cup finely chopped shallots
*  2 large garlic cloves, minced
*  4 pounds uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
*  1 cup dry white wine
*  28 ounces canned, diced tomatoes in juice, drained (juice reserved)
*  1 teaspoon seasoning such as Penzeys "Ozark"
*  1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
*  1/2 cup chopped green onions

In a large, heavy skillet, fry the bacon; then remove the bacon and most of the bacon grease.  Add 1/4 cup butter to the skillet.  Saute red pepper, shallots and garlic for about 2 minutes.  Add the shrimp and saute another two minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp to a bowl.  Add white wine to the skillet and boil until reduced to a glaze, about 5 minutes.  Add the drained tomatoes, the Ozark seasoning, and half of the fried bacon; simmer until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.  Add parsley, green onions, and cooked shrimp and simmer until the shrimp are warmed through, about 2 minutes.  If desired, thin the sauce with the reserved tomato juice.  Test and add salt and pepper to taste.
TO SERVE:
Spoon corn grits into shallow bowls.  Top with shrimp mixture, and garnish with the remaining fried bacon.  Serve immediately. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

HUNTE'S GARDENS - BARBADOS

This has been a very harsh Minnesota winter, and an escape was necessary.  The first time I was in Barbados was about 40 years ago, and the last time was a single-day stop when we were on a Caribbean cruise quite a few years ago.  It was a good time to return.  

The contrast between Minnesota's colors (black, brown, gray and white) and Barbados' (brillant, tropical) is dramatic.  The gardens in Minnesota have been covered with snow for months; but the gardens in Barbados were spectacular.  

Huntes Gardens, created by Anthony Hunte, a noted horticlturist,  is centrally located in the parish of St. Joseph, in an unusual sink hole-type gully.   The garden is less about horticultural species and their nomenclature, and much, much more about dramatic landscapes.  Enjoy these photos from our visit.  For more photos and information visit Hunte's Gardens website.  Click on a picture to enlarge it.  


























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