Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring break!

I just got off the plane after a 5-day spring break trip to Arizona.  You may be wondering why I'm bringing up an Arizona trip on my blog about Iowa life.  Well, quite a few Iowans spend their winters in Arizona.  My grandparents "wintered" in Arizona nearly every year since they were married back in the late 1940s.  When my grandpa was farming, he'd take the family down for two-week vacations.  Then when he retired in his late 50s, he and my grandmother bought a mobile home in Apache Junction to stay in the winter.  Now my mom and stepdad have moved to the area, where they also live in a mobile home park for retirees.  Most of the people who live in their park are from Canada, Iowa and Minnesota.  The "Iowa" folks get together for breakfast at least once a month.

Well, I need to get off the computer and spend some time with my hubby, who didn't join me on the trip.  But I'll be sharing more about my spring break in Arizona later this week.  Please stop back to read more!

Friday, February 25, 2011

PW's Pig Cake

When I saw this Pig Cake recipe from the Pioneer Woman, I knew I needed to try it.  My mom made a version of this cake for my bridal shower, which I loved.  And my husband loves it when I make cake mix recipes.  I like to stock up on cake mix when it goes on sale for 99 cents at the local grocery store.

My hubby took a few pictures as I was mixing up the cake.

The cake turned out great!  My husband seemed to like it, too, since he kept going back for seconds - and thirds - and fourths.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Misty afternoon

I was driving to town the other day to check out a few Presidents Day sales.  I saw these sheds out of the corner of my eye, and I had to stop and take a picture.

I've seriously driven past this old farmstead dozens, if not hundreds, of times, and I've never noticed it before.  Maybe it captured my attention because the misty weather fogged out the surroundings and made the red buildings pop from the landscape.

It's funny how we take these little barns, sheds and farmsteads for granted as we drive down Iowa's highways.  It's not something that people who live in the cities get to see everyday.  I get to drive by cattle, hog barns, rivers and corn fields each morning on my way to and from work. And usually, it's a peaceful drive.  I'm a lucky woman to live in such a beautiful, productive land.

Oh, and by the way, the snow is gone. For now.  Here's hoping we don't get another snow storm next month.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Treats for my sweetie

I've been feeling a little under the weather this week, so I haven't been doing much of anything.  I did manage, however, to make a few Valentine's Day treats for my hubby.  He requested that I bake him up a batch of chocolate-dipped heart cookies.  It's one of the first recipes I tried when I was learning how to bake.  Nowadays, I try to bake mostly from scratch, but these cookies are made with refrigerated cookie dough.  Admittedly, it's pretty great not to have to make a super mess in the kitchen and use pre-made dough and cake mix once and a while.  These would be a great kitchen activity for kids, as well.

Of course, I couldn't resist trying a new brownie recipe for V-Day.  I've seen the Bon Appetite recipe for Browned Butter Brownies with Walnuts floating around the food blogoshere, and they looked absolutely divine.  So I baked up my own batch, and they turned out amazing, as promised.  I think it's my new favorite brownie recipe -- and surprisingly easy!

 Do you have a favorite treat you like to make for your sweetheart?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2011 garden seed

Spring has sprung!  Well, almost.  Last week, the daytime temps were 0 degrees.  Tomorrow, we're expecting a 60 degree day.  Since it is February after all, there's a pretty good chance that we'll probably get colder weather (and possibly another snowstorm or two) before spring arrives.  But it's never too early to start planning for my spring garden.

I finally went ahead and ordered garden seed from my favorite local source, Earl May Seed and Nursery based in Shenandoah.  I love buying from an Iowa-based company, and I especially appreciate that they ship for free, even small orders under $5. 

Last year, I had to wait almost a month before my Earl May seeds arrived in the mail.  But this year, the seeds arrived just days after I placed my online order.  And my name and address were handwritten on the front of the envelope.  How cool is that!

Here's a list of the seeds I ordered from Earl May.  Once again, I'm planting a small backyard "salad" garden this year, since these are the veggies that get eaten the most in my family of two.
  • Cucumbers - Mrs. Pickler (These grew extremely well last year, and the pickles turned out wonderful!)
  • Lettuce - Garden leaf blend (a colorful selection of Earl May's most popular lettuces in one packet)
  • Lettuce - Buttercruch (our family favorite)
  • Lettuce - Salad bowl (heat tolerate)
  • Spinach - Red cardinal hybrid (new for 2011, dark green leaves with deep red veins; should be a pretty addition to the garden)
  • Carrot - Ingot hybrid
  • Radish - Cherry belle (I grew these last year, and they were beautiful and tasty.)
  • Pea - Sugar sprint

Right now, I'm not planning to plant green beans this year, because my husband and I get sick of them pretty fast. But I may change my mind between now and planting time, especially if I see a packet on sale.

I'm waiting to buy my annual flower seeds at a local hardware store when they go on sale around Mother's Day.  My favorite annuals to plant from seed are zinnias and nasturiums. Cosmos are fun, too, but they sure take up a lot of space in a small garden.

I also plan to buy tomatoes, peppers and another cucumber plant or two at the local greenhouse in early summer.  I've experimented with starting seeds on my own, but my efforts haven't been successful.  Plus, I find that I end up with way more seedlings than my little garden can handle. So for me, direct-sow is the way to go!

What are your garden plans for 2011?  Have you already ordered your seeds, or do you wait until the last-minute sales?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Best-ever rice pudding

My husband came up with the most ingenious way to make rice pudding. Instead of making it over the stovetop, he whipped up a batch in the rice cooker. 

I asked my hubby to take pictures to show off his work.  He added dried cherries to the top of his rice pudding.

We use our rice cooker at least once a week, since my husband and I both love stir-fry.  We learned long ago that it's best to spend a little money and buy a non-stick rice cooker.  We've had this rice cooker for many years.

Anyhow, my hubby doesn't really follow a recipe when he's in the kitchen, but he loosely based his rice pudding on this version. He steamed the white rice in the rice cooker, then when the rice was done, he added milk, sugar, vanilla and raisins. Then he popped the lid back on and let it cook some more.  He didn't add an egg, because the rice ended up perfectly creamy without it.  I sprinkled my helping with a little cinnamon and sugar on top.

My husband and I loved his version of rice pudding so much, he ended up making it again the next day.  Such a treat on an extremely cold (-14 degree) winter night.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

When life gives you lemons

I've been wanting to bake with Meyer lemons to see what all the foodie hype is about, so I bought a few bags of lemons when they went on sale at the local Hy-Vee.  Immediately, I knew what I was going to make -- Meyer Lemon Sticky Rolls.  They're like a cinnamon roll, but with a lemon filling.

I didn't follow the recipe, however.  I used my favorite white roll recipe, just because I know it always turns out.  Plus, I don't have a stand mixer, which the recipe calls for.

I probably should have followed the recipe, because I wasn't too impressed with these rolls.  My husband loved the cream cheese frosting, of course.  But I was hoping that the filling would end up more like lemon curd, not lemon sugar.

I ended up with quite a few leftover Meyer lemons, so I did a quick Google search and decided to bake these Meyer lemon muffins.  I loved how the muffins used up all of the lemon, the peel and everything, and not just the juice.  They were pretty good, too, although I'm not sure if I'd make them again.

Also, just by coincidence, I found a recipe for candied Meyer lemons just a day earlier, so I decided to give them a try, as well.  Unfortunately, I didn't care for this recipe.  The peel is still a little too bitter for me to enjoy.

All in all, it was fun spending a Sunday afternoon trying out Meyer lemon recipes.  Reminded me a little of summer canning season, which will be here again before we know it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Almost Wordless Wednesday; Aerogarden

I intended to post this yesterday, but I got caught up watching a movie last night with my hubby and completely forgot until this morning.  So I hope you don't mind, but I'm posting these photos tonight. 

This is what my two Aerogardens look like one month after "planting" the seed pods. I'm growing herbs (thyme, dill and basil -- which failed to pop up) in one Aerogarden, and cascading petunias in the other.  It's been fun watching them grow whenever it's so cold and snowy outside.

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