Monday, April 30, 2012

Garden update: April 2012

Well, my garden has slowed down a bit because of the cool, rainy April weather.  It's quite a contrast from March, when we were enjoying 80 degree temperatures and the tulips seemed to pop up from the ground and bloom almost overnight.

I still have quite a few tulips that are blooming, which is a nice surprise.  I guess it helps to plant different varieties that bloom early and late in the season.  It stretched out the tulip season for more than a month!

I couldn't resist buying a couple tomato plants when I saw them on sale at the Earl May garden center.  These tomatoes are supposed to be perfect for container gardening.  I'm going to plant them in buckets when the weather warms ups.  One is a regular red tomato; the other is a yellow pear tomato.  I'm trying to grow a "rainbow" vegetable garden this year, so I'm hoping the yellow tomatoes are a success.

I also planted a few more carrot, lettuce and radish seeds before the warm weather arrives.  So far, the seeds I planted in mid-March are growing well despite the early April frost.  In fact, the biggest threat to the radishes so far are the rabbits!  Those little buggers have nibbled up quite a few radish tops.

Lettuce and radishes are slowly growing.
Those pesky rabbits have gobbled up a row of radishes!
I'm also keeping a close eye on the strawberry pots I planted in early April.  They still haven't grown much, but there are a few blooms that may yield strawberries if the weather warms up next week.

My two strawberry stack-a-pots.

My husband's favorite clematis vines are also blooming right now.  But with the high winds, the blooms blow away pretty fast. Yesterday, we had 40 mile per hour winds!

One of the biggest surprises of the week:  My husband found half a dozen morel mushrooms under our back deck!  Unfortunately, they were too dried up to pick and eat.  But maybe next year?  Can you see the morels in the shadows?

 It will be interesting to see what the weather will be like in May.  Will it be cold and rainy like April?  Or dry and hot like March?  I'm hoping for something in between.  Just as long as the winds calm down.  I can't hit the bike trail when the winds threaten to knock me down!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Iowa eats: Maid-Rite in Newton

My sister and I visited Newton last weekend to run a 5-mile race at the Iowa Speedway.  After the run, we stopped at the Maid-Rite in downtown Newton.  It's one of the original Maid-Rite franchises in Iowa.  Of course, I ordered the maid-rite, a loose meat sandwich.  My stomach was a little queasy after the hilly run; otherwise, I would have tried a few other items on the menu board.

My sister ordered a chocolate shake, so I couldn't resist ordering one, too.  I'm so glad I did.  It really hit the spot after our tough workout!

Can't wait to visit Maid-Rite again soon!  I love a good loose-meat sandwich!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Birthday cake

My husband baked this crazy big cake for my birthday. He bought two boxes of cake mix, dug out three of my cake pans and finished it with two cans of frosting.

It was the best birthday cake ever.  I wish I could share it all with you.  But we ended up eating up every crumb! 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Iowa recipes: Rhubarb custard pie

As you can see, I'm not that great at making pretty pies.  But I still love to bake them from scratch.  I found this recipe for rhubarb custard pies at my favorite grocery store, which offers copies of recipes featured on a local radio program.  I also found a similar recipe in one of my favorite church cookbooks.  I decided to merge the two recipes into a pie that's closer to my taste.  You can bake this pie with one crust, but I decided to use two crusts. 

The pie turned out perfect on my first attempt, and I think it tastes even better the next day, once the rhubarb has "mellowed" and isn't so tart.  If you're looking for an easy, old-fashioned rhubarb pie recipe, then this is the one to try.  Enjoy!


Rhubarb custard pie

Beat slightly - 3 eggs

Add 3 Tbsp. milk

Mix and stir in: 2 C. sugar, 1/4 C. flour, 3/4 tsp. nutmeg

Mix in 4 C. cut rhubarb

Pour into 9 inch pie crust.  Dot with 1 Tbsp. butter. (Top with another crust, if you choose.)  Bake at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes until nicely browned.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Spring odds & ends

I'm still playing catch-up here at home since my recent spring break trip, so I thought I'd give you a little peek into the random things that I've been up to in the past couple weeks.

I came back to Iowa right when a cold front was hitting the state.  Fortunately, all my tulips have already bloomed in an odd mismatch of color.  I guess I still had a few bulbs from previous years in my garden bed.  But it's been fun to see what pops up.

I bought three six-packs of ever-bearing strawberries from Earl May last month.  I planted the strawberries in two stack-a-pots.  I found a new, even bigger stack-a-pot at K-Mart in Ames.  So I'm hoping to get lots of strawberries this spring and summer!

I planted the first carrot, radish and lettuce seeds about mid-March.  I'll keep planting a few seeds in random spots in the garden through Mother's Day, when the weather warms up. So far, the frost doesn't seem to have hurt the little seedlings.

My rhubarb is huge!  I plan to share a few rhubarb recipes with you all soon.

The lilacs also bloomed early this year.  My husband cut off a huge bunch of blooms, then asked me to place them all over the house!  Nothing better than the fragrance of lilacs!

Oh, and I mentioned last week's frost, but I couldn't help but laugh when I saw how well my husband "protected" his favorite clematis vine.  He showed such initiative, I decided not to tell him that he probably shouldn't use a heavy blanket to cover his flowers.

I used old curtains to cover up the rest of our perennials that are budding already. However, we lucked out because we didn't get a hard freeze here in central Iowa. 

I tried to make a new granola bar recipe.  They tasted great, but were crumbly and didn't hold their shape.

While on vacation in Arizona, I met a real cowboy.  His name is Michael, and he was getting a drink at the bar before heading out to keep watch over a herd of 300 cattle on a nearby ranch.

Finally, I couldn't get over how beautiful the sunsets are in Arizona. I can see why cowboys like to ride off into the sunset :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Arizona vacation 2012

I just returned from a late spring break vacation to Mesa, Ariz., to visit my mom and stepdad, who live there during the winter months.  It was an awesome trip, and my mom once again surprised with many fun, new activities while I was on my vacation.

I got to plant a cactus in the sand!

We took the light rail from Mesa to Tempe, then stopped at the Arizona State University stadium that's built into a mountain.

We ate a lot of great food in the Phoenix area.

And I enjoyed my first In-N-Out burger!  So good!

We saw so much beauty in unexpected places.

"Duck art" at the light rail station.

View from the fourth floor of the Phoenix Library, between the sun shades. Such an amazing library!

The highlight of the trip was a night at the Arizona Diamondbacks home opener!  It was the perfect evening for a baseball game!

Arizona was gorgeous in the spring, but I'm so glad to be home!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring blooms, part 2

I'm so fortunate to work in an office with such a beautiful campus.  The landscapers and grounds crew are always at work, trimming trees in the winter, planting flowers in the spring, planting daffodil bulbs in the fall and constantly mowing the massive lawn in a perfect checkerboard pattern in the summer. They do an amazing job, and it's definitely one of the prettiest places to work in Iowa.

I was on my way outside for lunch last week, and I couldn't get over how beautiful the crabapple trees looked.  And the blooms are so fleeting. I'm glad I took these pictures when I did, because a wind the next day knocked a lot of the blooms off.

If you live in central Iowa, then you can see quite a few crabapple trees driving through West Des Moines.  I've also heard that there is a large collection of crabapple trees in Water Works Park in Des Moines, although I've never visited the park in the spring.  My favorite place to see spring in bloom is my old alma matter, Iowa State University in Ames.  I still have a photo album with pictures of the crabapple trees from my days as a college student. (Back before digital cameras!)  Hope you're all getting outside as much as you can to enjoy this beautiful spring weather.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lemon pound cake

You gotta love a good cake mix recipe.  I baked up this lemon pound cake from Picky Palate, and my husband and I gobbled it up.  I especially loved the lemon frosting, of course!  If you're looking for an easy Easter dessert, give this recipe a try.  Hope you have a great Easter!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Tulip time

My backyard tulips started blooming about a month before normal thanks to the warm spring weather. However, it's been rainy and windy this past week, so the tulips are looking a little shaggy.  I managed to take a few photos (in the wind!) of the blooms before they blew away.

I tried to "scatter plant" a few tulips in a garden bed, but they ended up a little spread out.  I like it better when the tulips are in bunches.  I'll have to remember to plant the tulips a little closer together next year.

I also planted a few rows of lettuce, radish and carrot seeds last weekend.  Even if we get another frost in April, these cold-weather crops should be just fine. Have you planted anything in your garden yet, or are you waiting for warmer weather?
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