Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Celebrate Life with Birthday Cake!

Celebrate with a real home-made birthday cake, please.
This Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting has been calling to me for weeks.  I  saw this lovely gem on Smitten Kitchen.  Read all about it here:
  This past weekend I had a very good excuse to make it.  You see I really needed something festive and a bit extravagant  to celebrated D's 32nd birthday.
I made it just like the recipe.............well, almost.  I only made a very small adaption by putting vanilla bean whipped cream between the layers and Fudge frosting only on the outside.

Within less than 36 hours it was gone!Yes, that is right, ever last crumb and the platter licked clean too. :-)
It was quite nice, if I do say so myself.
I would offer you a piece, but as you know, it is already gone.

But that's okay, you can pop over for a fresh bagel.  I am just now pulling two dozen golden puffy bagels from my oven, and I'll share.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Smooth Sumac

We just gathered a massive stainless steel bowl of these wonderful berries, probably about 3 gallons.  I will use some fresh and the rest I am drying in the oven on low heat for future use.
Sumac berries make a wonderful tart refreshing beverage.

When I mention making a beverage from sumac, many people think I am crazy. Quite a few people assume that all sumacs are "poison sumac." Poison sumac, however, is quite different from the true sumacs.
The true (edible) sumacs have dark reddish or purple fruit in erect, tight clusters. The surface of the fruit is fuzzy or grainy.
The poison sumac Toxicodendron vernix is classified in a different genus (along with poison ivy and poison oak). It can be differentiated from true sumacs most readily by the fact that the berries are whitish, waxy, hairless, and hang in loose, grape-like clusters. Poison sumac also differs in that it rarely grows in dense, pure stands, and in that it inhabits swamps rather than dry areas.

Now for the delicious part: "Sumac "lemonade"
The red-berried sumacs make a tart and refreshing drink. It is delicious, easy to prepare, fun to gather, nutritious, unique-and free.  Yea!!!  What could be better?
It is called all sorts of names:
 sumac-ade, rhus-ade, sumac lemonade, Indian lemonade, sumac tea and probably some other names that I have yet to hear.  Like lemonade is is universally enjoyed.
We have lots of Smooth Sumac and the preparation of the beverage is simple. The first step is to
Harvest the berries.
Sumac "berries" are really just seeds covered with a thin coating of flavoring substance and hairs. The large clusters are so easy to collect that in just a few moments you can have enough for a pitcher of wild Kool-Aid that kids will love.
You want to get the berries when they are dark red and fully mature, so that they have fully developed their tart flavor, but before the rain has had the opportunity to wash the flavor out.
A dark purple coloration usually indicates that the flavor of the fruit has developed fully; yet some of the best clusters I've tasted were light pink. Sometimes a white, sticky substance coats the berry heads; this is pure essence of sumac flavor-don't let it scare you off. I pluck about six average-sized clusters for a pitcher of sumac-ade.   
Remove any large stem peices and leaves,
Place the berries in a pitcher, pour very warm tap water over them (for Staghorn Sumac you will want to use cold water).Pouring boiling over the berries makes for poor flavor, for it leaches tannin from the stems, causing the drink to become bitter. This is also why you will want to remove any large stem peices.
Squeeeze and rub the berry cluster together with your hands, this releases their color and acid.
Leave the pitcher in a cool place for a while.  The longer the berries infuse, the stronger the drink will be.
Strain the drink through a cloth to remove seeds and hairs. Sumac-ade is pleasantly tart with a light pink color. Some people add sugar, some do not.  If you wish you can
Add just a little bit of sweetener  and serve over ice.
The tartness of sumac is partly due to ascorbic acid (vitamin C) so one also has a health incentive to drink this beverage.

The dried berries may also be used in cooking to add a tart/lemony flavor.

Note: Sumac is related to cashews and mangoes,  if you are allergic to those foods  you hould avoid it, or proceed with extreme caution.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Amazing Find

This is a totally amazing and freaky looking caterpillar!   We found it several weeks ago but I never got around to blogging about it until tonight.  Did you ever see any caterpillar that looked this strange?

 We have identified this creature and found it has a freaky name to match it's freaky looks:
"Hickory Horned Devil"

I'll quote from Ohio State University's Giant Caterpillars Fact Sheet:
"This caterpillar is the larva of the Royal Walnut Moth, also known as the Regal Moth. The larva is not one for a timid person to suddenly discover. It has a scary, frightful appearance resembling a small dragon with up to five pairs of long, curving hornlike structures over the back of its thorax with the rest of the body covered with shorter spikes. The body color ranges from deep blue-green to tan with orange spikes tipped with black. Shorter spikes are black. Though very ferocious appearing, it is quite harmless to handle. They are enormous in size, being five to six inches long and nearly 3/4-inch in diameter. They feed for a period of 37 to 42 days on the leaves of hickory, walnut, butternut, pecan, ash, lilac, persimmon, sycamore, sumac and sweet gum. Larvae mature in late summer, wandering around searching for a place to burrow underground to pupate. Overwintering occurs in the pupal stage.

The moth has a wingspan of five to six inches and is seen in midsummer. It has a long body covered with orange yellow hair. The forewings are gray with orange veins and yellow spots. The hindwings are primarily orange with scattered yellow patches."

What's missing from the description above is the feeling of holding it. The body is smooth and firm, the spikes are stiff and noticably pointy, but not tear-your-skin sharp. When it crawls, you get a gentle "pickery" sensation from the little points on its feet. It's a little odd at first, but not unpleasant.

Most of the time, it hardly seemed to notice that it was being handled. One time, however, I appeared to trigger some sort of defensive behavior. I'd just taken it back from a kid who'd been holding it, and it suddenly started twisting and writhing vigorously in my cupped hand in a way that made it rotate more or less around its long axis. As it rotated, its spikes were poking at my hand. It didn't hurt, but it was startling, and I imagine that it might very well make a bird or other predator drop it.

 After observing it we also added a watercolor entry to each of our nature notebooks.

Weekend in the Foothills

We spent part of Saturday and all of Sunday in Oconee State Park. It was lovely! and so very much what all of us needed right now.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, maybe next time I will remember.

We had a very relaxed and leisurely Sunday morning around our campfire.

After biking off some extra energy, The Timber wood Brothers( Nicklebee, Freckles and Thunder-Feet)  enjoyed sitting around the fire sipping Peppermint Tea and anticipating a big Pancakes and Sausage Breakfast.

Mr. Thunder-feet himself

We all hiked the Hidden Falls Trail and had some unanticipated excitement when we arrived.
The boys decided to climb the mountain side along the falls and do some exploring. Mister and I sat at the foot of the falls to just enjoy it for a bit.  Several quiet moments passed, but where quickly broken by a piercing shriek. Naturally, my first thought is... Snake! My boys don't normally Shriek about anything.
Nicklebee appeared through the foliage running and sliding and falling down the steep hillside.I have never seen anyone of my boys come down a hill that fast, it was quite something to watch.
A yellow jacket nest had been encountered, most likely he stepped in it.  Yellow jackets were all over his shirt, and on his head. We rapidly removed all clothes and swatted yellow jackets like crazy, while trying to leave the area at the same time.  I am actually surprised that he only got 6 or 7 stings.  I am quite thankful that he is not allergic to them .  Thunder-feet and I both got one sting each and swelled up accordingly.
Needless to say, we didn't hang around.  Further down the trail we reinspected clothes and got him dressed.  I found a little bit of plantain and wished for more.  Then we headed the remaining 2.5 mile back and by the time we got to the truck Nicklebee said his didn't hurt much anymore at all.  Wow!  I was impressed with that.  I wish I was like that!!!!  It has been 3 days and I still have a bruised and red area around my sting.
Say, didn't I read something somewhere in Backpacker about staying on the trails?  Ha!  That just might be some rather good advice.

Moving on...

OK... Time to move on with this blog.
Before I resume our "normal life blogging" I must back up and briefly cap our last two, rather emotional, weeks.

On Saturday, 10-3-09 we found out that "our" little girl was born 8 days earlier (9-25-09). We had been promised a call when the birth mother went into labor and told that we were to be present at the hospital during the delivery etc. etc.

The para legal and attorney never contacted us at all and it was only through my attempt to contact them that I found out anything. Itty Bitty baby girl is now in foster care and beyond our reach. Our dealings with this paralegal have been very upsetting. She (the paralegal) has been less the honest and up front with us.
Quite a few rather blurred days have past, with lots of tears and questions.

But time is healing, and gracious. Life has returned to a new normal. We still have an empty bassinet and unanswered questions, but we have chosen to continually leave this before the Lord. We can only wait to see how He decides to make sense of this story.