Friday, September 30, 2011

Foodie Fridays: Carmelitas

By Breezytoo

These bar cookies are easy to make and delicious to eat!  With the arrival of cooler weather, they are the perfect treat to have with a hot beverage, although I am perfectly happy to eat them on hot days as well, with a tall glass of iced tea.  This recipe makes a lot of bars, but they won't last long.  Just be sure to freeze some if you are going to be home alone, or you may be the sole reason your Carmelitas disappear so quickly!


2 C. flour
2 C. quick-cooking rolled oats
1 1/2 C. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 C. butter, softened

1 jar (12.5 oz) caramel ice cream topping (1 C.)
3 T. flour
1 pkg. (6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips (1 C.)
1/2 C. chopped nuts

Blend all crust ingredients in a large bowl until crumbly.  Press half of the mixture (about 3 C.) into the bottom of a greased 13x9x2-inch pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  For filling, combine caramel topping and 3 T. flour in a small bowl.  Sprinkle warm crust with chocolate chips and nuts.  Drizzle caramel mixture evenly over the top.  Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture.  Return to oven and bake 18-22 minutes longer, until golden brown.  Cool completely.  Refrigerate 1-2 hours until filling is set.  Cut into 36 bars.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the Homefront: A Small but Beautiful Bounty

Our acreage has a lot of trees, which means it is too shady to have a proper vegetable garden.  Our second-story back deck faces south, however, and gets enough sun to allow for a few pots of vegetables, herbs, and flowers.  I always plant red grape and yellow pear tomatoes, bell peppers, and Japanese eggplant.  I tried planting zucchini, but it is not happy in the smaller pots I've used so until I find larger containers that are attractive or a sunny spot in the yard I no longer plant them.  My harvest is never large, but I always manage to get a little something to enjoy.  I will probably roast these peppers, tomatoes and eggplant with some onion and olive oil -- simple but delicious, as well as nutritious!  The eggplant flowers are quite beautiful:

But my favorite container flowers on our deck are bright red geraniums, which stand out even in partial shade:

My hope is to eventually turn our rather nondescript front lawn into a cottage garden.  One area in particular gets a fair amount of sun, and if I am lucky I will finally be able to plant a real vegetable garden!

This 'n That Thursdays: Carl Warner's Food Landscapes

Carl Warner's Tuscan Kitchen (from Blog da Fotografia)

A recent article on Yahoo! introduced me to the wonderful world of food landscapes by Carl Warner.  The advertising photographer from London creates intricate and realistic scenes entirely constructed of food!  His very first creation, Mushroom Savanna, was inspired 12 years ago by a portabella mushroom he noticed at a produce market.  He has collected his works in a book, Carl Warner's Food Landscapes, and hopes to publish a children's foodscape book in the future.  According to Warner, "The more I've done, the more I realize there are so many to do.  It's a life work.  There are so many places that have yet to be made out of food."

See a video about the photographer and his works here.

Prints of Carl Warner's food landscapes are available for purchase on his website.  I can just imagine hanging a few of these beautiful scenes in a dining room or kitchen eating area, as Warner suggests on the video.  I would hesitate placing them in any other room, though -- I think they would end up making me feel hungry all the time!

Carl Warner's Food Landscapes book cover

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wish List Wednesdays: Bird's Nest Egg Cup

I have an obsession with egg cups.  As far as I am concerned, one can never own too many, and this unique bird's nest egg cup would be a great addition to my collection!  The price varies depending upon color and material, but as long as I stay away from the $80 silver version I can have one for $10 or less.  And since there are several colors to choose from and colors vary seasonally, I may have to get quite a few more than one!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On the Homefront: Nature at Work

I managed to take this photograph on our deck last night of a juvenile Black Rat Snake (Pantherophis obsoletus) preparing to consume a Little Brown Bat (Myosotis lucifugus) caught in its coils.  Some may find this a rather macabre way to start a new blog category, but I find this little nature scenario fascinating (and also appropriate for Halloween, which is not far off!).  I have never seen a snake with captured prey before, much less photographed one, so I felt quite privileged to have gotten this opportunity.  Snakes are very common here on our small acreage in Georgia.  I have seen many species, including the Common Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis), a baby Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus), the rather abundant Black Rat Snake, a reticulated Eastern Kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), and even a young Southern Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix), which I had to kill because it was in my miniature donkey's paddock and I did not think she would be safe.  I can't say I am especially fond of snakes other than the pretty and docile Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus), but I recognize and appreciate the role they play in keeping vermin in check.  I would rather have seen this little snake with a mouse instead of a bat, though, since the bats consume irritating insects like mosquitoes.

And for those who would rather not be left with an image of a predatory snake stuck in their heads all day, here is a picture of a beautiful blue Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea) flower, also taken on our property!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend Wonders: Beautiful Butterflies and Moths of Georgia

Female Monarch Butterfly from Wikipedia

I saw my first Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) of the year a few days ago, a sure sign that autumn is fast approaching.  We have many species of beautiful Lepidoptera here in Georgia, and this year they have been especially abundant.  While I am by no means an expert and can only identify a few, I thought I would describe some of my favorites today, starting with the majestic Monarch.  This good-sized orange and black butterfly is famous for its annual migration from as far north as Canada to Mexico for the winter.  Females lay their eggs on milkweed plants such as Asclepias tuberosa, which the caterpillars then feed on.  Toxic compounds from the plant make these caterpillars distasteful to predators.  The butterflies that emerge from the beautiful blue-green chrysalises feed on the nectar of flowers from milkweed, red clover, and goldenrod, among others.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) from Wikipedia

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) is the state butterfly of Georgia.  These butterflies are large and rather lazy, but can also be aggressive to other butterflies.  They are much less nervous than most species -- after seeing me hanging around for a couple of days taking pictures, they pretty much ignored me, or even flew out to investigate when I appeared, making it quite easy to photograph them!  The males (top photo) are always the typical yellow and black color with vertical black stripes at the tops of the wings, but females can either be this color (middle photo) or a dark, almost black morph (bottom photo).

Male Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Yellow morph female Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Dark morph female Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

The females lay their eggs singly on host plants mainly in the Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae families (top photo), preferably near nectar sources such as the Butterfly Bush (Buddleja spp.) (bottom photo).  Younger caterpillars mimic bird droppings as a predator deterrent, while older ones develop eyespot markings to resemble snakes as a defense.  Dark morph female Tiger Swallowtails apparently mimic another swallowtail species, the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor), which is poisonous to predators.

Magnolia grandiflora with berry cluster
Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii) flowers

The Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) is a slightly smaller and more active relative of the Tiger Swallowtail.  The wings of this butterfly are mostly black with yellow spots -- the hindwing of the female also has an iridescent blue band.  Eggs are laid on plants of the family Apiaceae, which includes carrots as well as favorite garden herbs such as dill, parsley, and fennel.  Caterpillars have an interesting defense mechanism called the osmeterium, which is a forked orange appendage that everts and releases a foul smell to repel predators.  The black morph of the female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail superficially resembles the Black Swallowtail Butterfly, but is larger and has no yellow spots on the middle of the wings.

Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly from Wikipedia

I make a point of growing dill and parsley every year just for the Black Swallowtails to use as host plants for their eggs.

A luminous dill flower
Voracious Black Swallowtail caterpillars polishing off the dill flower

Some caterpillars do succumb to predation, especially the younger ones.

Hungry Anolis lizards (Anolis carolinensis) attempt to consume Black Swallowtail caterpillars

But some of the caterpillars always manage to survive and grow into the next generation of beautiful butterflies.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly sipping nectar from a petunia flower

The Gulf Fritillary Butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is slightly smaller than the swallowtails, and has brilliantly colored orange wings with spots that are more obvious on the undersides than the tops of the wings.  Despite the name and resemblance, according to Wikipedia it is not a true fritillary butterfly.  The first part of the common name is derived from the fact that this species often migrates in large numbers over the Gulf of Mexico.

A Gulf Fritillary enjoying the nectar of Lantana flowers

The eggs are laid exclusively on passion flower species such as the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata).

Maypop vines grow wild on our horse pasture fences

The caterpillars feed on the passion flower leaves, which makes them toxic to most predators.  The cultivation of passion flower species in gardens has allowed this butterfly to extend its range from the East Coast all the way to California.

The Luna Moth (Actias luna), a large, pale green moth, has a wingspan of up to 4.5 inches, making it one of the largest moths in North America.  Males have longer and bushier antennae than females.  The sight of one of these beautiful moths in flight at dusk is something that you will never forget -- they are truly impressive!

Luna Moth from Wildlife Collective

The adult moths do not feed or even have mouths, and only live for about a week, dying soon after reproducing.  Here in Georgia they can go through as many as three generations in a year, from March to September.  Females lay eggs on a variety of host plants, including Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) (top photo), American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), White Birch (Betula papyrifera), alder (Alnus spp.), walnut (Juglans spp.), hickory (Carya spp.), and sumac (Rhus spp.) (bottom photo).

Sweetgum in early autumn splendor
Winged Sumac (Rhus copallina) with berry cluster

I had never seen a Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) before we moved to Georgia, even though they are apparently quite widespread in the United States.  They seem to be attracted to the night light above my barn door and I will often find one or two on the door on spring mornings.  The color of these moths is strikingly beautiful.  The ones in our area have broad bands of buttery yellow and slightly purplish pink on their wings, with fuzzy yellow bodies.

Rosy Maple Moth from RTNMT

As many as three broods are possible in the South from March to October.  Adults do not feed.  Eggs are laid on maple (Acer spp.) and oak (Quercus spp.) tree leaves.  The caterpillars, called Green-Striped Mapleworms, feed on the leaves of these trees and may become pests, but as far as I am concerned we have more than enough oak trees to support a population of these gorgeous creatures!  Water Oaks (Quercus nigra) are the most abundant on our property, with some Willow Oaks (Q. phellos) and the occasional Turkey Oak (Q. laevis) as well.

Water Oak with acorns
Willow Oak, less abundant on our acreage than Water Oaks

My interest in Lepidoptera is very recent, and I am only able to identify the larger and/or more colorful ones at this point.  I hope to expand my horizons in the future and learn to recognize a great many more species.  An excellent internet source of information about butterflies and moths that will help me out can be found here.  Hopefully my camera skills will develop along with my ability to identify butterflies and moths so I can keep a photographic record of all that I see!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Seasonal Style: Autumn Spice

Happy first day of fall!  I have decided to add another category to my blog posts called "Seasonal Style", which will consist of a pairing of a fashion photo with one of an interior design in the same style for each change of season.  I am definitely not a fashionista, but there have been a couple of design shows based on this idea and the concept intrigues me.  In honor of fall, here is my first pairing:

From FabSugar

From Apartment Therapy

Autumn is my favorite season, and I would be happy in both the room and the outfit shown here!

Foodie Fridays: Honey-Roasted Figs

From Ocado

Figs seem to be one of those foods that evoke very strong emotions -- you either love them or hate them. I adore figs, especially the black or brown ones -- my husband does not care for them at all.  We have a fig tree in our back yard, which means that during fig season I can eat my fill and only have to share with certain wildlife!  Once the birds and squirrels have finished off the season's crop, however, I must resort to buying them from the grocery stores, and therein lies the problem.  Figs from the store are probably the most perishable fruit in the produce aisle.  Unless you eat them right away they will develop mold and devolve to inedible mush in a day or two.  In our stores you do not get to choose the number of figs you purchase, as they come in a plastic container with a generous number inside.  Also, the figs in the container are at various stages of ripeness, from fully ripe to almost rock-hard, usually in equal proportions.  I can eat the ripe ones right away, either plain or cut up and adorned with a little sugar and some light cream.  The hard ones have always been a problem -- until now!  I discovered this recipe for Honey-Roasted Figs the other day, and my life will never be the same. When roasted in an easy-to-make syrup, the hard figs are every bit as delicious as ripe ones.  Now the only problem I will have is when fresh figs are no longer available even at the store -- then I will just have to wait for fig season to come around again!

Honey-Roasted Figs

12 figs, halved
3 T. honey
2 T. butter
1 T. Grand Marnier
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Place figs in a pie plate, cut sides up.  Combine remaining ingredients in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until the butter melts.  Swirl to blend and pour over the figs.  Bake figs at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.  Turn off oven and let figs sit in the oven with the door ajar for another 5-10 minutes.  Serves 4.

Note: You can sprinkle a little fresh thyme on top of the figs when you turn the oven off if desired (I did not since I didn't have any and the figs were delicious without it).  This recipe makes 4 to 6 dessert servings depending on the size of the figs used (or if you love figs as much as I do, you will be lucky to get 2 servings out of it!).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This 'n That Thursdays: Snuggle Bears

From This Is the Story of ...

This irresistible little puppy looks so content cuddling up to its toy bear!  But imagine how much more contented this sweet pup would be if it could snuggle into this chair:

From M.W. Moss

All of which brings me to the delightful concept of snuggle bears!  While the real thing may not be an appropriate snuggle companion, there are several bear facsimiles that would be ideal.  Besides the aforementioned chair, this sofa would fit the bill as well:

By memimenam

If numerous small bears won't work, how about one large one?  This child's bed looks quite friendly:

From Toys "R" Us

From Incredibeds

And then there is always the bean bag option -- this one looks so realistic:

From Etsy

There actually is one more possibility.  If sleeping on a bear just isn't enough, how about sleeping inside the bear?

From Eiko Ishizawa

Obviously, there is more than one way to snuggle with bears -- just be careful which one you choose!

From Women Who Ride

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wish List Wednesdays: Phorm Feeders

From Unleashed Life

One of our dogs has a significant overbite.  Most of the time this is not a problem, but I have noticed that she has a much harder time eating out of her metal bowl compared to our other two dogs.  Her nose literally gets in the way, as it prevents her from getting into the angle between the bottom and sides of the bowl.  She has actually resorted to tipping her bowl gently with a front paw to get food out of the corners so she can eat!  All of which led me to these Phorm Feeders.  The bottom of the bowl is more rounded, while the sturdy stand will prevent the bowl from tipping over (although to give our poor dog her due, she has only tipped a bowl over once!).  And the fact that they are quite attractive certainly doesn't hurt.  At around $40 they are a reasonable investment, and will certainly result in a much happier dog, as long as her bowl contains something she wants to eat (so not the case for this little pup)!

From Dakota Rescue

Friday, September 16, 2011

Foodie Fridays: Quick Mushroom Cream Pasta

From Easy Everyday Cooking

Here is yet another fast, easy, and delicious pasta recipe.  This one features mushrooms in honor of "Menacing Mushrooms Week", although the dish is anything but menacing!  I modified the original recipe slightly to add more flavor and protein by using Marsala as the liquid and including Dijon mustard and diced chicken.  The heavy cream makes this a rather rich indulgence, but as an occasional meal it is well worth the extra calories!

Quick Mushroom Cream Pasta

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 C. Marsala wine mixed with 1/4 C. water
1 C. whipping cream
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. dried tarragon
6 oz. packaged diced chicken (or two cooked chicken breasts, diced)
1/4 C. sliced green onions
1 T. lemon juice (one small lemon)
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
8 oz. spaghetti, cooked and drained

Combine mushrooms and diluted Marsala in a large skillet.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook until liquid is reduced to 1/4 cup.  Add cream, mustard, and tarragon to skillet.  Cook until sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in remaining ingredients except for pasta.  Remove from heat and add pasta, stirring until well coated with sauce.  Top with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.  Serves 4.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This 'n That Thursdays: Strange Fungi Create Zombie Ants

By David Hughes/National Geographic

Whoever came up with the saying "Truth is stranger than fiction" could have had this story in mind when doing so!  Apparently there are several species of fungi in the Brazilian rainforest which can infect an ant and control its behavior, causing the ant to climb to a spot favorable to fungal spore dispersal before killing their host.  Just before the ant is killed, the mind-controlling fungus forces the ant to bite down onto the site with such force that it is almost impossible to dislodge.  The ant body then serves as a convenient location for the fungus to grow and produce spores, with a fungal stalk beginning to protrude from the top of the ant's head about two days after death (above).  Ants who come near these infected corpses can become infected as well, either by touching the body or by an explosive release of spores by the fungus.

Other species of insects are also affected by mind-controlling fungi.  Here is a picture of a "zombie beetle" suffering the same fate:

By cotinis

These frightening fungi make my Terrifying Tuesdays movie selection for "Menacing Mushrooms Week" look tame by comparison -- I'll take mushroom people over zombifying fungi any day!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wish List Wednesdays: Mushroom Mania Home Décor

Alas, this Mushroom Duvet Cover and Shams from West Elm will have to remain on my wish list indefinitely -- they are no longer available!  Nevertheless, I was so enchanted by this bedding I just had to include it in a post.  Maybe some day it will make a comeback, but until then I will just have to dream of what might have been!

Fortunately, other mushroom-themed items for the home are readily available.  Not surprisingly, many of them are for the kitchen.

This Fungus Among Us Tea Towel from Sprout Home would add a colorfully whimsical touch to any kitchen.

Or for a more neutral option, how about the Funghi Dishtowel from Crate and Barrel?

The elegantly simple Harvested Mushrooms Canister from Anthropologie is the perfect place to store edible treats.

From Retro Art Glass

Do you need a serving dish for stuffed mushrooms?  Marshall Studio's 1960 Mushroom Stoneware bowl, available on eBay, would do the job nicely!

Replace some or all of your kitchen cabinet knobs with these White Button Mushroom Knobs from Anthropologie.

In the kitchen or any other room, these Inspired by Nature Porcini (top) and Chanterelle (bottom) Porcelain Mushroom Lamps from NOVA68 Modern Design would look right at home.

This may be "Menacing Mushroom Week" on my blog, but these fungally-inspired home décor items are must-haves rather than menaces!