Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sharing Some Winter Color

The air is cool and crisp this morning in Southern California and I couldn't resist taking some pictures of the flowers in bloom today. The sky is clear and the birds are singing, welcoming us to a brand new day. I just love going on a tour of my garden first thing in the morning. Those calm moments connecting with nature bring a simple joy to me, so today I'll share some of the flowers in my garden in hopes that the pictures will bring that joy to you.
Tiny rosemary blossoms
Iceberg rose with rose hip
I must need more coffee because for the life of me I cannot recall the name of this flower. 
Magnolia seed pod
The day is young, and what a bright, lovely day it is!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Quick Window Boxes for Christmas

'Tis the season to be super busy. My window boxes were empty, waiting for me to take the time to bring them to life once again. The problem is time, and I had almost given up on filling them with fall/winter plants. There are 7 boxes in front of our home and having them looking pretty immediately transforms the house. If they are empty, the house has a sad look. When I found these red cyclamen for half price, that motivated me to take the time and make some quick Christmas window boxes. Boy, am I glad I did!

Planting the window boxes is one of my favorite garden projects. Usually the project takes most of a day because I remove the soil, scrub them clean, add new potting soil and amendment, and fill them with lots of plants. This year I took some short cuts. The soil was soaking from recent rains and the boxes were very heavy, so I left them on the brackets and left the old soil. I added some amendment, this is my favorite for transplanting. 
I rarely lose a plant and have very little transplant shock if I add this when transplanting. After sprinkling some on top, I dug it in and loosened the soil to aerate it. Then I planted red cyclamen, white stock, and white pansies.
Typically I plant many more small plants in one window box. For these quick planters I just stuck in some small branches cut from the bottom of our Christmas tree. 
They filled the gaps nicely, were available and less expensive than another flat of flowers. Once they dry out, I will pull them and decide if the plants have filled in enough. If not I can easily add plants. 
This little angel has been in my garden for twenty years, watching over the window boxes. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Homemade Kahlua

Homemade Kahlua is so delicious, so easy, and the perfect little gift for most of my friends. This recipe is my mom's. She is the one who introduced me to this liqueur of espresso, sugar and rum. She preferred hers mixed with cream over ice; a rich indulgence. It also pairs beautifully with coffee ice cream, or if you really want some serious sweetness try pouring some over a warm brownie. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth? Pour some in your coffee. It's syrup with a kick. 

I looked online and it turns out this recipe is posted often so it's not only my mom's. There are variations of this recipe online which use brown sugar instead of granulated, or vanilla extract instead of vanilla beans but this is the only recipe I've tried. Quite often I saw recipes using vodka instead of rum but since the Kahlua sold in stores is made with rum, why switch to vodka? I buy good colorless rum like Bacardi (not flavored rum). It's important to buy good instant coffee, it makes all the difference. Don't skimp and buy poor quality, it just doesn't taste as good. My favorite is Medaglia D' Oro Instant Espresso Coffee. Using instant coffee gives the liqueur an intensely strong coffee flavor. 

This batch was made with the company of my darling daughter who took the bottles to give as Christmas gifts for her friends. We bought the bottles and she wrote simple tags. You could get more creative with the packaging and labeling but we just used what we had on hand. I believe this recipe makes approximately 36 oz, our bottles were 6 oz each.

2 cups water
4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup instant espresso coffee granules 
2 1/4 cups rum
2 vanilla beans cut into thirds

Boil the water in a pot. Add sugar and instant coffee, stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Add the rum and stir. Place one piece of the vanilla bean into each bottle then pour the Kahlua into the bottles and seal them. Store them in a cool place for 2-3 weeks to let the vanilla infuse into the liqueur. Remove the vanilla bean by pouring the Kahlua through a strainer and rebottle the liqueur. It is now ready to give to your friends, or crack open a bottle and enjoy it yourself!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Updates on Ginger and More

The ginger is growing! This is my first experience growing ginger. It is one of my favorite spices so I decided to plant the piece that was sprouting in my pantry. Here's a link to my post about growing ginger.  I planted four pieces of ginger in a clump.

The first sprout came up quickly, only 2 weeks after planting. 
Planted on Oct. 16, this sprout appeared on Oct 31.
The others have been much slower, in fact I was getting worried the others wouldn't grow. I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the fourth sprout and it finally came last week.
It's interesting that the four plants came up at different times so they are all different sizes. 
The third to arrive.
The youngest one was damaged as I pulled weeds and cultivated. I broke off the tip. OUCH. 
Being so new and tender, I guess I just bumped it with the trowel and it broke. Hopefully it will still grow. 

In other news:

I have been pleased with the way my new cabbage covers have held up to the wind and rain. 

Not one of them has suffered any damage so my design is handling what mother nature has offered so far. The plants are growing beautifully without any cabbage butterflies to bother them. Read how I made them here.

The peas are about 2 feet high and the trellis is holding up really well. 

I designed and built it last spring. It is built to be taken apart for storage but it has remained there, supporting beans and tomatoes in the summer, and now peas for our winter crop. The one thing I would change about the design is I would not bother with the horizontal strings. The crops don't really rely on them and the vertical strings seem sufficient. Here's the link if you want to see how mine is built.

The tangelo tree is loaded and the fruit is starting to turn orange. 
Here's what I see when looking up from my favorite patio chair.

I'm finally tackling the neglected corner of my yard which was a tangled mess and eye sore.
For years this corner was left completely alone, a doggy toy graveyard and thorny combination of duranta and rose.
Duranta erecta
Duranta berries
Of course some of my nemesis, the dreaded asparagus fern, was growing there too along with some jasmine. 

I am getting inspired to make something out of this corner. Right now I have blueberries on the brain. They are my favorite fruit so I may just put them in barrels along the back fence.
For now, the clean up continues but the planning has just begun.
And as always, sweet Bessie May is by my side.