Friday, November 21, 2014

It's Time to Plant the Bulbs - Part I

And that is precisely what we did last weekend.  Some weeks ago, you will recall, we stopped by Behnke's Nursery and picked up several varieties of bulbs.  Those bulbs have been sitting, patiently waiting for cold weather to arrive.  Finally, this past weekend, cold weather arrived and the bulbs were planted.  We are experiencing this polar vortex or whatever they are calling it this year along with everyone else in the country.  Except our friends in Florida, which we will let pass because Florida has its own issues during hurricane season.  So we will allow them a reprieve while the rest of us are freezing.

Ordinarily, I wait until the arrival of winter to plant hardy bulbs.  This year winter arrives on Sunday, December 21.  But cold weather arrived early, so into the ground with them.  Or in this case, into the pots with them.

First we gathered our clay pots together and determined which sizes to use for which bulbs.  I put a handful of fallen leaves in the bottom of each pot to cover the drainage hole.  These will work just as good as gravel or a shard of broken pottery at deflecting the flow of water.  They will also decompose over time and add essential nutrients to the soil.  A win-win.

Then I gathered all of my bulbs together and planned how I wanted to plant them.  All of one kind together in one pot?  A few of these and a few of those in a pot?  Mix up the colors a bit?  Do some thinking and decide how you would like your pots to look in the spring.  For this first pot I planted all crocus.

I find the planting guidelines on the packaging very helpful.  Some bulbs are planted deeper than others and this handy guide lets you know how deep to plant each variety of bulb.  It also lets you know how tall they will eventually grow and the sunlight requirements.  Very helpful to have this information right at your fingertips.

For the crocus, they need to be buried 4" into the soil.  So, I filled the pot until the soil reached 4" from the top, using a tape measure to make certain I got it just right.

Then it was time to add some Bulb-Tone.  This really does give your bulbs a boost.  Those early years when I was just learning about gardening I did not use Bulb-Tone and I had less than spectacular results.  Little by little, as I learned more about gardening I discovered the benefits of Bulb-Tone and now I use it every year.  You are lucky that you are a regular reader of Welcome to Crest Avenue because you will know about this much sooner in your gardening adventures than I.

A slight handful of Bulb-Tone added to the pot, just enough to cover the top of the soil.

I put another light layer of organic soil over the Bulb-Tone and then set about placing my crocus bulbs.  Fortunately, the entire bag of 30 fit perfectly in this ten inch pot.  Pointy sides up!!!

These bulbs are very nice.  They are all nicely shaped and firm and as you can see from the picture above, very healthy.  They started to sprout while waiting to be planted.  That's OK.  They will make it through the winter.  Do not buy bulbs that are mushy or moldy.  Those bulbs are not healthy and you will not get a good result in the spring.

Happy with the placement of all the crocus bulbs, I set about covering them with more soil.

And finally I had a full pot of crocus planted and ready to put in a somewhat secluded area for the winter.

In addition to the crocus, I planted several other varieties of bulbs.  See below.

These beautiful narcissus.  Only eight in the bag, but I planted them all together, so that will make for a spectacular show in the spring.  Here is my philosophy on bulb planting.  If four will look good in the pot, eight will look better.  Actually, that is my philosophy, ... period.  If one wreath will look good on the front door, two wreaths strung together will look better.  If two candles look nice on the mantel, five candle will look better.

And then there were the parrot tulips.  Tulips are my very favorite of all the bulbs.  But parrot tulips are even more of a favorite.  I think they are extraordinary and rather exotic looking.

More parrot tulips in this vibrant reddish/pinkish/yellow.  Really beautiful.

And finally, for this round of bulb planting, this beautiful collection of blue/white/purple hyacinth. These planted all together in one large pot.

I expect to have a beautiful potted garden of hardy flowering bulbs in the spring.  I can't wait to see what we end up with!

Part two of this post will deal with some additional important information for planting fall bulbs.  Be sure and come back to see that post.

(This is part one of a two part post on fall bulb planting)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Breakfast Sandwiches

You remember last week we talked about the new egg poacher we recently purchased which we were pleased to report made the perfect poached eggs.  I wanted to try scrambling eggs and cooking them in the same poaching pan.  So while Bev was visiting weekend before last, I got up early one morning and made breakfast sandwiches.

The first thing I did was to split and lightly butter four English muffins and place them about four inches under the broiler.  While they were toasting, I prepared the eggs.  We won't go through all the steps of setting up the poaching pan because we did that in the post last week when we made poached eggs.  This time I scrambled four eggs, added two tablespoons of water, two tablespoons of melted butter, salt and white pepper to the scrambled egg mixture.  I placed the poaching pan over the flame and waited for the water to come to a full boil,  Once the water was boiling, I poured the egg mixture into each cup until each was evenly filled and placed the lid on the pan.  I left them to cook, covered, for about 8 minutes for a good firm egg.  You want to make sure they are cooked all the way through.

While the eggs were cooking, I removed the English muffins from the oven.  Once the eggs were done, I removed them from the cups.  I placed a slice of Vermont Cheddar cheese on one half and a slice of Canadian bacon and the egg on the other half.

With the oven turned off, but still warm from toasting the muffins, I placed the tray back into the oven to let the cheese melt thoroughly and to keep the sandwiches warm until everybody started to stir.  Fortunately, everybody started to stir pretty quickly.  As I was working in the kitchen I received a text message from the guest bedroom upstairs asking if anyone else was up to which I replied, "yes."

I soon heard the pitter-patter of adult feet making their way to the kitchen as they followed the scent of breakfast.  And what did they find upon entering the kitchen.  The most delectable breakfast sandwiches every made.

These are so easy to make and just incredibly delicious.  A great weekend treat for the whole family and something that I am certain guests will love also.  Make breakfast sandwiches at your house this weekend!

Monday, November 17, 2014

When Baxter Was Just a Pup

I found some pictures this weekend as I was going through some old files of everyone's favorite miniature wirehaired dachshund.

He was probably seeing Crest Avenue for the very first time in this picture.  We drove to Beaver Falls, PA on Friday after work to pick him up.  We spent the night there and picked him up the next morning and drove back to Dewey Street.  We stayed there the rest of the weekend, so I imagine this was taken on Monday when we returned to Crest Avenue.  You wonder what must be going through his little mind.  He here is in a new place with people he does not know, no longer in the company of his one lone brother who was the only one of the litter left when we got him.  Probably wondering what on earth was going on.  But he has a very good life.

In the tv room, on a blanket on the sofa.

In the kitchen.  He hopped up onto the dishwasher door.  Such an inquisitive little thing, he was.  And still is.

And only a short time later we had our first snowfall, so he got a chance to see what snow was all about very early in his life.

From this tiny little fellow in November 2007,

to this gorgeous and handsome boy seven years later.  I love him so much that I can't stand it some times.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A New Egg Poacher

A poached egg.  A little shredded cheddar cheese.  An English Muffin on the side.  That is a spectacular breakfast.  A "Breakfast of Champions" as far as I'm concerned.

We recently purchased a new 4 cup egg poacher.  We had a good result which you will read about below.

I ordered this from Bed, Bath & Beyond.  I had a 20% off coupon that was burning a hole in my pocket, so I decided to use it to make this purchase.

This is a very nice pan, very heavy, high quality pan with a heat-proof handle.  Always remember to check and see if any cookware you are buying has a heat-proof handle.  That is very important.  My Cooks Essentials brand has heat-proof handles.  Not that you can't grab a pot holder when working with cookware that does not have heat proof handles, but why deal with that if you don't have to.

For poached eggs, add one-half inch of cold water and one teaspoon of white distilled vinegar to the pan.

The egg cups are non-stick, but I sprayed each with a little Pam Butter Flavor just as an added precaution.  It certainly doesn't hurt to do this.

Take the cups out and spray them and then put them back in.  Otherwise, you'll have cooking spray all over the stop of the pan.  It's just easier to remove them, spray and then put them back than to have cooking spray all over everything.

As I said earlier, a teaspoon of white distilled vinegar added to the water in the bottom of the pan.

Place the pan on the stove top with the lid and let the water come to a boil.  It is only a half inch of water, so this step takes hardly any time.

I cracked each egg directly into the egg cups.  Before I knew it, they had already started to firm.  For my taste, I like poached eggs well cooked.  I like the center to be nice and firm.  No runny eggs for me.

The directions state to let the eggs cook for 3 - 4 minutes.  If you want the yolk very soft and not fully cooked, that will work.  If you want them firm. leave them in for at least another 3 - 4 minutes.  As the water boils it rises and covers the bottom of the egg cups and that hot, steaming water is what cooks the egg.

I felt like shredded cheddar cheese this morning.  But you could just as easily add a slice of Canadian bacon and some hollandaise for an eggs benedict breakfast.  You could make egg muffins using English muffins.  Add what you like or what your guests like.

Using this pan makes the whole process of poaching eggs so easy and fast.  If you are preparing for a crowd, this is the only way to go.  Also, if you remove the insert with the egg cups, it makes a wonderful little saute pan.  You could easily put together a fresh hollandaise sauce in the same pan you poached the eggs.  Or a beurre blanc.  Whatever you like.

This is a very nice pan which I highly recommend.  It retails at Bed, Bath & Beyond for $29.95.  That may sound a little pricey for an egg poacher, but it is worth it.  The quality is great.  It has a nice thick, heavy bottom which distributes the heat evenly.  And if you have a 20% off coupon, you will save $5.99.  You will never go wrong buying quality cookware.  And this is quality.

Happy poaching!!!

Elf Slippers

I like to have fun as much as the next guy.  So when we happened upon a bin of these elf-like slippers recently, I couldn't resist.

It was at our local IKEA that I found the bin full of elf slippers.  I liked both colors but went with the gray in the end.

At such a good deal, I should have gotten a pair of gray and a pair of red.  Oh well, there's always next weekend.  "Wool is soil-repellent and durable."  I like that.

I was anxious to give them a try.

Baxter was not certain that this was the best decision, buying these odd looking shoes.  "Daddy, you don't need to be wearing elf shoes!"

But in the end, he was OK with it.  They are really quite comfortable on the feet.  Be sure and slip one on your foot before leaving the store to make sure you get the right size.  I needed an XL.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Carrot Cake Extraordinaire!!

I don't know if I have ever met anyone who did not like carrot cake.  I am sure there must be some who do not care for it.  I adore it.  And what is so incredibly funny about that is, I cannot stand carrots.  I don't like big carrots or little carrots or peeled carrots or cooked carrots or raw carrots or carrots mixed in with other veggies or carrots in any way, shape or form.  I do not like carrots.  But carrot cake, to me, is delicious.  Go figure.

I ended up buying my own birthday cake this year through a comedy of errors.  Without getting into the details of how this came to be, I purchased a carrot cake from one of my co-workers who was selling various baked goods for one of her children as a school fundraiser.  I bought only one thing and that was a carrot cake.  It arrived just days before my birthday so I decided that it would be my birthday cake this year, even though we had made plans for a different kind of cake.  We decided that we would have carrot cake during the morning on this past Saturday.  Bob and Bette stopped by to join me and Steven and Bev for a slice of cake.  Believe it or not, the fundraiser cake was more delicious than any I have had from bakeries of high reputation.

This was a very heavy, dense cake, which I prefer.  I inherited this love of dense cake from my maternal grandfather.  My mother tells the story of when she was growing up and her mother would be baking a cake and she would tell all the children to walk easily across the kitchen floor so the cake would not "fall."  When a cake falls, it becomes very dense.  Once my grandfather heard this, he would stomp through the kitchen in an effort to get the cake to fall so that he could enjoy a rich, dense cake.  This carrot cake was just as I imagine my dear grandmothers cakes turned out, much to her chagrin.

The perfect slice of birthday cake.  We left the top unadorned.  No candles.  No inscription.  If I were twelve years old, I am certain I would desire such things.  But at my current age (which will remain unwritten), I do not.

So the point in all of this is, if you are approached by a co-worker or friend or a neighbor or their child and they are selling baked goods as a fundraiser, you may want to take a moment and peruse the offerings and see if they have a carrot cake.  You will not be displeased with your selection, believe me!

Who's For Popcorn?

Popcorn is one of my all time favorite snacks.  I enjoyed it when I was growing up.  I enjoy it as an adult.  A good thing to know about popcorn is, not only is it tasty, but consuming it is good for the body.

Nutritional Information
It's hard to believe a snack food that tastes so good can actually be good for you! With suggestions from organizations
such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Academy of Nutrition and
Dietetics (A.N.D.), there's no doubt popcorn is a perfectly sensible snack to fit into any meal/fitness plan.
  • Air-popped popcorn has only 31 calories per cup; oil-popped popcorn has only 55 calories per cup.
  • When lightly buttered, popcorn contains about 133 calories per cup.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain, making it a good-for-you food.
  • Popcorn provides energy-producing complex carbohydrates
  • Popcorn contains fiber, providing roughage the body needs in the daily diet.
  • Popcorn is naturally low in fat and calories.
  • Popcorn has no artificial additives or preservatives, and is sugar-free.
  • Popcorn is ideal for between meal snacking since it satisfies and doesn't spoil the appetite.
  • 3 cups of popcorn equal one serving from the grain group.
Knowing this, is there any wonder that I was overjoyed at another birthday gift.  This from Bob and

Popcorn!  And not just popcorn, but Tru-Pop popcorn and everything needed to make just the right
batch. What better gift for good health than the gift of popcorn.

So, we have a bag of regular Tru-Pop and then we have a bag of Mushroom Tru-Pop.  We were trying
to figure this out and wondering if this popcorn was mushroom flavored.  It is not.  The mushroom description has to do with the way the kernels pop.  These mushroom popcorn kernels pop bigger and
more fluffy.  We were happy to finally get that information because we weren't certain that we would
be fans of mushroom flavored popcorn.  There were a couple of season-salts; one is a jalapeno and the
other is a non-flavored salt designed specifically for popcorn.

Here we have some butter flavored popcorn salt and a glaze which will be used to make Kettle Corn.  I LOVE Kettle Corn.  My mother loves Kettle Corn.  She was visiting family in the Shenandoah Valley
of Virginia a few years ago and they introduced her to Kettle Corn and she fell in love with it.  The bag
at the top right contains individual bags of oil specifically designed for use when popping corn.  The
whole thing is wonderful and I cannot wait until the weekend so we can experiment with all of this.  Of course there will be follow-up posts next week.

Now, ... what will we pop the corn in?  I no longer own a popcorn popper.  I had one that I dropped a
few years ago which rendered it no longer usable.

I'm certain there are many of your who will remember this style of popcorn popper from the seventies.
We had one exactly like this.

Then there were these iterations of air popcorn poppers during the 80's.  We had several of them which closely resembled the ones above.

Then came microwave popcorn.  In the very beginning of the microwave popcorn craze I ate many
bags just like this.  But I never enjoyed it as much as regular popcorn made on the range.  I could not
tell you that last time I had popcorn made in the microwave.  There are so many delicious types of
bagged popcorn available these days that I oftentimes just buy it pre-popped.  Once again, not as
satisfying as making it yourself, but a treat for someone like me who enjoys popcorn.

This is the exact same Cuisiant model and color of the popper that I dropped.  Of course, you don't
positively need to have a popcorn popper.  A nice heavy-bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid will do a perfect job on the stove-top.  And that might just be what I do.  Rather than purchasing yet another
counter-top appliance, which we have no room for, I think we will do our corn popping in a nice large
pan over an open flame.  Be sure and check back next week to see how this all turns out.

THANKS Bob and Bette for a wonderful birthday gift!!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A New Serving Board with a Twist

As those of you who are regular readers know, I enjoy entertaining, especially in small groups.  Over the years I have taken to serving my guests from a board rather than using an array of serving trays.  I find that everyone sharing food from a common server makes for a more relaxing setting.  It is less formal which puts your guests at ease.  I set out small appetizer plates for those who wish to use them, but it is not a requirement.  We have a large cutting board which measures twenty inches by fifteen inches and I use it frequently when having guests.  The board is large enough to accommodate a variety of offerings.  See below.

This is just a regular cutting board and it continues to be used for that purpose.  But it now doubles as a serving board as well.

This was the setting on All Hallows Eve or more commonly, Hallowe'en this year.  I set the shrimp cocktail behind the board, as you see.

Then I placed several other items directly on the board.  The little containers in the lower left corner contain a pickled peach chutney-like preserve that Steven made.  I think they are called Boozy Peaches.  They are marinated in whiskey and several other spirits.  They are quite delicious.  We gave those as Hallowe'en gifts to our guests, Lea, Mark and Alan.

So, ... all of this board talk leads into my post of the day, so here goes.

Last week, for my birthday, I received a new board from who else?  Bev.  It is a serving board with a twist in that it has a removable slate bottom.  Take a look.

I loved the big organza bow.

First things first, ,,, I found these once inside the wrap.

Two beautiful spreaders.  I love the handles on these.  They are sparkly and blingy and I like that.

Once all the wrap was removed the new board was revealed.  The item in the middle under the twine is a tiny stick of chalk which is used to write on the slate to identify what  you are serving.

This board will work exceptionally well when serving cheeses.  Guests can easily see what type of cheese they are about to enjoy.

This weekend, however, we put the board to good use in a different way.  Butter crackers, ginger snaps and honey graham crackers were the choice of the day.  Offered alongside footed bowls, one containing a cucumber dill dip and the other a lemon cheesecake dip.  Both were extraordinary.  I bought the dip mixes at an Amish country store in Culpeper, VA.  We will talk more about that later.

So, with this new board added to our collection, we can continue to serve our guests in a new and modern and relaxed way that seems to be catching on.  It is more of a communal way of enjoying good food and wine and conversation with the people you love.