Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Trogon in the Trees

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I think this is a Baird's Trogon.  We spotted it in the trees during one of our Costa Rica ziplining adventures.  I love the way he or she is cocking its head.  This bird is hard to spot.  It was a good day.   

So what else did we see in the trees?  Well, leaf cutter ants, a sloth and a snake.  Among other things.  Do you see one of them it in this photo?

Plus us!  We were flying through the trees as well.

I've ziplined quite a few times.  The poop your pants scariest was Sky Tram in Fortuna, Costa Rica.  Some of the flights were around 600 feet off the ground.  I kid you not.  But here cable 8 offered a new experience...

A backwards one.  I hope he doesn't have extra cable in that back pack.  In case one breaks.

I usually don't like to post any photos of myself.  They might be  ever so slightly unflattering. Like this one. Sorry about my vanity.  But my arm is covering most of my face here.  I'll let this one slide.

Ziplines are always an adventure. But my favorite part of this day was a beach walk.  Hard packed sand warmed from the tide is my idea of Heaven.

So where can you walk on the beach and then do a zipline?  Hacienda Baru of course.  It is a not to be missed Costa Rica adventure. You can stay and play.  So don't delay!

For more birds visit Wild Bird Wednesday

Friday, December 27, 2013

Reflections in a Different Light

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I selected three winter scenes that reflect things in a different light.  The swans reflect literally.  My watercolor and colored pencil images show a reflection in the water. 

 But this year's Christmas card is a look back on the past.  I painted this piece year's back.  It is the farm where I grew up.  It was sold this year.  So I thought it was the perfect image for this Holiday season.  The wonderful thing is that when I started receiving cards from some of my cousins this year they reflected on their own memories of being there.  It was where their parents grew up.

My cousin Julie talked about my Mom's love of Siamese cats.  And before I was born we did indeed have a farm full.  Plus some raccoons and a flying squirrel!  My cousin Jane reflected on the fun dinners with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Floyd.  My Grandparents.  I never met my Grandfather Floyd.  But he looked just like my handsome father.  She said she was best buddies with my beautiful Aunt Betty. All of my aunts were great beauties.  I'll never forget my Aunt Gina telling us that Liberace had asked her on a date after one of his concerts.  And we all know that she wasn't his type!  Ha!  But that's how pretty she was. My cousin Gwen said she stopped at the farm this Summer.  And sent my card with a chickadee.  Just because it was my Grandmother's favorite bird. My cousin Debbie said the farm will always hold a special place in her heart.

  Reflections of the past for www.illustrationfriday.com

Monday, December 23, 2013

Beloved Beasts

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May the spirit of the season fill your hearts with joy.  And may your beloved beasts always bless your life.  They are our constant companions.  And most faithful friends.  Their gift to us is  unconditional love.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Huge Holiday Recipe Post

I thought I'd celebrate the return of Random 5 Friday and do a HUGE Holiday recipe post.  I picked 5 random recipe favorites to re-post today.  And the cool thing is that if you like the recipes you can hit my labels for more.  Because I don't post many recipes anymore.  But they will linger in cyberspace forever.  Be sure to read on for some memories, humor and even a legend...

1)  I'm starting things off with a new un-posted recipe.  An old classic with a twist. 

I've updated a classic ginger cookie recipe to suit my taste. (which I think is good) I thought I would share the recipe with you today. Are you ready?

3/4 cup softened butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar, divided
1 beaten egg
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups white flour, minus 2 tbsp
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1/3 cup candied ginger

In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients together (minus sugars).  Then cream butter, brown sugar and 1/4 cup of the white sugar in a new bowl.  Add molasses and egg.  Now add the dry mixture and the candied ginger. Mix. 

 Place the remaining sugar in a small dish.  Roll the dough into balls and generously dip in the sugar.  Place all the balls on a baking sheet and bake at 375 for around 10 minutes. 


2)  I'm re-posting one of my first recipe posts.  Making lefse is kind of a lost art.  I know I never paid attention when my Mom would make it.  But years later she would be proud to know I've taken up the lefse paddle!  So I'm spreading the word once again.  Now let me teach you a little something about lefse...

You start with potatoes and a ricer like this. The recipe calls for 5 cups of peeled, cooked and riced potatoes. I never measure. I just used a container of potatoes from the farmer's market. Plus...

1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup butter

4 tsp sugar

1 tsp salt

2 cups all purpose flour

While the potatoes are still hot, stir in the milk, butter, sugar and salt.

 P.S. I used cooled potatoes and melted butter last time and it turned out fine. But if you use hot potatoes, cool the mixture before making lefse.

You will need these tools as well. I cover the rolling pin with a clean nylon. (It's just what you are supposed to do :) 

Now split the potato mixture in 1/2 and add 1 cup of flour to each with a pastry cutter.

Roll each batch into balls. I make mine smaller because my griddle isn't that large.

You'll need time, patience and lots of extra flour for rolling. Use a lefse stick or long spatula to gently lift and transfer the lefse to the griddle. Re-rolling seems to work fine. And if it breaks slightly just push and mold the dough back together with your fingers. It will be fine. And it still tastes good if it doesn't roll as thin as you would like it to. 

P.S.  I had the T.V. on in the other room when I started making my lefse. By the time I was completely covered in flour with sticky lefse hands a horrible and ANNOYING cartoon came on. So don't forget the soothing music instead! I don't know how I managed to take photos of all this actually. But having a damp cloth to wipe your hands on isn't a bad idea.

Cook briefly on each side. Till it browns a little and bubbles slightly.

Transfer to a sheet to cool. Look at all that delicious lefse! It is so darn good. Like a tortilla on steroids. I always reheat my lefse on a pan or in the microwave and serve it with lots of butter. You can make sandwich rolls and meatball wraps topped with gravy. My husband likes it with cinnamon and sugar. And you don't have to be a Norwegian (like me) to make it.

3)  Squash satisfaction ahead!

 This is one of my absolute favorite dishes. I only make it on special occasions.  The first time I had something similar was at Wolfgang Puck in Orlando. And I've perfected my own ravioli with a little help from my favorite Italian deli Broders.

First you will need to roast the squash. I usually roast at least 4 different kinds.  I just simply cut and bake the halves (seeded) for around 45 minutes to an hour at 375. Use tin foil for easy clean up.  After the roasting you can scoop out all the soft squash and mash it all together in a big bowl. I use a potato masher.  Now you have enough mashed squash to use in several recipes.  Just freeze the rest! You can make more ravioli, soup or squash risotto later.

I kept aside enough squash to make around 16 raviolis.  Around a cup or more.  Just use your judgement. Then add 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and 2 tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano. (from the Italian deli)

And you will also need wonton wrappers from the grocery store or Asian market. They are usually in the freezer or produce area. Just ask. With a pastry brush gently wet the pasta edges with water and place a spoonful of squash mixture in the middle. Then paste the two pieces of wonton together, sealing with your fingers. I grease a baking sheet to line up my wontons.  I only made 8. And then had it again another night.

In the background I'm warming up my pre-made cream sauce from the Italian deli. You'll also need to get prosciutto de parma at the deli. And I always heat it up like bacon till it is a little crisp. But it is expensive so be careful! You can also toast some pecans. Be careful with these as well. I ALWAYS get busy and burn mine. When you boil your pasta use a big pot and a splash of oil to keep the ravioli from sticking together. Be gentle with them. And use a big straining ladle to retrieve them when they are done.

Viola. Squash Ravioli with cream sauce, crisped prosciutto, toasted pecans, freshly ground pepper, maybe some freshly ground nutmeg, and a lot of extra parmigiano reggiano. This dish is superb. And it is all about the quality ingredients. 

4)  The legend...

One of the most compelling archaeological mysteries is the story of the 13 Crystal heads.  These heads are believed to be between 5,000 and 35,000 years old and were carved over a period of several hundred years but without any tool marks.  In fact their very construction defies the laws of physics and common logic.  They are believed to offer spiritual power to those who hold or possess them. 

The liquor...

 Oh my.  There hasn't been a more intriguing mystery since the burial place of the arc of the covenant.  And this Christmas my husband unwrapped his mystery gift and discovered one of these skulls.  And to make things even more exciting it was filled with vodka!  

After seeing a T.V. segment on the comedian Dan Aykroyd's special brew I was hooked.  Although at the price they sell this liquor, it should come with a personal friendship with Mr. Aykroyd.  Just say'in.  

So we mixed up our first martini ever. (I can't say that these days!) Here's the recipe for 2 drinks.  Place 1 pearl onion stuffed olive in each martini glass.  Pour 2 shots of vodka into a shaker filled with ice. Then two shots of a good quality gin.  Add a 1/2 shot of good dry vermouth.  Shake, pour and enjoy some Christmas spirits.  Much better than a visit from Bob Marley!

And the icing on the cake was setting the Crystal head along side our Mayan mask.  Hmmm.  The disappearance of the Maya.  Another one of life's mysteries. 

5)  It's time to make the doughnuts...

 My Mom's tried and true recipe. I remember coming home from school to the smell of doughnuts frying. It was always a surprise.  And finally....it was a good day after all!  

 I've had to laugh at some of the comments from my recipe posts.  Everyone wonders how I stay so thin.  Well, maybe I'm not thin!  How do you know?  To some of you I'm just a virtual artist!  But I say everything in moderation.  Except exercise.  I'm not going to lie.   That you have to do mega-moderate.  But...it really helps to get through 1/2 hour on the stairmaster if I can imagine how delicious a cosmopolitan will taste with dinner!  Or if I'm doing a morning walk around one of our chain of lakes.  Hmmm.  What carrot can I dangle at the end of a stick in front of me?  A delicious chocolate covered doughnut perhaps?   
Pre- mix the dry ingredients:

4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt 
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Now in another bowl mix:

2 beaten eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp melted butter

Then add the wet ingredients to the dry.  Mix just until the consistency of this photo.  Chill for 1 hour.

 Roll out dough onto a floured surface and dust with more flour on top of dough.  

Besides a rolling pin you'll need a doughnut cutter and a hole puncher.  I roll my dough thin because I like crisper doughnuts.
Don't worry about mis-shapen doughnuts.  They will all taste the same in the end. Re-roll all remaining dough pieces and cut more doughnuts. 
I use my tried and true cast iron skillet. (these days I use a deep metal pan) I fill it 1/2 way full with peanut oil and use a good quality thermometer. Bring it up to 375 degrees.  And be careful.  I always wait till after lunch to fry my doughnuts. That is when the cats are napping.  Don't over fill the skillet with dough or your oil will reduce temperature. 

Fry them all and put them on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. I put the holes in cinnamon sugar.

 Here I frosted them with a chocolate ganache.  Heat 1/3 cup 1/2 and 1/2 just until the edge of the milk starts to boil.  No longer. Then take it off the heat and stir in 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips. I'm not apologizing for the doughnut's crunchy and mis-shapen appearance.  Those are my favorite ones! These don't taste greasy.  Just earthy, crunchy and fabulous! And they freeze beautifully.  I put them in my freezer on the cookie sheet until firm.  Then I take them out and put them in a ziploc bag.  
 Here's my portion.  It is an indulgence.  But life is too short not to enjoy yourself.  You could deny yourself of the good things in life and then get hit by a bus the next day. But everything in moderation.  And my age and weight will continue to remain a mystery! Please pass on this fabulous recipe.  Or make it with your Mom today!


Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Let's do the Crew

I admit it.  I'm all about the big flashy birds.  And LBBs and MBBs don't even get named.  If you are a birder you know that LBB stands for little brown bird.  And I'm so lazy that I coined MBB for medium brown birds as well!  I'm sure this little guy is a song sparrow, wren or something.  I just don't know. Well, we spotted our LBB/MBB at one of the most underrated and wonderful of Florida hiking trails.  The Crew trails near Naples, Florida.  They are on the North side of Corkscrew Swamp.  And you'll have the whole peaceful place to your self.  And it is very diverse.  You start off in a jungle of palmettos and wind your way through an Oak Savannah ending in a pine forest.  See for yourself.

Cougar paw prints

If you want you can play hide and seek.  There is no one around to laugh at you.  Except some LBBs!

For more birds visit Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, December 9, 2013

Dove Day

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We looked out the window to a heart warming sight this weekend.  Do you see it?  

If only we could have added a little warmth to his day.

A mourning dove was cuddled up against our garage door.  It was so cold this weekend.  Absolutely frigid.  Poor little guy.  Doves coo my favorite bird sound.  So I definitely want him to survive the winter.

I took these heart melting photos through our sliding glass windows.  But they still turned out pretty clear. We felt so bad when we had to get in the garage. If only my husband felt the same way about the bunny that lives under our deck.  He has tried everything to evict him.  Because he will eat our raspberries and hydrangeas.  

So after all the bunny complaints I've been hearing lately my husband sent an email asking, "Which house kitty had been bad today?  Hana or Akua?"  I sent an email back with only an emoticon of a bunny face.  He didn't get it.  Ha!

For more on birds visit Wild Bird Wednesday