Friday, October 17, 2014

The Imaginary Garden

In our latest selection of books from the library, we happened to grab The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen.  I loved this book.  It was about Theodora and her grandpa.  When he sold his home and garden, they turned to painting an imaginary garden together to keep their love of the garden and connection to each other.  It is a beautiful book that reminds me of my Grandpa Gene.

As I mentioned in my last post about the Chocolate Zucchini Bread, my grandparents in Colorado had a backyard garden.  They carefully tended it long before it was fashionable to do so.  It was a thing of beauty.  I am sure that my grandpa remembers all of the work that went into every stage of it.  I am sure that he remembers what the sore back and stooped shoulders feel like after a long day in the garden.  I never knew those aspects of it.  I was more of a witness and tinkerer than a worker.

I remember one night as the family gathered, waiting for everyone to arrive, to go out to dinner together, my cousin and I sat in the row of peas and picked off pods, opening them, and devouring them by the dozens.

I remember thinking that the cottontail rabbits were adorable at they bellied up to the feast, while my grandpa tried ever thinner gauges of chicken wire to keep them out of his hard earned harvest.

I remember washing carrots in the wheelbarrow in ice cold hose water that lapped up my fuzzy sweater sleeves.

I remember the low white painted wooden incubating boxes that my grandpa built to help along the seedlings until they were ready for the earth.

I remember how expertly my grandpa wound the garden hose up at the end of the day (even our short one seems to manhandle me, more than I it).

I remember the tiered beds of strawberries that never seemed to get big enough before the birds got to them.

I remember lifting the broad leaves and finding enormous zucchinis hidden beneath their shade.

I remember the old metal milk box that he kept at the door to hold a shovel and pair of gloves, to keep them close at hand for a quick session out in the rows.

I remember picking spinach leaves that would be eaten in that night's dinner with warm bacon dressing.

I remember a lot of great things about that garden, and the time that I was fortunate enough to get to spend watching my grandpa create, tend, and harvest with his own hands.  Those moments with our grandparents, spent watching, learning (about much more than gardening), and just being close, do more for the soul than I can put into words.  Even the memories are felt very deeply within me.

I have said before that I get so much from discovering and reading these great books to my kiddos, and The Imaginary Garden is one such great book!

There are affiliate links within this post, but the content is wholly my own heartfelt recommendation. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chocolate Zucchini Bread

My grandparents had a garden.* I could talk your ear off about it for far longer than you are willing to sit here and listen, dear reader.  I am sure that Grandpa Gene (who grew up for a while on a farm) would say that it was just a small garden, or that it was only average.  But to me, it was perfection.  It was an introduction to food and the earth, and the sublime organization, care, and hard work that people like Grandpa Gene embody.  You know those kind of people...the ones that you think of every time you aim to be better, or do better...he is one of those.

They grew a good variety of veggies in that garden, and on the left side of it, next to the rhubarb (which I never did quite get the taste for), were the zucchini plants.  The zucchini's that we get at the grocery store would quake in fear at the sight of the zucchini's my grandpa would grow.  They were as big as my little kid arms, and there were a hundred of them each season.  So you know what a bountiful harvest means...zucchini six ways 'til Sunday.  

Enter, Grandma Sue's Chocolate Zucchini Bread.  My favorite of all the zucchini recipes.

The recipe makes two loaves, and you can cut it in half, but you shouldn't, and after you taste it, you will be mad if you did.  If you are on the fence, they freeze well, so you can have one for now, and one for tomorrow (seriously).


Grandma Sue's Chocolate Zucchini Bread

1 cup oil (vegetable or canola)
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts (or chocolate chips, or a mix of the two)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease two loaf pans.
Mix together first 5 ingredients in a large bowl.
Mix the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to the wet mixture.
Stir until just combined.
Pour batter evenly into the two loaf pans.
Bake for 55-60 minutes.
Let sit for five minutes, then remove from pans and cool on a rack.

*I feel like that statement should be a writing prompt for a book of essays, each by a different author recalling whatever stories and memories their grandparent's garden brings to mind.  I would read that book.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Baby Boy Birth Announcements

Well, in honor of his 6 month birthday, I wanted to share our little monkey's birth announcement.  We have friends who just had a baby and her sweet birth announcement got to us within a couple of short weeks of her birth.  That is probably the standard protocol.  As for me, it took five months (so embarrassing).  It took so long that I whittled down the recipient list to only those who would not find it absurd to receive a birth announcement for a 5 month old baby.

Alas, here it is...

I was hoping for an all navy announcement with white lettering (well, really I wanted is always letterpress), but you know me.  Homemade is the name of the game around here, and I didn't want to go out and find white ink cartridges.  And I didn't want to wait even longer for an online printer to print a more expensive custom announcement.  Oh well.

Maybe I should get started on those Christmas cards so I get those out before the New Year!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Butterfly Center at HMNS

A while back I posted about free things to do in Houston.  And this one isn't free, but it is not expensive, and so so worth it...the Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Nature and Science.  It is a very neat place to see, and if you are not near Houston, find one that is close to your area (different versions are all over the country).  Court loved it and despite the plethora of butterflies, she remembers getting to touch the hissing cockroach the most (sigh).

Here are some pretty pictures...just 'cause their pretty.

A 5,000 globe sitting in water that a three-year-old can spin...very cool.
(The butterflies are in the glass atrium you can see in the background.)

And...the hissing cockroach.
Have you ever been to a butterfly center in your area?

Monday, September 22, 2014

3rd Birthday Party Invitation

I can't stop with the homemade invitations, you guys.  I always have a specific idea about what the invites should look like, and they just aren't out there, unless your budget is $60 just for invitations.  Ouch!

And they are so much fun to make at home.  I have talked about how I make them in them in the past.  Here are the last two:  First Birthday  & Second Birthday.*

Fonts Used

(For a tutorial on how to download fonts onto your computer, click here.)

Oh, and how was the party, you ask?  Well, there were decorate-them-yourself cupcakes with icing (which apparently tasted infinitely better squirted directly into tiny toddler hands), mini-M&M's, sprinkles, and a cherry for the top.  There was a stunning silence as the girls very studiously decorated and absorbed more sugar than they should have in a month.  Then they went back to giggling and running and playing.  I'd say a winner of a third birthday party.  But in case you need proof...

Is there anything better?

*I like looking at when the old invitations were posted.  First birthday = a month in advance, a mom on top of her game.  Second birthday = on her actual birthday, a blogger on top of her game.  Third birthday = a month and a half later, mom of two, still trying to find my brain.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Happy Oktoberfest!!!

Happy Oktoberfest to everyone out there.   

Map of Germany - Whitehall Shop

I know, it is September, but the official Munich Oktoberfest kicks off today, and since we need no excuse to eat German food, we are not arguing.  Actually, the event celebrates the marriage of Bavarian (the big dark green section at the bottom) Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, which happened on October 12, 1810, but the German weather has since moved the date of the nearly month-long celebration a little earlier in the year.  We tend to have the opposite hot-cold issues in Texas and the annual celebrations around these heavily German-heritage parts happen a little later in the year.  

Please no lectures on the fact that Oktoberfest celebrates a Bavarian event before the unification of Germany and before the modern German map took shape.  I know, I know.  But the map is pretty and so that trumps geopolitical history today.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beer Cheese Dip {for soft pretzels}

So I told you about the soft pretzels the other day, and in our house it is assumed that this Beer Cheese Dip will be served with the pretzels.  So I don't want to withhold the goods from you.

Honestly, the first time I tried this, I didn't know what to expect, and so I was a little confused.  I wasn't sure if it was going to taste more like beer, or just be good and cheesy, but it was both and after a bite or two, I couldn't stop.  We call it a dip, but it is really more of a deep-dunking, make sure to get your fingers in there so you can lick up the extra, kind of love letter to soft pretzels.  Okay, so maybe that's an oversell.  But it is good, and you will be happy that you have the recipe, so you can make your own, because I will neither confirm nor deny that I am a double dipper with this one.

Beer Cheese Dip {for soft pretzels}

8 oz. pkg. cream cheese 
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup beer*
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. brown mustard
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. hot sauce of choice (we use Frank's)

1. Combine all ingredients into a medium-large bowl and stir together.  It will be a rough stir.
2. Microwave for 1 minute, then stir again.  The mixture will start to come together.
3. Continue microwaving for 30 seconds at a time, followed by a good stir, until the mixture is smooth and warm.  
4. Serve warm or room temperature with soft pretzels.

*Use any beer you like.  We have made it with Coors Light and it was great.  We have made it with darker beers, like Shiner, and that darker flavor was excellent, too!

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