RECIPE: Candied Edible Flowers

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Recently we had a dinner party in which Spring was the theme. For dessert, I made a sponge lemon cake with lemon curd filling (I will be posting that, hopefully tomorrow.) and decided that some candied violas on top would be a perfect accent. I was inspired by the Spring Celebration Cake in an old SPRING William's Sonoma book. Sugaring the flowers is very easy. You just need to give yourself time to dry them out. They can be stored between wax paper for a few days as well. The result is quite pretty! Here is also a pdf link of a short list of edible flowers you can use from Iowa Sate University: (www.extension.iastate.edu/publications/rg302.pdf) Be careful, not all flowers are edible and all of them have various flavors that may not work for what you are using them for. Some have a more peppery flavor while others are sweeter and milder. So it is good to do your research before serving guests.

Candied Edible Flowers

Ingredients:

A Handful of fresh snipped edible flowers, keeping a very small stem on the back for handling
1 egg white
1 Tsp. water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
A very small pastry brush is ideal, but any food grade brush will do

Directions:


Gently rinse your flowers, lay them on paper towels to air dry for an hour or so. You may want to flip them midway so they dry evenly. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white with the water until foamy. Set aside. In a flat plate, pour an even layer of granulated sugar, roughly 1/4 cup or so. This will be your drying area for the flowers. Reserve the remaining sugar for sprinkling.


When the flowers are ready, take one in your hand and with the pastry brush, dip it in egg white and paint the front and back gently with the egg white. Use the brush to open petals flat and get a good shape. Only paint and sugar one at a time.



With your fingers, sprinkle gently the sugar over the flowers until they are evenly covered and shimmer. You want an even, thin coating. Turn them over and sprinkle their backs the same way. Then check the front again, flattening out any petals that got bent forward. Lay the flower flat in the sugar plate. Continue with the rest of the flowers, letting them all sit in the sugar plate to dry completely in an arid, quiet place. This may take up to 2 hours or more. Flowers should be dry and brittle. I have heard you can speed things up by putting them on wax paper and putting them in a 200˚ oven for ten minutes. I have never done that, my worry has been that the heat would take some of the color and flavor out of the flowers. But if you are in a hurry, you can try it. Just don't forget them!




Place them on your dessert as decorations when ready.


GARDENING: Garden plan a week, Week 2, Three Seasons of Beauty

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rtfgvb This week I am featuring a made-to-order garden from Spring Hill Nurseries. For those of you that are not confident in your planning skills, this nursery has a handful of pre-planned, ready to plant gardens. This one is nice because it is planned for waves of color in every season. I ordered this garden last year for a curved bed in my front yard, roughly 12 ft by 6 ft. The Lungwort adds nice color in the spring and fill in quickly. And the array of Mums in the front look lovely in the fall with their yellows, golds and reds.

I have included their plan below. They are running a special for 25% off if you order the complete garden from them. When I ordered this garden, my hydrangea came destroyed, and they speedily sent a replacement at no charge. I was surprised at the hydrangea being damaged, because the plants were really well packed for mailing. Be careful when you order, because they need to get in the ground quickly. Don't order them too early, because then they will sit in their mailing material too long...and that's not good.



Something to note, the plants that come to you are pretty much starter plants, so they are small. Be sure to plant them with space to grow. And to that end, the plants will not look like the garden renderings shown here until 3 years of growth. So unless you can wait and live with a spindly garden for a little bit, you may want to buy more mature plants while still following the above plan. I say this because I am an impatient gardener, and I was a little bummed at how small the plants were when they arrived. But more mature plants cost more money, and we were on a budget. So I made peace with it and it is coming in nicely.

You can visit this nusery at springhillnursery.com or order by phone at 513-354-1509. Happy plantings!



Product review: Dyson Animal Airmuscle Vacuum

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My husband surprised me with a new vacuum cleaner. I told him our old Eureka was past its prime, but he dismissed it. I mean, it still worked, technically. Low and behold, one night pulling in the garage, I was thrilled to see a Dyson box. That quirky Dyson Brit convinced me that he was an inventing genius. And considering we have a white cat and the hubby is mildly allergic to it, the Dyson models looked like a miracle.

Well, my husband got the Cadillac Dyson, the "Animal". He said he sneezed the whole way to school drop off that day and had had enough. Well that man can shop big when he wants to, because this thing looks like you need a driver's license to run it.

Our little cleaning lady took it on its maiden voyage. At first glance, the Dyson Animal looks like a beast. Our cleaning lady was afraid to use it. But after using it on our first floor (3 medium area rugs, a runner and one small room wall to wall), Mariyah had to get my husband to show him the canister. It was already to the official max lines!

Let me point out, we do vacuum regularly. So to see how much dirt, hair and gunk our last vacuum was missing was mind blowing. So yesterday, it was my turn to get acquainted with "The Animal". I was so impressed I felt the need to share our experience in case you are in the market for one.

Pros:

There is a Tragically Hip song with a verse "The rules salesman says this vacuum's guaranteed, it could suck an ancient virus from the sea..." Its pretty much like that. I have never seen anything like it.

The motor is pretty quiet.

It is powerful enough that it powers itself forward so you don't have to push so hard. Reminded me of a doberman I had in college that walked me versus the other way around.

The attachments are great and fit nicely tucked behind the canister.

The canister easily clips off, and with your thumb over a red button by the handle and the canister over a trash bin, collected flotsam is easily cleaned out. (remember over a trash bin, I did not realize how easy it opened and I got some on my shoe).

Usually when I vacuum, my husband has to leave the house, it makes him sneeze for hours. Not this time! He did not even sniffle once.

The handle turns into a detachable hose where you can do stairs and leave the motor half of the machine on the ground, it stretches pretty far.

Cons:

It is heavier than most machines. The detachable handle/hose is nice for stairs and attachments, but if you need to lug this to different floors and have trouble getting around yourself, this machine might be too much for you.

The handle/ hose detachment is cool, but it takes getting used to as far as how it works and pulls out. It's not as intuitive as I think they wanted it to be, or I'm daft...which is entirely possible.

The power cord is an old-school, coil-it-around-the-back manually kind of thing. It seems with as high tech this puppy is, there would be a retractable cord. Maybe if they did that, it would have made it heavier? It just seems not as thought through as the rest of it.

I made the mistake of vacuuming on until the canister was filled. I did not see the "max" marks until I was dumping. Considering how well this machine does, you will get to those max lines pretty fast, which means stopping to dump a lot. Maybe future models will have more capacity? That would be awesome!

It says to clean your filter with water every three months. This may be a pain for many, to do or even remember. I am sure it is to make sure this machine works at it's best for you as time goes on. It's just an added thing to worry about in the vast list of things to worry about for many of us.


All in all, the cons are nit-picky. Its a great machine. I felt like my house was REALLY clean, and that felt really good. It isn't cheap (around $599ish retail) and we did get it on sale, but if you have allergy issues in your home and/or an animal, it is worth the investment.




GARDENING: Garden Plan a Week; WK 1, Tussie Mussie

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Hi all!

Spring is officially around the corner. In the spirit of all our garden itchiness, I am featuring some garden plans I have collected and saved throughout the years. Today, I am going to feature a sweet little garden called "Tussie Mussie". This was a plan I pulled from a great master gardener and her magazine, Rebecca Kolls (Rebecca's Garden), years ago. (Here is her blog) This was designed by Mayita Dinos, an award winning LA garden designer for Rebecca's magazine.

This garden looked like a perfect size for a front yard foundation bed. The nice thing about these flowers is that in true 16th century style, each flower has a meaning which I have included here. Rebecca explains that beyond the odor-purifier that a tussie-mussie bouquet was used for, it was also a coded message depending on which flowers you sent the receiver of the bouquet.

This is based on 2  4 x 4 beds with a wall for a trellis for the clematis on the right side. If you don't have a wall, maybe come up with another creative structure to put back there for a clematis to climb. Happy planting!


RECIPE: Cuban Mojo Pork Loin

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This is a native recipe adapted from a photographer friend who is half Cuban. He spent a lot of time in Cuba taking beautiful pictures and he makes this often. We are grateful he has shared it with us. This takes a little planning, because it does need to marinate over night. And there is a TONE of garlic, but once you do the marinade, its a pretty easy weeknight meal. In fact, the mojo itself can keep for three days, so you can make it on a Sunday and save it for a busy weeknight. While the pork is roasting, throw some rice in the rice cooker and cook up some beans (and maybe make a mojito?) and your dinner is done!

Cuban Mojo Pork Loin

Ingredients:

Mojo:
1-2 heads of garlic, minced and smashed in mortar with the following herbs:
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. salt and pepper
1 medium onion (preferably red, but others will do) minced fine
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of two oranges
Juice from two limes
Juice from one lemon

3 1/2 –4 lb. pork loin
2 Tbsp olive oil


Directions:

Saute onion in olive oil until translucent and soft. Remove from heat. Add the herbs and garlic and remove from heat. Add fruit juices and let rest. Mojo can keep refrigerated for 3 days.

Stab the pork loin a handful of times. Put in a large Ziploc bag and add 1 cup of mojo. Leave marinating overnight. When ready to cook, pull pork loin out and pat dry. Reserve some mojo for basting. Preheat oven to 325˚. In a heavy skillet, sear pork loin with 2 Tbsp. oil oil until brown on all sides. Place meat on a roasting rack and roast in the oven until internal temp is about 160˚. Baste with mojo marinade as the meat cooks. Let meat rest before serving.

RECIPE: Easy Fudge Toffee Crunch Bars

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Well, it has happened to all of us. The "Oh My Gosh I need to bake something for school tomorrow!" freak out. Yesterday was one of those times. Fortunately, I have saved an old stand-by book through the years that came to the rescue, "Bar Cookies, A to Z" by Marie Simmons. In it, I found the holy grail of a third grader home run...chocolate and candy bars. Eight candy bars, to be exact. (We bought 10...ya know...just in case...yeeeeeaaahh) They met with approval from my daughter this morning. That's a start!

Easy Fudge Toffee Crunch Bars

Ingredients

2 sticks of butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups coarsely chopped Heath Bars or other chocolate covered toffee candy bars (about 8 should do it)


Directions

Preheat over to 350˚ and with cooking spray, spray down a 13 x 9 or two 8 x 8 pans. Set aside.

In a bowl, sift together flour, corn starch, cocoa powder, salt.

Coarsely chop 8 heath bars (or other chocolate covered toffee candy bars such as SKOR), you should have two cups total. (as a short cut they do sell Heath bits in some stores, you may use these too.)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter. Add brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy, adding the vanilla midway. On low, add the dry ingredients. Finish mixing with a paddle or by hand. Add 1 cup of the chopped candy and mix thoroughly.

Take the batter and pour into prepared pan. With the palm of your hand, press the dough until flat and even into the pan. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of chopped candy evenly over. With the palm of your hand, press it into the top of the dough. Put it in the oven.



Bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the edges are brown and beginning to pull away from the pan. Let cool on wire rack. Cut into squares. You should get 24, but I cut them BIG so we get less. Pour a nice, cold glass of milk and enjoy.

LIFESTYLE: How Firing our Cable Company was the Best Thing for our Family

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Each time we go to our lake house rental, we have week experiment in unplugging. In fact, I wrote about this a few times in previous posts. (http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2009/08/mommyhood-great-unplugged-family.html) These experiments have been more about unplugging completely from all electronics...which the first couple of days is like coming off of a drug. But after you get into the swing of things, you actually enjoy being able to be in the present a lot more. But we always came back to our busy home, complete with TV, cable, on demand movies, video games, Internet, radio, digital radio, ipods, cell phones, etc. But the past few weeks, we have been without one of these mediums, and it has proven to be as difficult as it has been rewarding.

Three weeks ago we were completely fed up with Comcast. We had spotty Internet since January and then it was down for 4 days along with our phone, and though we scheduled a tech to come out and fix it, they either never showed or screwed up the other days that they were scheduled. SO 4 days turned into 8. Finally after many apathetic CSRs on the phone and being on hold for 45 minutes sometimes, we fired them (when we finally could talk to a human). The irony is, in less than 24 hours they speedily came out to cut off the one working medium, the Cable. If they would have been that responsive to begin with, they would have kept us as customers! But I digress...

That was three weeks ago, and we have replaced the Internet provider since then. It seemed that we needed that the most. But we have not replaced the land line or the TV yet. The lack of TV was hard for the first week. We had a schedule of shows we liked, and it helped us all wind down in the evening. But that had it's drawbacks too, like winding down to "passed-outness" before bedtime. We never watched our slew of movies we have had from Netflix. We never got as much done at night as we wanted to. But as our family became accustomed to no TV, we began to occupy our time in other ways.

We interact more together. Our daughter plays with more of her things. In fact, She woke herself up this morning and worked in a sticker book that I haven't seen played with for two years, and then she pulled out a Pokemon toy set that I unburied in a recent closet clean-up session and was playing with it on her own. She seems more focused during homework time, flashcard time and piano practice time. We do watch movies, in fact my husband and I have been getting caught up on all our back log of movies. But not all the time. Movie watching is a commitment, so we don't do it that often and we make it special as family time. We also have introduced our daughter to some of our favorites now that she is old enough, like the original Star Wars and even (if you can believe it) The Seven Samurai by Akira Kurisawa. If we only get to watch half it gives the family something to look forward to the next night. My husband and I have become hugely productive. If I don't have the time or energy to commit to a movie, I will get to the closet cleaning, office organization, blogging upkeep or other projects that keep getting put aside. My husband said yesterday, "I don't know about getting Cable anymore. We are getting so much done around the house right now! And we are saving money".

Will we stay TV free? I am not sure. Will we maybe look at Hulu or other newer forms of entertainment? Maybe. I can say I am missing my TCM channel and SCFI as well (yes, I have eclectic tastes). But I can just catch my shows online when I feel like it, and not let it get into our family's way, I suppose. We shall see. For now, I am liking the less noise, more productivity our house is filled with as of late. I will "keep you posted".

RECIPE: Simple Creamy Nutmeg Chicken

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This is a simple weeknight dish that has an elegance all its own. Why? Leeks give it a french delicate flavor with the nutmeg..and so does the...well, err, cream (ahemm.) Lets face it, cream makes even cardboard taste amazing. And if you don't overdo it, having it once in a while is OK. Well, that's what I tell myself, anyway. Two things to keep in mind...nicely brown your chicken on all sides so you get a nice base on the bottom of our pan for the sauce. And also, if you wish, you can try half and half to lighten it up, it just may take longer to thicken up.

Simple Creamy Nutmeg Chicken

1 leek, white part only, cut in 2 inch slices
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste
1 lb. chicken breasts, cleaned
1/8 cup chopped, fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a skillet, cook leeks for 2-3 minutes. Add chicken and brown on all sides. Add cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook over medium heat until cream is thickened and chicken is cooked through. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve warm.

GARDENING: Top Ten Tools for Garden Planning- "Old School" to New Apps!

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Winter is coughing up it's last gasps as it rolls some "phlem-y" storms of mixed-up thunder, rain, sleet and snow through the Midwest these past few weeks. We gardeners laugh at these sad attempts to thwart our springtime optimism! We hear the birds tweeting in the morning, we have noticed the subtle longer days and can just feel it in our gardeners bones, spring is around the corner. Well, don't get caught unprepared. This is the perfect time to dust off your garden books and get inspired! Now is the time to plan away! A plan not only will produce a prettier, sustained garden. But you can focus your time, money and energy when you are at the gardening center. A vetted plant wish list with acceptable back ups is key. That way you won't get distracted or end up buying too much or the wrong plants. (Of course, if you are like me, you will get distracted any way and splurge on something pretty you were not expecting. That's the fun of it. But without a plan, you will spend a whole lot more money than you should!)

There are many great tools I have used and plan to use to help me plan my garden. Some are kind of old school and simple...like using PAPER and a PENCIL. But with the onset of mobile apps and technology in general, there are very powerful, helpful and inexpensive digital tools to make planning fun and easy. Here are my top ten tools, from one extreme to the other. Please join the conversation and share what has worked for you! Happy Planning!

1: The Garden Planner Kit Booklet

This is a book I bought when I was just starting out in gardening. It comes with plant stickers, pencils and graph paper, and takes a very architectural approach to planning your garden. It is a little harder to visualize color and height with this tool, but one thing you will get is a mathmatically accurate plan...something I ALWAYS MESS UP! I usually don't allow the right amount of space for my plants, either over crowding in a spot or not buying enough. It is a good tool for beginners. It's tactile and little old school, and that's OK considering you are just learning. I think a tactile approach is the best way to learn.

2: Better Homes and Gardens FREE Downloadable/Printable Garden Plans 

There is a wealth of plans online that BHG is giving for FREE and they are constantly updating. They can be viewed online as pdfs, or you can download and print them to make notes. These plans are great for two reasons. They are organized based on style, function or light, and you can change these to fit your size plot. But the other thing they do is give you a replacement plant list in the back of the plan. I always go to the store and inevitably, I can't find 30% of what I planned on from my "fancy-pants" books and magazines. Then I spend more time reading tags, measuring and reworking plans at the store on the fly trying to find replacements. These plans keep that in mind allowing you to substitute easy to find plants that work in the plan you chose. Thank you BHG!


3: Better Homes and Gardens Free Online Plan-A-Garden Tool

A somewhat new tool from BHG is a Plan-A-Garden tool. Some of the users complained the tool did not have enough plants, trees and shrubs to pick from. But again, if you are just starting out, this seems to be a great tool online for free! People found it easy to use, and you can save your plans online. My guess is BHG is going to continue to grow and expand the database as they develop it. I think for free...it's pretty cool stuff.

4: Better Homes and Garden Free Online Garden Journal/Notebook

 I don't mean to be raving about BHG, but they really have made huge strides in owning the garden space as a major go-to resource online. If it's there, why not use it!? Another nice tool is the garden journal they developed online. You create your account and keep notes, plans and purchases within your profile. I prefer to be more old school with my garden journal (as you'll see)..collecting my tags and bits of paper and notes. I like to grab it and walk around the garden writing notes when I feel like it...it's part of my experience. But some of you "younglings" may really like to keep your garden activity online. Either way, journaling and keeping your planning in one place is really important for a successful garden. So find a style that works for you. This online tool may be your ticket.






5: Free Online "Social Network" Garden tool from Garden Puzzle


Speaking of the Gen Y approach to gardening, here is a place that takes a Facebook approach and mixes garden planning with social networking...all for free! You can create an account and profile, upload pictures of your house, garden or landscape. Then build your ideas right on the picture. You can see things in their real environment and heights. Garden Puzzle will give you tips on what you should plant based on soil and climate, and you can see what your choices will look like based on seasons. You can upload and share your creations with other members in the community. Oh, and did I mention IT'S FREE?



6: Plain old printed photos and tracing paper

Completely opposite from the previous tool, this is just as important and can even be used in tandem with the more digital stuff. I always take pictures of my garden throughout the year as things come up and die back. It is a nice way to keep track of what is where, what last minute things you planted and where your holes are. You can use these photos in some of the tools I am sharing with you here. But you can also just simply print the photos out and with some paper or tracing paper on top, write notes of choices or changes you wish to make. You can just do that, or you can then take your notes and use some of the more visual/digital tools to see more vividly how things will look. But with the dawn of the digital camera, pictures of your garden is a must for planning and optimizing.




7: "The Garden Keeper" Journal or a simple notebook with inside cover pocket

This journal is the most amazing gift I ever received, and I use it a ton. It is a small binder with tabs, complete with sleeves and places to organize plant tags, calendars, graph paper, notes, to do lists per season, plant selection lists based on height, color or light. Even a trouble shooting guide. I am sorry to say, I could not find it anywhere online to tell you where to buy it, it seems to be discontinued. However, you don't need a fancy organizer like this to keep all your thoughts and notes in one place. You just need a notebook with tabs and a few pockets somewhere in there to hold tags, notes and plans, and you are all set.



8: Easy Bloom Garden Sensor

The gadget of all garden gadgets! I have posted a review on this last year at ( http://www.urbandomesticdiva.com/2009/08/product-review-omg-easy-bloom-plant.html). I am not sure you can use this sensor this early in the season. But if you have a specific area you don't know what to do with, as things warm up, pop this little gadget in the ground and wait 24 hours. After that, pop it in your computer by using it's USB connector, and it will give you a list of plant recommendations based on that area keeping in mind moisture, light, soil, etc. I have used this to troubleshoot certain areas in my beds that have dying plants for no good reason. I think it can also help in preplanning what will work in those tough areas, too.





9: Books, Magazines and Binder of old clipped articles

Again, an "old school" activity...but nothing gets you passed the winter doldrums than curling up with some gardening books or magazines and a cup of tea to get the wheels turning. Many books will give you real gardens to get inspired from with plans and plant lists right next to them. The only issue I have had doing this is that often times, these gardens are very aspirational...and so are the plant choices. As I mentioned before, I sometimes can't find some of these varietals, and if I do, they cost a pretty penny because they are specialty. It is nice to have one or two of these in a bed, but having a whole bed like that can get very costly. Either way, it is a nice way to get inspired and to see what other amazing gardeners have done as a starting point.


Another tool that I have developed over the years is an organized binder of interesting articles and tips from magazines. I bought tabs from an office store to keep topics organized, and I only clip out stuff from magazines that is important to me and my zone. That way, I can recycle the rest of the magazine. It is a great way to not get overrun with garden magazines through the years, and you can easily find information that you are looking for.

10: Digital apps, ( Gardener's Buddy, Eden Garden Design, and Garden Buddy

The brave new world of apps is here. And if any of you have a mobile device, you have been in the rabbit hole of app-land. And you can attest to the fact that not all apps are good. In fact, many of them are buggy and not helpful. The sea of gardening apps is no different, however, there are some inexpensive gems to take a look at that are helpful.


Gardener's Buddy is an app that allows you to upload your sketches of your garden plans, and write and keep notes on it in a chronological format. So it is like a digital gardening journal!


Eden Garden Design allows you to upload a picture of your garden and plan right on top of it to visually see what you are designing. Their data base is searchable by light, zone, color, etc and each plant entry has a wiki link to delve further. For the price, this looks pretty spanky...I have to say.



Garden Buddy (not to be confused with Gardener's Buddy) is like a gardening calculator. Not sure how much sod, fertilizer or mulch to buy? Input your info and it will give you some answers. Pretty sweet for my math-challenged brain!
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