Wednesday, April 1, 2020

SPLURGE STORY

Steve Aiken is editor of my favorite gardening magazine, Fine Gardening.  In this this month's  issue
his opening editorial really hit a cord with me as a avid gardener..and my name is Steve too!

Splurge Story
by Steve Aiken

From what I understand, avid gardeners can go a bit overboard when buying plants.  I don’t ever do this, but I know it happens because people have told me.  It reminds me of something that happened to a friend of mine, not to me.
He was shopping at a local nursery widely known for its outstanding selection of cool and unusual plants.  Sure, I shop there too, and am male, but this story is not about me.  It is about my friend, who is not me-and who happens to be quite handsome for an  older fella.
Amid all of the treasures at this nursery, he spied a shrub with glossy burgundy leaves shining in the sunlight, as though the gardening gods had focused a spotlight on this very plant so that he might gaze upon it.  He was drawn to it, and reveled in its beauty.  
As he bent down to add the plant to his cart, he happened to notice the price tag. Immediately, clouds obscured the sun and a cold wind blew.  It was way too expensive.  He placed it back where he had found it-with, it seemed, a little piece of his soul.

He continued shopping but his attention always went back to those glossy burgundy leaves. He looked at the carts of the other customers hoping that none of them had bought the coveted plant either.  

That’s when he came up with a plan.  He would buy the plant (car payment be damned) when he knew his wife wouldn’t be home. He would plant it immediately and once the plant was in the ground, he would cover up the evidence.

With the course of action clear before him, he returned to the plant where he had placed it, slightly obscured from the view of less-discerning customers.  He placed the shrub in his cart and felt the warmth of the sun on his back. A bluebird perched on a near-by tree and chirped its approval.  His soul was restored.  And he marched triumphantly to the cash register, thinking to him self, “Nice choice, Steve!” Oh, my friend’s name is also Steve. This didn’t happen to me. Did I mention he was handsome?

Monday, March 30, 2020

CONCRETE FLOWER MESSAGE BAR


Concrete Flower Message Bar 
This is a fun project to do by oneself or with a group of helpers. Plastic flowers are given a transformation by dipping them into a wet concrete mixture, which makes them “outdoorable”.
Use as ornaments for planters, pots or wherever you want to add a surprise element in your garden. These instructions will show you how to create these flowers and a Word Bar to display them as a hanging plaque or as container ornament and you can use the single flowers any way you see fit.

What You Need:
-Simple plastic flowers (daisies are perfect, roses not so much) with leaves and a strong stem.
- can of old spray paint
-1 1/4” x 4 ½” x 8 ½” piece of insulation foam 
-sand topping concrete mix (yellow/red/black Quikcrete bag)
- yogurt cup
-white glue
-pair of scissors, a ruler and a pencil
-X-acto knife with a sharp blade
-10  3” common nails
-small hand or keyhole saw
-vegetable oil or bakers spray
- large plastic mixing bowl or pail
-wooden spoon or cement trowel
- 1-inch paint brush
- extra foam pieces to hold drying flowers
-latex or vinyl gloves

What you do:
1. Make the Word Bar mold first. Photocopy the pattern on these instructions.  Cut out the large rectangular pattern. Do not cut the inside strips at this point.  Trace the rectangle on the piece of 1 ¼” thick foam. Now cut out the four strips. Save the lettering pattern for later. Trace the strips onto the foam and cut everything out with the handsaw- 1 rectangle base, two long strips and two short. 

2.  Lightly (just a smear) coat the back of the lettering pattern with white glue and center in the middle of the large rectangle base and allow to dry.  

3.  Using the X-acto knife held at a 45-degree angle cut out the dark letters using small up and down strokes. Don’t worry that the letters are backward.  They will read correctly on the finished product. Remove the remaining pattern paper from the foam. 

4.  Assemble the mold using the nails.  Measure down the middle of the top and bottom mold pieces making a mark with the pencil every 1-½ inches.  You will end up with three evenly spaced marks on the top and bottom of the Word Bar. At each mark, use the pencil to pierce a hole, starting at the bottom and passing through the topside of the mold.  Run a plastic straw through these holes from bottom to top.  These will become the holes that hold the flowers in the Word Bar. Spray or oil the inside of the mold and set aside. 

 5.  Prepare the plastic flowers by trimming stems that are too long and “fluffing” the leaves and petals so they look their best.  If they seem especially slick and shiny, spritz them with any color of spray paint you have on hand.  This will help the concrete to adhere.

6.  Remove the flower heads and stick the stems with leaves into a sheet of foam or an overturned cardboard box punched with holes.  This will serve as your drying rack.

7.  Put on the latex or vinyl gloves. Measure three yogurt cups of sand mix cement into a plastic mixing bowl.  Slowly add warm water and mix thoroughly to the consistency of melted ice cream: smooth, rich and not too runny.

8. This is the messy part…expect a mess! Dip and slosh each flower head into the mixture, using your fingers and a paintbrush to coat everything- petals and centers, fronts and backs.  Carefully lay the dipped flower heads down onto the foam with the front side facing up.
Now dip the leaves on the stems completely into the mixture and stick them into your drying rack. Allow setting and hardening before repeating this step a second time. Two dippings should do the trick.

 9.  Pour any remaining concrete into the Word Bar mold and tap to remove air bubbles.  If, after both dippings, you do not have enough concrete to fill the mold, mix enough to fill it and allow setting and hardening overnight.  When hard, carefully remove the nails to free your cast Word Bar.  Smooth the edges and trim off the excess straws with the X-acto knife and make sure the straw holes are clean.  Reassemble the mold because you can use it repeatedly to make additional word bars.


Once everything is dried and cleaned, you’ll have the fun of finding creative ways to use your flowers and Word Bar around your garden. The concrete covered flowers will shed a few crumbs every time you move them, so once in place, leave them be.  It’s time to bloom!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

SPICED CHAI CAKE WITH PUMPKIN FILLING


When I visit a coffee shop, I usually forego the coffee and order a Chai Latte.  I love this combination of spices with a bite.  Here is a cake that mimics this flavor with a luscious Spiced Pumpkin Dip filling made by KC Gourmet.  Holy yum!

SPICED CHAI CAKE WITH PUMPKIN FILLING

1.  Coat a 13” X 9” pan with baking spray and line bottom with baking parchment and preheat oven to 350F.

2.  Mix together:
1 yellow cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup applesauce
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 TBS Chai Spice*
*You can buy this premade on Amazon.  I like to make my own that is less sweet with more of a snappier bite.

    3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon ground ginger
½ tablespoon ground allspice 
½ tablespoon ground cloves
½ tablespoon ground nutmeg
½ tablespoon ground black pepper

3.  Pour mixed batter into baking pan.  

4. Bake for 30-35minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. 

5. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and invert cake onto a sheet of parchment paper.  Cut in half horizontally.  Then cut top half into four smaller equal sections. 

6. Return the top half to the cake pan one section at a time. A nice wide spatula makes this easy work.

7.  Spread the contents of one jar of KC Gourmet’s Spiced Pumpkin Dip. Replace the second half of cake on top of the filling.  You can try it in one piece using the parchment paper or cut the second layer into sections as you did the first.

8. Allow to cool and then place covered in the freezer while you prepare the frosting.


SPICE CHAI CREAM CHEESE FROSTING

1/2 cup of butter, room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
About 3 cups of powdered sugar 
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon Chai spice
1. Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely smooth, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl to ensure that the mixture is mixed evenly.
2.  Beat in vanilla and almond extract, Chai Spice. With the mixer running on low speed to start, slowly add in 2 cups of the powdered sugar. Keep adding  powdered sugar until you get the desired spreading consistency.
3. Spread the frosting over the surface of the cake.  Dust the top lightly with more Chai Spice. Refrigerate and serve.

When I visit a coffee shop, I usually forego the coffee and order a Chai Latte.  I love this combination of spices with a bite.  Here is a cake that mimics this flavor with a lucious Spiced Pumpkin Dip filling made by KC Gourmet.  Holy yum!