Sunday, February 26, 2012

Popcorn Snow

Today started off all sunny and (relatively) warm, with only a few clouds in the sky, so we got outside and started gardening.  We've been working for a little while on this new flower bed on the east side of the house.  It's a sunny spot in the early spring, but shady in the summer, so I think it will be a real good spot for ferns, rhubarb and some early spring flowers. 

Then suddenly, our sunny day was replaced with a snowstorm.  We watched in awe as a white wall came across the fields to the east.  It looked like hail at first, but they were actually small balls of snow, not ice.

Conan dubbed it "popcorn snow".  It not only looked like popcorn, it also sounded like popcorn popping as the pellets pelted down and bounced off the walls and roof of the house.  We had a great time trying to catch them on our tongues.  Conan ate great handfuls of snow, until inevitably we got cold and went inside for some hot cocoa.

Within 10 minutes, the ground was solid white.  It snowed for about 20 minutes total, then stopped and the sun came back out.  An hour later, we had blue skies from horizon to horizon and most of the snow was gone. 

Several times later in the day Conan would stop what he was doing, give me a goofy grin, and say "Guess what?  I have snow in my tummy!" and then laugh like it was the funniest thing ever. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CREP Project

In the spring of 2011, through a fairly random chain of events, we were put in touch with the CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) office in Whatcom County. I'd seen their signs (and blue plastic tubes) around big wetland restoration projects, but I didn't realize they also did smaller projects. It turns out that our property was a perfect candidate for restoration - in fact, the "pangborn muck" (yes, that's the technical term) in our swamp is especially desirable.  No kidding.

 Not only do they pay for the work, but they'll pay us "rent" for 15 years as well! It took a bit of paperwork and a couple meetings, but overall it was really easy to get set up with them. The people involved are all really friendly and took the time to answer all our questions, even the ones we felt kind of silly asking. It's been a great experience so far, and we haven't even gotten paid yet! :)

 The site prep work started last fall, with the rather spectacular removal of the blackberry patch at the east end of our property. We went to work one morning and came home to find that suddenly we could walk right to the banks of the pond! I still don't know exactly how they managed to remove all those blackberries (and haul away all the debris) in a single day. Frankly, that alone was worth signing up.

 Then in October/November they cut large swaths through the impenetrable spirea thicket, and planted willows in the watery muck underneath. It's an impressive feat of landscaping.

 Now this week they are back, finishing up the planting of the field and stream bank areas. There are a LOT of little blue tubes out there!

All in all, the planting list calls for 1,875 trees and shrubs to be planted on the 3.9 acres we enrolled in the project.  The specific plant list, if you're interested, is:

  •  300 Red Osier Dogwood 
  • 100 Pacific Ninebark 
  • 100 Black Twinberry 
  • 800 Hooker Willow 
  • 150 Western Red Cedar 
  • 100 Shore Pine 
  • 125 Sitka Spruce 
  • 50 Oregon Ash 
  • 50 Quaking Aspen 
  • 50 Nootka Rose 
  • 50 Snowberry 

The evergreen trees will be mostly clustered up around the eastern end of the property, where the blackberries used to be. Our original mitigation planting is part of the enrolled CREP area, which not only means that they will plant some more items in that area, but best of all, they will take over the maintenance of it! In fact, they will maintain all the plantings for 3-5 years, coming out annually to cut back the brush and grass until the new plants are thoroughly established.

It's really an amazing program, and we're really glad to be involved in it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sparkle Hat & Face Paint

There's no real reason to post these pictures, except that they kind of melt my heart.

Conan got a gold sequin covered fedora at the consignment store last week, and he loves it. It's "just like uncle Bo's cowboy hat!" He wore it to a carnival-style fundraiser for the Kors family last weekend, "So that everybody can see sparkles." Highly appropriate style & sentiment for a Caleb-centered event.

He got his face painted with a ladybug at the fundraiser. It was a very cool ladybug, and it looked especially great with the gold sparkle cowboy hat.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

THE Biscuit Recipe

Here's the  recipe that will change how you feel about biscuits.  It's simple, fast, easy, and always makes great biscuits.  There's no denying that following the recipe and using buttermilk, white flour, and butter makes the best biscuits, but I've also tried it with all kinds of substitutions - whole wheat flour, cake flour, olive oil, coconut oil, whole milk, soy milk, even water.  They always turn out acceptably, even if they aren't quite the pinnacle of biscuitdom.

BEST DROP BISCUITS (Cooks Illustrated Dec. 2007)

2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. cold buttermilk (OR 1 c. other milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice, let rest 10 minutes)
8 tbsp. (1 stick) butter

1. Preheat oven to 475ยบ
2. Melt butter in microwave, then let cool slightly - about 5 minutes.
3. Mix dry ingredients together.
4. Mix cold buttermilk & cooled melted butter together.  Stir until it gets super clumpy.
5. Mix liquid into dry ingredients.  Stir until batter just comes together, don't overmix.
6.  Portion into 12 biscuits on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes.

That's it!  No cutting butter into flour, no rolling out dough, it's about 10 minutes to mix up the batter & get them into the oven.  Very do-able on a weeknight and these always get rave reviews at potlucks.  Of course, now that I've let out how easy they are I might have to come up with something else to bring to potlucks so everyone doesn't realize how lazy I am. Oops.

Some variations:
  • Substitute 3/4c. masa harina for an equal amount of the white flour to make corn-bread-y biscuits.
  • Cook & crumble 6 strips of bacon and mix into flour mixture, along with 1 tsp back pepper.
  • Add 1/2c. grated cheddar cheese and 1/4c. green onions or chives to flour mixture.
  • Add 3/4c. grated parmesan cheese and 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary to flour mixture.