Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer Hiatus


It is this time of the year again - I'm taking a break from my computer to enjoy summer in all its glory. Have a lovely time until I see you in September!!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Lavender in My Garden

The early morning sun lets my lavender glow

Recently I wrote about the beautiful lavender garden at one of our wineries. However, that's not the only lavender I enjoy. Of course there is quite some lavender in my own garden. I have several different kinds of lavender, from rather small to quite big, from pale blue to deep purple. Some of them do extremely well and grow bigger each year, some just... don't and die after a year or two. It's always a mystery to me why that happens, but it has never been a reason for not growing lavender. I just try a different kind.


I love to combine lavender with other flowers, especially with yellow and red ones. Stunning color combinations! But they're so pretty on their own as well.


They attract bees - and bees go crazy with happiness around the lavender. Sometimes I just sit there observing the little insects and listening to their busy humming. It's the beautiful sounds and scents of summer. What is not to love about that?




Usually I let lavender stay on the plant until it's faded. This year, however, I had so many that I cut quite a few branches and played with them in different combinations. 


They are gorgeous with dried up poppy seed pods!



Since I also have a lot of Shasta daisies in my garden, I made a little lavender-daisies arrangement. It looks natural and sweet - I love it.



The green pots, by the way, I found at IKEA. It is a set of two that looks like pale green milk cans (without the lids). Perfect for the more natural or country look. What do you think?







Thursday, August 4, 2016

A Fun Day at IKEA

My friend Jeanne and I are lucky that our daughters are very good friends as well. They have been friends since 7th grade when Becca was new to the middle school whereas Kaefer already had an established group of friends who went with her to middle school. Kaefer and Becca soon became friends and have been two wonderful goofheads ever since. 

When both girls got accepted to the University of California - Becca to Santa Barbara and Kaefer to Davis - the four of us were quick to check our calendars for a dorm shopping day at IKEA. The nearest IKEA is near Berkeley and that is where we went.


There is this big metal chair outside between the blue-yellow store and the parking garage. Ever since it had been there Kaefer has enjoyed climbing on it, and of course nothing could stop our girls to do so this time. Becca is much taller than Kaefer, so they were arranging themselves on the chair until they looked the same hight. The goofiness had started and didn't stop until we were back home.

IKEA has not only furniture but also kitchen utensils, tools and all the decoration items we obviously cannot live without. They do a great job in displaying it in a beautiful way that of course tempts the customers to buy buy buy (which is really easy at IKEA since the prices are very reasonable).


Those orange dishes in the lower left corner are ALWAYS a huge temptation for me. They have the same dishes in turquoise and a combination of the two looks gorgeous. I wonder when I will finally become weak and buy both sets.

IKEA's showroom includes tiny "appartments" that are fully furnished and very inspiring. The closets always contain a few pieces of clothes and we had enormous fun taking those clothes out and "trying them on". 



The girls stopped in the "café" - another opportunity for silly photos.


And of course the four of us had to try out the beds! Not that we were in any need to buy one...


It took us hours to get through the showroom and we were exhausted and hungry (and still had to go through the Marketplace with all those decorative items - I always call this part the Bermuda Triangle). Fortunately IKEA has a restaurant (every decent furniture store at least in Germany if not Europe has a restaurant because furniture shopping makes hungry and you have to think over some good food about these big decisions you are going to make) and we soon found ourselves at a table at the window over Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes (an IKEA staple) and chicken tenders with fries. And look what we found for the "little ones":


Bibs!!! College kids need those for sure!!!

Before we descended to the Bermuda Triangle we saw this one in the children's department - it cracked me up! The wolf eating grandma! Now this is a great way to tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood!





Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Fence at - Guess Where?


Today I'm joining Theresa's Good Fences again, but... I am not telling you yet where this fence is that you can see in the lower part of the image. Guess where it is and tell me in the comments!

To make it a little bit more difficult, this photo was taken almost 20 years ago. However, it still looks almost the same. Almost...

I'll come back later and add the location to this post.


Update: This picture is taken from the Statue of Liberty in New York. People are lining up to get into the statue and climb up to enjoy the view.

Only one person recognized it - Christine from Northern Ireland! You rock, girl!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Old-Fashioned Raspberry Jam


Raspberry jam has always been one of my favorite jams. When I was a child, my entire family would pile into the car and drive to the places in our county where my mom knew the most delicious raspberries were growing. All of us got a container and then we had to pick the raspberries. It wasn't a chore that I liked, the bushes were thorny and it just wasn't fun. However, I did love to pop the raspberries right into my mouth - they were sweet and delicious. Back home, my mom would start making jars and jars of raspberry jam that would last until the next summer, and the spiel would start again.

In the late eighties I bought a cookbook in England that had the recipe for the most delicious raspberry jam and it just asked for raspberries and jam. No pectin, no nothing - just like my mom's jam. I used to make this recipe for some years - it always took three days to make and always turned out wonderful. When we moved to the States, however, the cookbook didn't make it across the ocean.

So for years I didn't make any raspberry jam. I didn't feel like it, I didn't want to, I was lazy, whatever. Then one day I found this recipe on the internet - raspberry jam with just two ingredients, raspberries and sugar. I had to try it.

Unfortunately, I don't know WHERE this recipe comes from, and I never quite follow all the instructions. This is how I do it.


Of course you need raspberries and granulated sugar, and I use both as organic. Fortunately you can get organic granulated sugar at Costco and it's the only sugar I use. Trader Joe's often carries organic raspberries for a very reasonable price.

The amount of raspberries and sugar is always the same - if you have four cups of raspberries, you need four cups of sugar. If you want to make lots of jam, you probably are better off with eight cups of each.


Warm the sugar in the oven at 250°F  for about 15 minutes. You might wonder why - warm sugar simply dissolves better when you mix it in with the raspberries.


While the sugar warms, put the raspberries in a large enamel or stainless steel pot - I use my Dutch oven. Boil them up over high heat and mash them with your potato masher while they heat up. Constantly stir them while they're boiling for one minute.


Doesn't it already look pretty delicious? I wish you could smell it - the flavor of the berries will fill not only your kitchen but your entire house.


When the sugar is warm, add it to the raspberries and boil until the berries start to gel. This takes a while, and the boiling bubbles will make a bit of a mess. It gets a little sticky here!


Always stir with a wooden spoon - you don't have to constantly do it, but repeatedly. You don't want the jam to burn to the bottom of the pot (believe me, I'm talking from experience).


When the mixture has thickened it's time to ladle it into sterilized jars, leaving about a ¼ inch at the top. Screw the lids on and let them cool down on the counter.


After that all you have to do is open a jar and enjoy your wonderful old-fashioned raspberry jam. 



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth


There are many reasons why I love summer, and this is one of them - lavender. I love the way it grows, the beautiful shape, the tiny blossoms, but most of all the heavenly scent. When lavender is flowering the bees are buzzing around it, dizzy with happiness.

We are very lucky to live in a climate where lavender grows easily.


I wrote about this place when I started to take portraits of the high school seniors. It's a winery that not only produces wonderful reds but also has a beautiful lavender garden. It's a heavenly place! When I walk through it I always feel like being in Provence.


The lavender garden is nestled in the vineyards and the rolling hills of Sonoma County. The view from the top of the garden is stunning.




However, there's not only lavender. There are some spots where other flowers grow like sunflowers or gladiolus. If you keep your eyes open you can even see four-legged creatures hopping around.




And of course there are bees.




I even found a little redhead!!


I do like the shapes one can see in lavender fields depending from your view point. I was quite taken with this one:


Or look at it from above!


However you look at it, lavender is just an amazing flowering plant, both useful as an ornamental as well as a culinary herb and also used for extracting essential oils. When it's full grown it makes a statement in any garden.


There's another perk at this place - you can combine all this beauty with a nice glass of wine, lean back and relax.


I'm sharing for the first time with Through My Lens.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fresh and Local

With all the sad events that our country has experienced over the past days I didn't feel like writing my blog at all. Like so many others I tried to understand what is happening, and I still don't understand. I'm just incredibly sad about the direction the US has been taking for quite some time. That's all I'll be saying here.


A place where I often feel community and where everybody is welcome is our farmers market. We are lucky to have two year-round farmers markets here with most of the booths selling organic food and most of them coming from our county. I love to support local businesses, and one of the best ways to do this is at the farmers market.

Again, this will be a very photo heavy post.



Walking along the booths feels like being in a candy store for me. The colors, the scent, the beautiful displays - how can you not like that? I love to see the seasonal fruit and vegetables. It is so easy to tell who is a local farmer and who is not. Usually I tend towards the local farmer, even though their produce doesn't look quite as crisp and clean. However, I do know where it comes from, and often we strike up a conversation.




Last Saturday a farmer and I were exchanging ideas what to cook using eggplants and how. It was so inspiring. Her eggplants were small and absolutely yummy looking - I knew that they would cook up fast and would just go well with my own home grown zucchini and a few tomatoes.

Talking of tomatoes... there were already the first tomatoes available, wonderful sweet and juicy Early Girls. They were so delicious in our Caprese that we had yesterday for dinner - one of my very favorite summer foods.


I saw beautiful greens, onions, squash and zucchini...








... as well as radishes and fresh garlic - the garlic really does it for me! I love garlic and use it generously!



There were peaches - oh, how do i love peaches! -, grapes (after all, this is wine country), blackberries, strawberries and blueberries, all of them delicious.






There are two bakers at the market, and I buy from both of them. Their bread is to die for. They use a lot of whole and/or ancient grain. One of the bakers likes to put fancy designs on top of the crust so that their bread looks even more tempting. I can never pass the bread booths without buying one or two loaves. They never keep long in our German household.







There is coffee, too, if you like - organic, fair trade, low acid coffee roasted here in Santa Rosa, freshly brewed right here at the booth. A pleasant break while you're shopping!


And of course there are flowers. What is a farmers market without flowers?




This is a very important part of summer that I love. When I work on Saturdays during the school year I cannot go to the farmers market (so I will have to bake my own bread again!). Having lived in Europe for 40 years where it is quite common to shop at the local farmers markets in all seasons, rain or shine,  I know that I will miss it - that's why I enjoy it the more at this time.

Tell me - do you often shop at the farmers market? Do you enjoy what they have to offer? Or are you perfectly happy with the supermarkets in your area?