Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Poppy Fence

I'm still enjoying my poppies although they are past their prime now. Many of them have fallen over - good thing we have built the fence, otherwise the flowers would lie flat on the sidewalk by now.

I can't stop taking photos - both of the poppies and the fence. Recently I noticed the shadow of the fence with the poppies - that would be nice in black and white as well, with just the red of the poppies highlighted.

There are still the big papaver poppies around - or "opium poppies" as some call them. Last year the deer ate many of the seed pods - I guess we had some very happy deer for a short time!

And this is how it looks like behind the fence. Last Sunday, when I was out early in the morning, trimming back and cleaning out the flower beds, a woman who was passing by told me that my garden looks like a Monet painting. What a compliment! She certainly made my day!

I'm linking again to Theresa's Good fences over at the Run-Around-Ranch. I'm so glad I found her blog!

Monday, May 26, 2014

It's Glowing Red and Orange

Last week, Jo and I visited the gardens at Cornerstone in Sonoma. These are not spectacular gardens because of their plants and flowers, but because of the art that is displayed here.

One of the pieces that I want to focus on today is the Red Lantern by Andy Cao and Xavier Perrot. The "Red Lantern is an assemblage of Chinese-inspired elements referencing the history of Chinese migrants who came to California during the mid-19th century Gold Rush, and stayed to build the Central Pacific Railroad. It is a magnificent piece of art. When you approach the Red Lantern, it looks rather plain.

However, when you get closer, you notice the many many red and orange crystal droplets that hang on the lower part - and are reflected in the water.

Then you see the cloud pattern in the structure that holds the droplets. The droplets shall be reminiscent of a Chinese wedding headdress.

It is downright spectacular and the colors are glowing against the sunlight and in the water.

Processed with "kk_nested" in blending mode Multiply at 75%

It was a challenge to photograph so that you can see the glow of the crystal droplets in the sunlight and on the water - most of my pictures look rather dull, but I am glad that there were a very few good ones.

I'm linking up to Kim Klassen's Texture Tuesday - always a great challenge!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mendocino Fences Part 2

Last week I wrote about the beautiful picket fences in Mendocino. Today, I'm returning to the fences in Mendocino, but these ones look a little bit different.

They are the more weathered fences - grey with uneven boards, many of them deteriorating, some of them with a lot of charm. I call them the natural fences because they were allowed to change color and not being cared for by annual or bi-annual new paint. I find them endearing and often more photogenic than the "stylish" fences (although no fence in Mendocino is really stylish).

They remind of fairy tales and hobbits, secret gardens and whispered promises.

Some have rusty old screws that probably no screwdriver can loosen anymore. They have been with the fence for decades and won't give up their place.

Others are roughly hold together by small thick boards; they're practical and do the job - holding up the fence - but they are not necessarily beautiful.

Some serve as a "bar" - sort of...

Others show gorgeous details where you can still see the tree from which they once came.

Whatever and how ever they are - they are beautiful fences in their own way.

I'm linking up to Good Fences over at the Run-Around-Ranch.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Black and White with Splashes of Red

This week's theme at Kim Klassen's Texture Tuesday is Black & White. 

I water my flower beds twice a week, and one day I noticed the way the water looked against the sun while it was shooting out of the sprinkler. Of course I took several pictures, and I thought that it might be interesting to convert one of them to black & white.

However, I decided to leave a few red splashes - the poppies.

After that I processed the image further with one of Kim's textures, kk_scriptededges. 

Here's my entire process:
1. Converted the image to black & white.
2. Using a mask, I brought back the color of some red poppies.
3. With a hue/saturation adjustment I let the red color pop even more.
4. Applied texture in blending mode soft light at 100%.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Raspberries. Lemons. Muffins.


Recently I have been in a real baking mood. I've already told you about my rye bread and you saw my blueberry muffins. This time I made raspberry lemon muffins, and I can tell you - they are as good as they look.

Do you want the recipe and give yourself a treat? Okay, let's go.

You need:

for the muffins:
about 1 cup (+/-) fresh raspberries
1¾ cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
⅓ cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
¾ cup milk
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup Greek lemon yogurt

for the crumbs:
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
¼ cup cold butter, cubed
1 tsp lemon zest

1. Grease a muffin pan and preheat oven to 375F.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine 1¾ cup flour, baking powder, ⅓ cup sugar and salt.
3. In another mixing bowl, combine the egg, milk, and melted butter. Add the mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the yogurt and mix well. The mixture will be thick and lumpy.
4. In a smaller mixing bowl, combine ½ cup all purpose flour, ½ cup sugar, and the lemon zest to make the topping. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles crumbs.
5. Put about ¼ cup of the batter in each muffin cup. Top with the raspberries and then top with the crumbs.
6. Bake at 375F for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.
7. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before serving.

These muffins are super delicious! If you like the taste of raspberries with a hint of lemon, you will love these muffins. They hardly kept for 24 hours in our house...

You can also find the recipe at This Gal Cooks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mendocino Fences Part 1

Mendocino, a small town up the North Coast, is one of my favorite places to visit. It's situated on top of the steep cliffs that go out to the Mendocino Headlands. The town is small and a bit funky. There are a handful of excellent shops including an independent bookstore where I have spent some peaceful hours.

For many years we went to Mendocino every Mother's Day. We experienced both rather hot days there, but also cold (it's a windy place) and rainy ones. However, it keeps its special charm in any kind of weather.

There are flowers in abundance. Every resident in Mendocino seems to be a passionate gardener. And if flowers alone are not beautiful enough, they are bordered by fences as well, many of them white picket fences.

Some fences are weathered like this garden gate which got a wonderful cottage feel by the roses that climb up the arbor.

This kind of fence I have only seen in Mendocino, on Main Street. I love the circles on top and its very distinguished shape. I wonder whether someone specially designed it? Is it handmade? That would be a lot of work even though it's a rather short fence.

Like all fences - they provide beautiful photo motifs.

I'm linking up with Good Fences again over at the Run-Around-Ranch.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Making and Baking Bread

You have heard me talking about bread often enough. Coming from Germany I am a citizen of the "bread nation" - quite frankly, Germany has the best bread in the world. It's something I miss daily.

So finally I took the plunge and started to bake my own bread. It all began with this:

This is a Bauernbrot (farmers bread) made from a German baking mix that I found in a German grocery store in Kelowna, BC last summer (that store could make me move to Kelowna or somewhere in the Okanagan Valley). It was yummy and eaten in a day! It made me want for more. I started to look around Pinterest which has so many delicious recipes, and there were quite some bread recipes among them. However, some of them were by true bread experts that I had a hard time understanding what they were talking about (even though they were in German!). I needed something for the beginning bread baker who had no experience in this special art form.

Finally I found this recipe for an "authentic German bread" - a rye bread which is my favorite. I printed the recipe and started to work.

The first challenge was to find fresh yeast. It's something you find in every grocery store in Germany, right next to the butter shelf. In American grocery stores, however, - not so much. I had first tried Whole Foods because I thought that would be my best bet - what was I thinking? People who can afford to shop at Whole Foods don't bake their own bread! No fresh yeast. And not a big offering in various flours either.

I finally found it in a local grocery store that also carries a vast variety of (organic) flours where I found the rye flour I needed. Finally I could start trying out this recipe.

When I first read the recipe I was quite surprised about the amount of ingredients, but since I was a complete newbie to bread baking I followed the recipe exactly. The result was that the starter, while it was sitting for 24 hours, crept out of the bowl and spread over the kitchen table, creating a terribly sticky mess! What a start(er)!! However, I soldiered along and finally baked the bread. While it was quite tasty it was a bit hard and resembled more a brick.

But that didn't discourage me - on the contrary. I always try a recipe first by exactly following the instructions and then I make my changes. So I tried this recipe again by dividing all the ingredients in half plus add two tablespoons caraway seeds. Well, I did forget to divide the amount of water for the dough and had to handle that somehow, but this bread already turned out to be so much better. The third try finally was the one we all liked. Hooray!

Here's my way of baking German rye bread with caraway seeds:

For the starter:
0.6 oz fresh yeast (that is one cube, like in my photo above)
2 cups warm water
1 TBSP white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour (APF)

For the dough:
4 cups rye flour
2 cups APF
1 TBSP salt
½ tsp white sugar
1 cup warm water
2 TBSP caraway seeds  

1. Start making the sourdough starter. Crumble yeast into a large bowl.

    Whisk in the water and sugar until dissolved.

    Gradually mix in the APF until all lumps are gone.

    Cover with a dish towel and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.

2. After 24 hours stir well, cover again and let it sit for another 24 hours (yes, this bread takes three days to make).

3. After those 24 hours, stir together the rye flour, APF, salt and sugar. Mix in the sourdough starter (it's best to use a wooden spoon) and then the warm water.

    Add the caraway seeds and knead the dough on a floured surface. I always let my Kitchen Aid mixer do the first part part of the kneading, but eventually the dough gets too heavy for the machine, so you need elbow grease - a lot of it. The kneading is the hardest part of the entire bread making process. I knead it by folding the dough over, turn it, punch it down, fold over, turn it, punch down etc. It takes about 15 to 20 minutes of kneading (that's a workout!) to get a smooth dough. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with the dish towel and let it rise for 1 to 2 hours until it is doubled.

4. When the dough has risen put it back onto a floured surface (it might be a bit difficult to get it out of the bowl since it will stick to it; you probably need to scrape it). Knead for about 5 minutes to activate the gluten. Shape into one big or 2 smaller loaves. Place on a baking sheet and let arise for another hour. When you poke the dough gently, your finger should leave an impression.

5. Preheat the oven to 425 F. If you have 2 loaves bake for about 45 minutes, 1½ hours for 1 big loaf. Cool completely before cutting.

After that there is only one thing left to do: enjoy it!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

What Motherhood Means To Me

It's Mother's Day in most countries this Sunday. That's when we celebrate our mothers, make breakfast for them, give them flowers, perhaps some little handmade gifts, invite them to dinner in a fancy restaurant. Hopefully it's a day for mothers to take a breath, to slow down.

After that it's back to normal, to the usual busy life of an average mom - here and everywhere. This is when I take a moment to contemplate what motherhood means, what it means to me.

None of us is born as a mother. We grow into this role, just as our belly grows with the baby inside. Or with the hopes and dreams when you wait for the child you are going to adopt.

I remember the overwhelming joy when my daughter was born, when I first held her in my arms. It still is a miracle to me, it still holds all the wonder for me, just like that very first day. This was the day when an invisible bond was created between my daughter and myself; it was also the first day when a steady worry started to be my constant companion, the worry for my child.

No one prepares you for this worry. Yet, it belongs to motherhood (or parenthood) and it is not going to go away - ever. A little cough lets you see your child coming down with pneumonia, ending in intensive care. When s/he just starts to walk, every little obstacle is a potential barrier that will let you child fall, hurt, and you see the scenarios before your inner eye, the ambulance with its loud siren, racing to the nearest hospital. Catastrophes lurk at every corner. Every stranger is a potential kidnapper.

It's difficult to find a balance.

Yet there is also the joy, the moments when arms are wrapped around your neck and your face is covered with wet little kisses and a "I love you, Mommy". It makes you so happy you want to cry (sometimes you actually do). These moments become rarer the older your child gets - and then they really make you cry.

There are the wonderful moments that make it into the scrapbooks - birthdays, play times, the first steps, starting kindergarten. The giggles and the laughter. Later you wonder where that bubbly little kid went to when you have a moody teenager somewhere hiding in the house, not talking to you.

It's moment like those where you love your children with an aching heart.

Your own heart breaks a bit when their heart is broken. When the "best" friend ditches your child. When the cat dies that your child loves with all her little heart. When she reads books and identifies with the characters in such a way that she cries when something bad happens to them.

It's a new challenge at every turn.

For me motherhood also means to introduce your child to the wonders of nature. To make them aware of environmental challenges, to share responsibilities like leaving a clean campsite, no littering, not disturbing animals and respecting wildlife in general.

I am responsible for my child growing up into a compassionate, confident adult. I hope I can help her in having a healthy self-esteem. To be responsible with our planet and other people. It is my responsibility to give her the tools that she will need to lead an independent life, make good choices for her future - and then let her go. Bittersweet as it is.

Never forget the fun, though. My daughter and I laugh together a lot. We often share the same music, watch the same movies, read the same books. I have always loved to read the books she read (even though that means I probably have to read "Divergent"). We both share a passion for "Lord of the Rings" and "Downton Abbey" (yes, you can say this in the same sentence).

We both were Girl Scouts together. She as a Brownie and a Junior, I as a "cookie mom" and a troop leader.

We travel a lot with our daughter. I believe it opens the mind, makes you tolerant to other cultures and is just plain interesting to get out of your comfort zone and see and experience something different. I hope I have instilled the travel bug in her, the way it has been instilled in me by my parents.

But above all - there is love. Always and forever. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

English Chuchyard Fence

One of the most beautiful fences I have ever seen is the one around the churchyard in Chipping Campden, a small market town in the English Cotswolds. Chipping Campden itself is a very cute town with an old market hall smack in the middle of town. The church is off High Street, but still very close to the center.

I noticed the fence right away. It's highly decorative. Moreover, even though the church is close to the center, it was so peaceful and quiet here. Almost no one was walking here and the only sound I heard was the birds singing. Even though this was more than 25 years ago, I assume that it is still like this. Some things thankfully never change.

The black color (with some rust) of the fence contrasted beautifully with the typical honey colored stone of the Cotswold houses. Almost all the buildings in this area of England are built of that stone which gives the entire town a very warm feeling - even in the rain.

And the spiders, of course, liked it here, too.

Since it is Thursday I link up to Good Fences over at the Run-Around-Ranch where fence enthusiasts get together and show off their fences.