Friday, June 29, 2012

Making a pinata

 For Elijah's birthday party we had to make our own pinata. We couldn't find an angler fish pinata. There were sharks and tropical fish, any of which would have worked, but he had his heart set on an angler fish. When he looked at me with those baby blues and said, "We can make one," in his best pleading tone, I knew I had lost that battle. We got to work and made one that made him quite happy. At the party he told everyone, "I made this." They were impressed.

We decided that a blown-up balloon would make the perfect base for our angler fish.

We mixed up our own glue from 2/3 cup plain white flour, 5 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of sugar. There are SO many recipes out there and I usually like mine a bit thinner than some of the recipes, but any of them will do. The glue tends to thicken when it cools and I like being able to brush the glue on rather than slather it on.

I also think that a cooked glue is stronger than one you just mix up without heating. Uncooked glues can also be much more lumpy, but that can be helped by using a wire whisk to stir the flour into the water. I will give a more detailed recipe below at the end of this post.

We covered the floor with paper and then tore out unprinted newspaper to make the fish. There is nothing at all wrong with printed newspaper. It is a great use of recycled materials.

We added a tail onto the fish and fins out of just flappy papier mache. After the fish was dry, we added the finishing touches. Perhaps the easiest part was gluing on the streamers we purchased at the party supply store. The main part of the angler fish was just the rounded form. While looking on the internet we found that they come in so many shapes so you can use your imagination on the shape of the balloon. Don't forget to add a hanger. Any kind of metal hanger worked into the papier mache will do. I think a strong piece of wire would be the best.

We glued on wiggly eyes and white streamers for the teeth. I cut a hole in the top, added a book light and filled it with Rice Krispy treats, fruit snacks and assorted candies. I think some of the parents really like the rice treats. One of the little girls was talking about how she like them and announced that she was going to save one of hers for breakfast the next morning. I'm not so sure the parent would agree with that at breakfast time and I am glad I didn't have to fight that battle! Kids are so funny and sweet!

The other neat party idea was the favor. We purchased small sand buckets and tied a helium balloon to the top. We purchased small beach balls, squirting fish and assorted treats including the mini frisbees and made some buckets for boys and some for girls. We ordered most of these items online and saved money by doing this. The kids really, really loved the favors which included pinata treats.

One tip. If you make the ribbons very long on the balloons and then put them all outside, the ribbons could blow around and tangle. This happened to us. As people were arriving, we were untangling balloon ribbons. It wasn't what we wanted to do but some of the kids pitched in to help and we then left them all inside.

Here are my instructions:

Angler Fish Pinata

Glue (from recipe below)
1 balloon
newspaper (enough to glue on at least five layers of newspaper and enough to protect things from dripping glue and newspaper smudges)
Large wiggle eyes
Hot glue (for attaching the eyes)
Knife and scissors to cut out a flap to insert the light and the candy
1 book light
Masking tape to hold the book light in place
Streamers of the desired color
Wire for the hanger
Enough candy and treats to fill the pinata

In a bowl mix 1 cup water and the flour. Stir with a wire whisk until there are no lumps. Add the remaining four cups of water to a saucepan and heat on medium. Pour the flour and water mixture into the saucepan of water and bring it just to a boil. Using a wire whisk will continue to prevent lumps. Mixture should become much thicker. Remove from stove and add sugar. Allow to cool before using.

Blow up a balloon and tie a knot in the end to hold in the air. Apply paper and glue with a brush or with hands to the balloon. I like to use the glue liberally. Make around five layers and then hang the project by the "tail" of the balloon until it is dried. Be sure to work in a hanger.

If you want, add extra layers. It will be quite hard when dry. Fashion a flappy tail and fins from papier mache. Allow to dry.

Carefully glue on streamers with paste. The streamers break easily when wet. Be sure to add streamers over fins and tail. Allow that to dry.

When fish is fully dry, cut a flap in the top to attach book light and cut a hole large enough for the light to come through. You will want to cut a slit over the switch of the book light so you can turn it on. I used duct tape to hold the light in place.

Make little cuts along the edges of the streamers on the tail and fins to give them a tasseled look.

Use hot glue to attach the eyes.

Attach the teeth with white streamers and then cut the streamers into jagged points.

Add candy and glue streamers over the flap to hide the opening.

The fish is now ready for the party.

Note: Homemade pinatas are not quite as strong as store bought ones. It would be best (and safer) to use a plastic bat.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

My strawbale squash -- finally looking good

I have given a number of updates about my squash grown in straw bales and I have some photos I am very excited to show today. My squash (in straw bales) really looks great right now. I have six plants that are looking very good. The yellow crookneck squash above are quite healthy-looking. I have already harvested around 5 squash. I think the hot, hot weather has slowed them a bit.

My zucchini was a bit harder to get started and it is a bit behind the crookneck and they look quite good. The windy weather is blowing them around this morning but I notice that I had a number of honey bees swarming around making sure they were pollinated.

This is a view with my squash on each end and my new Green Zebra tomatoes presented to me last night by my friend Angela. She grew them from seed and I hope to baby them in the middle of my strawbales. I was so happy that I finally had something good to share!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Meeting tonight: Caring for hydrangeas

Tonight is the June meeting of Crossroads Garden Club. Our speaker will be Matt Gaddis, one of our members who works at Pike Nurseries. He will be telling us how to care for hydrangeas. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm at 3072 Hwy. 154, Newnan.

Hydrangeas are one of the most popular perennial shrubs in southern gardens. They are beautiful with large showy flowers in beautiful colors. They are often used in flower arrangements and I have been to a number of weddings where hydrangeas were either carried by the bride or by her bridesmaids and graced the tables at the wedding receptions. You know when young brides love a flowering shrub to this extent that there is no danger of going our of favor and will certainly remain popular in landscapes.

My mother had a very pretty hydrangea when I was a small child and I was so fascinated because sometimes the flowers were blue and sometimes they were pink--just because of the amendments she added to the soil. This was fascinating to me.

Lately I have been given a few "pass-along" oak leaf hydrangeas and I am hoping they will grow and look beautiful like the photo above I used courtesy of Anne Norman on Wiki Commons. My oak leaf hydrangeas look kind of like little sticks with a few green leaves sticking out right now--and nothing like the one above. I am hoping to learn from Matt just how to give them the best care possible.

I also would like to add more hydrangeas to my landscape. I don't think there is anything better so I can't wait to see what Matt has to say. I will be taking some good notes and will report his tips for growing beautiful hydrangeas later in the week.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Angler Fish Cake

We recently had a birthday party for our 7-year-old grandson. I have found that there is only one problem with telling a soon-to-be 7-year-old he can have any kind of cake he wants for his birthday party. It means you had better to be ready to make a very unusual cake. His choice for his "Deep Sea" Birthday Swimming Party was an angler fish cake. It had to be swimming in the "ocean" and had to have a book light inserted and teeth, just like the fish in Disney's Finding Nemo movie!

I think it turned out fine, but a cake sculpture is always a challenge. This one actually took 2 yellow cakes, one for the base and one for the fish, 2 recipes of decorator's frosting and 1 recipe of chocolate decorator's frosting. If I had been feeding more than twenty people, I could have made an extra layer for the base. For this base above, I made one rectangular cake then covered a large plastic cutting board with butcher paper and poured the cooled bottom layer out on the board. With my decorator's icing I put a thick "crumb coat" of icing on the base.

Something with a mounded shape is pretty easy to make. In addition to the bottom rectangular cake, I made two 9-inch layers and cut one of them in half, then cut the second layer in three pieces so that I had two small semi-circles and a long piece to make the fins and tail. Use icing between each cake section to "glue" all the pieces together until you have a basic fish shape. I didn't use any dowels to hold them together. With tall designs dowels are necessary but with this shape, the icing was enough to make the shape.

I then put a crumb coat over the entire fish. I took a book light and wrapped everything but the on and off switch with a tight piece of tin foil and inserted it into the cake top. This was important because you don't want the battery to get wet! It might not work if it became wet and I can't imagine that batteries and cake could mix so I was extra careful with wrapping the book light's base. I cut a mouth out of the fish and lined it with rolled pink fondant.

The sides of the base were iced with a nice layer of icing and then smoothed all around. (I always use a large damp spatula dipped in ice water for smoothing.) The chocolate frosting went into a decorator bag and I swirled it all over the body of the fish. The fins and tail were piped with straight lines of chocolate frosting. I left places out for the eyes.

It was then time to decorate. The birthday message went on the sides of the cake in chocolate icing and small beads of frosting were piped all around the bottom of the cake.

The teeth were made from points of wooden skewers cut with scissors and inserted into the mouth. Eyes were fashioned from a small amount of frosting piped into the space I left and topped with a circle of fondant. (I found that the bottom of a metal decorator's tip made a great tool to cut out the eye circles from black fondant.)

The waves were made from slices of fondant and blue icing piped in wavy swirls with a small swirl bordering the top of the cake. By request, the tail and fins had blue lines for definition. We were then ready for the candles and a party. I usually transport my cakes in boxes with butcher paper taped to the top or I use plastic bins.

Elijah was VERY happy and though he always likes to help with the entire cake, I had it basically ready for him, except for the final decorating touches. That was enough for him and I get a bit nervous when trying to "glue" together cake pieces. He was able to help with the teeth, the eyes, the fins and the waves.

It was also his job to turn on the light. Here at the party, we waited for cake time which was after the swimming.

Everyone had to come inside to blow out candles because it was a little too windy at the pool.

But everyone loved the cake and thought it was really cool.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Linda's Grilled or Broiled Parmesean Squash

Here's a good new recipe for squash. Interestingly, my husband heard about this recipe from a friend, Linda who told him the she sometimes cooked her squash, especially zucchini, on the grill. All she did was to cut the squash up into either strips or rounds, salt and pepper it and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and grill it or broil it.

We have cooked this dish twice now, once on the grill and once in the oven and I had a very hard time getting these photos from my hungry crowd. They were gone so quickly because it is such a good dish, and it is so easy.

Here's the recipe:

Linda's Grilled or Broiled Parmesan Squash

Slice summer squash into rounds or strips. If squash will be grilled, strips might be a better option. Rounds are prettier and make a nice company dish. Any kind of summer squash will do. We have used zucchini, ronde, pattypan and yellow straight neck. They were all good choices.

For grilled squash:  Salt and pepper each squash slice well then sprinkle each piece with Parmesan. Carefully place squash on medium hot grill and cook until well done.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For broiled squash. Line a baking pan with squash. They may overlap slightly. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake squash for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle on Parmesan cheese. Other cheeses can also be used. We tried bleu cheese on the squash pictured above and it was delicious. I think sharp cheddar would be a good choice, too.

Turn oven to broil and adjust oven temperatures to 450 degrees. Place the squash back in the oven and broil for 10 minutes longer, or until squash is slightly browned.

Three or four squash slices makes a serving.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Garden surprise

Yesterday afternoon, as my sis and I were covering our beans with diotomaceous earth, she made a discovery. I had almost forgotten that I planted some yellow beets from a pack of Rene's Garden seeds way back in the early spring.

She was trying to get some of the weeds out of our onions when she pulled up a very large orange root and exclaimed, "What is this?" She said it looked kind of like a very large radish and I remembered the yellow beets I had planted.

Actually, I had given up on some of our early spring items. We were plagued with an early spring mini-drought with unseasonably hot weather. I just thought they didn't come up and since they were near the kale which looked similar, I just thought we didn't have any beets and it was kale. Our red beets certainly didn't come up. I just assumed we didn't have any beets at all.

My sister said they sure looked orange to her and she is right. Yellow beets are a bit more orange on the outside than on the inside and I must say, all the beets we have grown so far have been very good, very sweet and tasty.

I think this was a very nice surprise. Just when we thought we wouldn't have any beets, here they are. When our beets actually come up they require no hard work. How do yellow beets taste in comparison to red ones? I will let you know.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Congratulations! You have squash.

My husband walked in today, after his morning run and presented me with a yellow crookneck squash. He said, "Congratulations! You have squash." I think he was beginning to think my straw bale garden experiment wasn't going to turn out very well, but I must say I am impressed.

You can see the photo I took on Monday morning proving that my squash plants were bearing. I think I was actually trying to prove two things with the straw bales. I wasn't trying to prove that things would grow in straw bales. My friend Charlotte Nelson has proved that over and over. She has impressive results using straw bales for her beautiful garden.

I was trying to prove you could grow things organically with straw bales. I was also trying to prove to myself that the pests that had been plaguing our squash crop for the past several years could be controlled if you would move the planting around to different locations.

So far, I haven't had any pest problems at all in my straw bales. I feel really excited about the prospect of using straw bales with organic gardening. I think they are quite a good fit because this has been even easier than I expected with little trouble. I also know that even if I decide not to grow more vegetables in this location next year, I know my bales will create a rich environment for this area. (I am actually thinking of planting some fruit trees in this location. This would be a perfect spot if I can tame the vines!

This is just an update. I hope to have plenty of squash from my 6 vines over the warm weather months and will be monitoring closely for pests.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Saving seeds

Last week my sister decided it was time to cut down the Bok Choy and save the seeds for our fall planting. She is very good at this. She has a knack for gathering seeds at just the right time, tying them with string and letting them dry while upside down.

You can see how dry some of the seed pods are. I love Bok Choy for this reason. You can save the seeds and they will grow a beautiful new crop. It's nature's way of giving back.

My sis knows just the right time to gather them, too. The timing needs to be right. It must be just before the pods get so ripe that they spill open and pour their seeds to the ground.

The next step will be to allow them to fully dry. She will then pick off the pods and open them into a plastic bag we will store in a save and dry spot until we plant our winter crop.

Bok Choy--one plant on my list for which I don't have to buy seeds. That is what I love about heirloom seeds. You get more for your money because you can save the seeds. Isn't that wonderful?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hot and "Not Hot" Peppers

Yesterday my husband went to the garden and came home with a beautiful bounty of vegetables.  There were three kinds of squash, hot peppers, mild peppers, lettuce, cucumbers and even some green beans. We were absolutely thrilled.

The recent rains have made all the difference in the world and I am thankful that so far, the garden is doing well.

We are also a family that loves peppers. Some of us love really hot peppers and others love really mild peppers. So far we have had a true abundance of peppers and while I am extremely happy to have all of them. Some of our hot peppers are turning out to be mild. That is a little frustrating to both the people who love mild and hot peppers, for obvious reasons.

These hot peppers are not mild because they are cross pollinating as some people think. These peppers are growing very rapidly and the hot peppers are not having time to mature before we pick them. That is why some of the hot peppers are not hot. Actually this happens every year about this time. If we were more patient, the hot peppers would be hot. Later in the season, all the hot peppers will be steamy but right now we don't really know how hot each "hot" pepper will be.

One way I can tell if the pepper will be hot is by the smell. I can't tell you what "hot" smells like, but I can usually tell the difference by sniffing. I guess whatever makes the pepper hot, maybe the capsaisin, has a distinct odor to me. It's not unpleasant, it just smells hot to me.

Maybe you can tell that I love mild peppers and my husband loves the hot ones. Actually he loves both the hot and mild. Last night's hot peppers were not hot at all. I love the taste of hot peppers when they are mild. It's the burning sensation in my mouth I am opposed to.

By the middle of June, the hot peppers will be hot and I will begin to can them for the winter. I will also make some salsa, if I have plenty of tomatoes.

Now, I am just enjoying all the "not hot" hot peppers. We ate not hot jalapenos in our salad last night along with our early tomatoes, fresh garden cucumbers and some almost ripe cherry tomatoes. Yum.

Later I will not be able to eat the hot peppers but the mild ones (bananas, bells and Italian roasting peppers) will be great in salads or to eat along with a sandwich. I love to eat them like potato chips. Much better for you and they pack quite a crunch.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thanks a "Latte"

What do you do for someone who has helped you out or done a favor for you? My daughter said "Thanks a 'Latte.'"

My daughter needed an idea to make some small gifts to let a group of volunteers know how much she appreciated their help. She found this idea on Pinterest and decided to give it a try and it was really easy. She just bought a package of lidded coffee cups and some gift cards from Starbucks.

She then printed cards on light card stock on her home computer and printer. She cut them out, punched holes in one corner and put a ribbon through the punched hole. After that she assembled her gift by placing the gift cards inside the cups. Then using the lid to hold the ribbons in place, she attached the sentiment cards. This was so easy and cute.

The thing she liked best was letting her volunteers in a creative way know that she really appreciated all their hard work.

I am going to file this idea away and use it later. Thanks to Pinterest and my daughter for this great idea!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Straw Bale Squash Update

Here's another look at my bales as I continue to try and grow organic squash in straw bales in my yard--actually in the middle of my ivy bed. Above are the three yellow squash I posted about earlier--still growing and doing well.

And above are my three new zucchini squash growing on the other side of my bales. I was beginning to wonder if they would come up and grow but they are now looking quite good. As you can see, the center of my bales looks quite empty. I am planning to put a tomato plant there for mid-season tomatoes. Also, maybe some herbs.

 The yellow squash is blooming and I have a very little baby squash to show off.

Beside the bales I was very surprised to find a squash growing there--in the ground, in the middle of my ivy. I either dropped it and it came up or it was washed from the bales. I suppose a bird could have dropped it, after scavenging the bales. I think I will see how it compares in growth to the straw bale squash.

I am very grateful to have each of my little squash. So far, squash pests have not found these squash. I will be monitoring my squash very closely. I am very happy that I finally was able to successfully start the seeds in the bales. I was afraid I was going to have a total failure. I have heard reports that others who try to grow organically on bales have a bit of a struggle in getting seeds to start there. They tend to have more success by starting the seeds elsewhere and transplanting them into the bales.