Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Red-tail Hawk Watching and Cheesecake

This blog leans toward gardening, but it rambles through a world full of wonder on the way.  My post today is the result of meeting some fun, entertaining folks on a similar journey.  If you've seen The Big Year, you've probably formed an opinion of birdwatchers.  No matter.  Having spent waaaaay too much time over the past couple of weeks hanging out with the other people glued to the New York Times hawk nest cam, I can attest to their broad range of interests and sharp wit.  Regardless of our different time zones and backgrounds, it seems that sooner or later the chat turns to the common themes of music and/or food when the objects of our adoration do a face plant and go into food comas after their parents, Rosie and Bobby, have served up a good meal to the little eyases.   (Go on, look it up.  Like poikilothermic, it's a good word to know.  Special thanks to JB for that one.)

Boo and Scout on April 23, 2012

This post is for my new nest watching friends.  I promised them my recipe for Ricotta Cheesecake,  the simplest cheesecake recipe  in the world and a perfect palette for those juicy, fresh berries and stone fruits that will soon flood our farmers' markets.  It's delicious made with a high quality ricotta with a rich flavor of its own, even better made with a complex homemade ricotta of the style found at Salvatore Brooklyn.  If you've the time, check out this recipe on one of the world's best food blogs and make your own, but don't feel pressured to do so in order to make the cake.  Really, keep it simple so you can get back to nest watching.

The basic ratio is one pound of ricotta to 2 large eggs, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 Tbsp.cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Typically, I use a 9" springform pan and triple the ratio as shown in the recipe below.  But sometimes, I use a smaller individual springform and use the basic amounts.  Even if you're using an expensive pan that says it can't leak, my advice is to cover the bottom and up the sides with a double layer of foil.  Butter the inside of the pan generously and set aside.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees while mixing the ingredients.

Ricotta Cheesecake
3 pounds full fat ricotta ("whole milk ricotta")
6 eggs, extra large or large
3/4 cup milk, 2% or 4%
11/2 cups granulated sugar, or less if preferred
3 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Prep your pan as described above.  Whisk all ingredients together until smooth (or use an electric mixer if ricotta is very thick.)  Pour into prepared pan and bake for approximately 1 1/2 hours.  The center will puff up very slightly and the batter will be completely set.

Allow to stand at room temp at least one hour before refrigerating. I like to bake this the day before serving but it's not necessary.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Manfredas and Moths

As much as I enjoy watching the changes in my garden this time of year, this week brought a couple of real standouts.  The larkspur thicket is hosting a NectarFest for several White-lined Sphinx Moths, also referred to as hummingbird moths, and the Manfreda 'Chocolate Chips' is competing for attention nearby. 

The White-lined Sphinx Moth is one of three "hummingbird moths" species found in the Austin area. The shot above shows the wing colors, although in flight its wings seem to disappear.   These moths zip and hover just like their namesake bird, and in my garden are often spotted just before dusk rather than at night.  Although I'm not much of a photographer, I somehow managed to capture a close-up showing the long proboscis of this interesting creature.  

My other current garden standout is one of the most interesting pass along plants I've ever received.   A couple of years ago it migrated my way from Eleanor, another Austin garden blogger.  It's a Manfreda undulata 'Chocolate Chips' with strappy foliage so striking, it wouldn't matter if it ever bloomed; but bloom it does.  This year it produced four bloom spikes and enough scent to clear a large room.  If you've never had a close encounter with this alien bloom, be warned the scent is similar to burning plastic with just the lightest hint of frightened skunk.  But don't let that scare you off.  Its scent is more than compensated for by its beauty.  Having already established myself as a non-photographer, I refer you to the wonderful post on Pam Penick's blog "Digging" for more polished images of this amazing plant.

Having wasted much of my day (week, really) peeking in on the New York Times hawk cam, just wanted to share a few thoughts before turning in.  Please leave a comment - I'd love to hear about the strange and wonderful things showing up in your garden right now.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Moment

Every gardener's had one - that moment you see a plant that's irresistible even though there's no room for it, it's probably going to freeze dead its first winter, it's exotic and you now have a native plants only policy, or some other perfectly good argument that is somehow easily dismissed until you get past the check out area and are on your way home with the plant.   Of course, we have the willpower of an addict when presented with our drug of choice.

I experienced such a moment last summer when I stumbled upon some fairly pitiful 6 foot tall trees that were labeled Bauhinia mexicana and priced at a mere $5.  They had seriously outgrown their nursery pots, likely had circling roots, definitely had yellowing leaves, BUT they were only $5 and they were supposed to bloom pink!  How could I not?  My garden is already home to four other Bauhinias, all with fairly small but lovely white flowers.  Needless to say, within an hour my guilty pleasure had been lovingly and hopefully planted near its family members.

Yesterday I experienced another kind of moment - the one every gardener lives for.  I was taking pictures of the rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) in bloom.  This in itself was "a moment", as I love this plant but never had any success until the tiny transplants received from Jenny at Rock Rose established themselves over the winter and only yesterday popped into bloom.  As my family says this time of year, that would have been enough.

But then, oh my.  I turned around and literally gasped.  That pitiful specimen purchased last summer had produced this ...

Four inches across and spectacular, with many more buds poised to stun me again with beauty.  Now I know for certain why Bauhinia is called the "orchid tree".  And I'm unrepentant for my impulse buy in spite of all the reasons against it.   Yes, the tree may freeze next winter, I may not have rid it of all the circling roots, it was probably mislabeled, and it's not a native - but just look at that flower.  
Definitely worth the $5, wouldn't you say?

Purple Martin Party Time!

Travis Audubon hosted a Purple Martin Colony visit this past Saturday next to the historic home of Laura Joseph.  Laura started...