Our Rose of Sharon(s)

This is our Rose of Sharon shrub, otherwise known as Hibiscus syriacus.  Given that the shrub is over 10 feet tall, it is on the mature side and has been in the backyard garden since we moved to Glen Road.  The shrub itself is actually four shrubs that grow together to appear as one shrub.  Our little optical illusion.  In the Winter, you can see all four individual shrubs, but in the Summer they appear as one.

The two shrubs in the front of the cluster are the traditional pink Rose of Sharon variety.  The two shrubs in the back of the cluster are actually Rose of Sharon in a white variety.

The value of a Rose of Sharon shrub is its late-summer bloom, usually beginning around the start of August.  The Rose of Sharon is not a true rose and doesn’t grow like one.  There are a number of varieties in shades of pink, purple, blue, lavender, red and white.  The flowers are usually 3 to 5 inches in diameter.  The Rose of Sharon is a tall, bushy plant reaching as high as 15 feet.

Plants should be set in while still young and protected with mulch until they are well established.  Until they are mature like the ones we have, you have to be careful as they are susceptible to winterkill.  They grow in sun or part shade and they like moist, humusy soil with good drainage.

Pruning need only be done if you prefer a smaller plant.  You should cut back stems to laterals to control size and produce vigorous growth.  Remove dead or damaged wood when discovered.  Prune in the Winter in mild climates and in Spring in colder ones.

We’re very happy to have such a late bloomer in our garden.  We are a little surprised at how gorgeous the shrub has flowered given the hot temperatures it has had to live in over the last few weeks.  I have read that the Rose of Sharon is guaranteed to attract a hummingbird to come and feed on its blooms, but so far we have not seen any.  😦  Lots of bees feeding on it, but no hummingbirds.  What’s blooming now in your neck of the woods?

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words – Attack Of The Never Ending Tomatoes

This is a new cluster of heirloom cherry tomatoes growing in our garden.  See the morning dew on them?  With eight tomato plants in the garden, getting enough tomatoes has not really been a problem this Summer.  Better yet, they just keep producing.  How has your garden been growing this Summer?

Friday Dance Party – Will I Regret Blow by Ke$ha?

This is another edition of Friday Dance Party on Acorns On Glen.  It’s the time where we give thanks for making it through another week and for being alive and present here on Earth.  How do we celebrate another week of living?  We dance.  So, are you alive this Friday?  Are you and your family safe and sound?  Take a few seconds now to be in the moment and realize what a great life you truly have.  Did you give thanks for that?

Good, now let’s dance.

I’ve thought a lot about music this week and even did a post about it.  As I’ve been reviewing my collection of music in all forms:  8 tracks, cassettes, vinyl, CDs and now MP3s, I’ve realized that what I was listening to at certain times in my life was really a reflection of how my life was progressing at that certain point in time.  Great times seemed to attract great music and vice versa.  As my post this week discussed, there were some times that I have no idea what was going on in my life given the music I was buying and listening to at the time.  What was going on when I was listening to ‘Muskrat Love’?  You look back at some of those old tunes and just say ‘what was I thinking?’.  So that’s why it’s funny that I have this tune for us to dance to this week.  Again, while the song by Ke$ha is fantastic, what is going on in this video?  The dude from Dawson’s Creek, a party with unicorns and a laser fight?  I’m sure I will be looking back at this video ten years from now and asking again ‘what was I thinking?’.  For the time being, it is a great tune to dance to in front of your computer.  Remember, you’ve made it through another week and you deserve to celebrate through dancing.  So turn up those speakers and let it rip!  What other strange videos do you remember watching over the years?

Orange Marmalade When You Are In A Jam

This is a jar of orange marmalade that we made over the weekend.  The simple reason why we made it?  We were in a jam.  🙂  We had run out of jam and jelly in the house and I needed something to go with the toast and peanut butter that I eat in the morning.  I have had this recipe for a long time, but never made it.  It is another recipe from one of my favorite chefs, Anna Pump.  She made it once a year at her store ‘Loaves and Fishes’ in the Hamptons and people signed up on a waitlist to get their share.  She finally published the recipe in one of her cookbooks.  When we ran out of jam and jelly, we didn’t have strawberries or blueberries in the house, but we did have oranges and lemons, which was my indicator that is was time to try the marmalade recipe.  Along with the oranges and lemons, you also need sugar.  Sugar is a staple in almost all jam, jelly and marmalade recipes.  I have read many times that the art of jam, jelly and marmalade making is knowing when the sugar has cooked down to the right consistency.  I think that there is a lot of merit in this statement.  Even though this recipe stretches out over two days, it is really easy.  I actually used a canning pot and gave my filled jars a water bath so that they would seal and last longer.  Using this method means your marmalade will last about 1 year.  You can also fill the jars and put the lids on them.  Once you do that, you can turn them upside down and let them semi-seal.  If you use this technique, the marmalade will only last about 3 months.  There is something so delicious about marmalade with little chunks of orange and lemon rind laced in it.  I have already tried some of my marmalade and it is well worth the effort.

Ingredients:

  • 4 large seedless oranges
  • 2 lemons
  • 8 cups sugar

Directions:

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices (if you have a mandoline, this will be quite fast).  Discard any seeds.

Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless steel pot.  Add 8 cups water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves.  Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.

The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours.  Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes.  Skim off any foam that forms on the top.  Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees on a candy thermometer.  If you want to be doubly sure it’s ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it’s cool but not cold.  If it’s firm (neither runny nor too hard) it’s done (if the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it and if it’s too hard, add more water).  The marmalade will be a golden orange color.

While the marmalade is cooking, make sure that your Mason jars, lids and caps are clean and that they are very hot at the point you are going to fill them with marmalade.  They must be hot to ensure that food bacteria will not grow and ruin the marmalade or make you sick.  The best way to get the Mason jars hot is to put them through a complete wash and dry cycle in the dishwasher without using any soap.

Pour the marmalade into the clean, hot Mason jars and wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damp towel and then attach the lids.

Place jars into a canning pot filled with boiling water about 1 to 2 inches above the top of the jars.  Boil in the water for 10 minutes in the covered canning pot.

Remove jars and allow them to cool and seal.  The top of the lid will not pop up and down if the jar has properly sealed.  Store in the pantry for up to a year.

The recipe actually made nine 8 ounce jars of marmalade and a little bowl that we kept for immediate eating.  It was really great.  I will tell you that 8 cups of sugar seemed like quite a bit of sugar to me when I first read the recipe, but I did not find the finished product too sweet.  Use your judgement if you think you would like it a little less sweet and reduce the amount of sugar to 6 or 7 cups.  It will still taste great.  The best part is that we now have enough marmalade to last us through the rest of the Summer and well into the Fall and Winter when marmalade tastes even better for some reason.  The jars can also be decorated and given as gifts.  Have you ever made homemade jam, jelly or marmalade and what kind is your favorite?

A Plant I Like

This is a plant that I like named Cornus Sericea. It is better known as a red osier dogwood. During the Summer months, the leaves of this dogwood are a beautiful green and white color. The white color is so light it is almost like silver. In the Winter months, this plant has so much appeal. The twigs actually stand out against the dark colors and snow in a reddish blaze. It is nice to have a plant with so much Winter appeal. Everything looks so barren during the dark Winter months and this red osier dogwood’s branches give a little pop of color to an otherwise bleak landscape.

The red osier dogwood is a pretty easy plant to grow and is also widely found in nurseries with an even better low price. This plant transplants readily from a container, ball and burlapped or even bare root and they adapt well to most soil types and are also great plants to grow in area where you fear that you might have erosion issues, like a sloping area in your yard. Red osier dogwood does best in full sun to develop the blood-red stems.

Clusters of tiny white flowers appear in the Spring and will continue to bloom sporadically through the Summer. The flowers are attractive, but do not make a dramatic display. The fruits are white and usually go unnoticed. This dogwood has a purple to red fall color, but can be variable.

They grow pretty rapidly and are best trimmed in February or March by going in and cutting out the older, thicker twigs (which are darker in color than the newer ones) close to the base of the plant. They grow around six feet in height and are an excellent addition to any garden. What are some of your favorite plants in your garden or yard?

Albums I Loved But Shouldn’t Admit

This is a story about albums that I have loved, but am now embarrassed by the fact.  Everyone has them.  Those stacks of albums, cassettes, CDs or whatever medium you use that you can’t believe you bought.  It’s one thing if you bought them and didn’t like them.  It’s another thing to buy them and like them and then, years later, realize how embarrassing it was for people to have heard you listening to it or, even worse, singing to songs on that particular album.

Kids of today have it much easier.  They can download a particular track.  They don’t have to buy the whole album or CD to get one favorite tune.  They can listen on their iPhones or iPads to particular genres on apps like Pandora.  They don’t have to go to a record store like I did and ask the clerk for advice on a new music type.  I walked into Record Shack in Iowa one day as a teenager and remember asking the 40ish year-old woman if she had ever heard of a music genre called rap.  And if she did, could she make suggestions on a rap CD I could buy?  She could not.  In our day, it was more trial and error.  You bought as many duds as you did great collections in order to stay hip and current.

I’ve recently had the chance to think through my music collection.  I have decided that because I have always liked to sing is one reason for so many embarrassing albums.  My second reason for the embarrassment comes from the fact that I have always liked a good ballad.  With ballads come bad choices….trust me.  So here are five albums that I dearly loved, but am ashamed to admit it today.  What was I thinking?  I am sorry to all the people who had to hear me sing along to the songs on these collections, that had to hear me discuss their musical merits or that had to stand in line with me when I bought them.  Here goes:

In 1975, the Captain and Tennille came out with ‘Song of Joy’.  The actual tune, ‘Song of Joy’ was to become the last song they sang each week on their ill-fated prime time variety television hour.  I knew all the words.  Each week, my parents would be forced to sit in their recliners and watch the Captain and Tennille entertain and, at the end of each show, watch me join in as they played and sang through their signature goodbye song, ‘Song of Joy’.  Towards the end of the first and only season of their variety hour, I was able to sing harmony to Tennille’s melody.  I’m sorry Mom and Dad.  As a side note, this album also spawned the song ‘Muskrat Love’ which I played so often that the needle from my stereo actually destroyed the grooves on the album.

In 1978, my main man Barry Manilow released ‘Even Now’.  I had several Manilow albums in my stash already, but this album is the one that always sticks out in my mind.  While it contained three of my favorite Manilow hits, ‘Even Now’, ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ and ‘Copacabana’, there was always a sadness in my heart when I listened to it.  I knew that Barry’s world dominance was coming to an end.  This album was one of the first where I realized that I was going to have to work it if I was ever going to be in entertainment (which I am not).  I would sit on my bed and belt ‘Even Now’ out in a manly, yet sensitive seating arrangement.  I even introduced a light dance number to the interlude on ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ just to spark things up a little when I sang it in my bedroom.  I also asked our local barber in Iowa if he could cut my hair just like Barry Manilow’s.  I think that I may have been asking for a mullet, but I thought it was perfect for me.  Barry’s hair was always ‘business in the front, party in the back’.

In 1982, Diana Ross released ‘Silk Electric’.  The big hit on this album was ‘Muscles’ written for her by her friend Michael Jackson.  At the time, I was into some sports like wrestling and track (although not great at either) and therefore thought I had an incredible body.  Let me re-phrase….I did have an incredible body at that time, but didn’t think so.  Now that I am a troll, I realize what a waste of time that was thinking I needed to be in better shape.  I should have worked it more!  Let me tell you right now that there is not a man on Earth that should ever, ever sing ‘Muscles’ where anyone can hear them or could possibly hear them.  There is no good that can come of it.  Yet, I was proud to sing along to the radio in front of my friends.  I’d sing over the buzz of a loud party when it came on so that everyone knew that I knew all the words.  I was proud of that.  Sometimes I would flex my arms to really get into it.  Again, not good.  Don’t try this at home.

My roommates in college during 1985 were listening to new music that their parents would never allow them to listen to at home.  I am remembering Rush and AC/DC.  I was listening to Sheena Easton’s ‘Best Kept Secret’.  ‘Almost Over You’ was my favorite.  Again, any ballad is a good ballad to me.  I listened in my college dorm room to this song when I was happy and I listened to this song when I was sad.  For Christmas that year, my college dorm roommate gave me headphones that worked with my stereo.  He said he had heard enough of Sheena Easton and that song.  I was stunned.  As a side note, I gave every girl I knew the fashion tip to wear her pearl necklaces at an angle like Sheena did on the cover.  I didn’t date once that year.

In 1990, I had moved to San Francisco and was enjoying the whole new R&B and hip/hop scene.  Bobby Brown’s ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ was the album to own if you liked this kind of music.  There is nothing wrong with this album and the music on it.  ‘My Prerogative’ is still one of my favorite tunes and I listen to it on my iPod even today.  It is probably (and unfortunately) Bobby Brown’s singular contribution to the music scene before he turned into the crazy Bobby Brown he is today.  The problem was the clothes.  I filled my closet up with double-breasted suits that had huge, stuffed shoulder pads in them.  Tab collar shirts buttoned all the way up to the neck were all I wore.  As the album got hotter and hotter, my shoulder pads got bigger and bigger.  My hair got shorter and shorter on the sides and higher and higher on the top.  I saw Bobby in a sequined blazer at one point and exhausted several department store sales people in a massive hunt to find a match.  This is the truth….see the jacket in the picture on the left.

I was cool while this style was popular.  However, after it wasn’t popular anymore, no one told me.  When a woman in a club looked at me circa 1992/93 and called me a ‘Sad Bobby Brown’, I knew I needed a makeover.  It was my prerogative to change, so I packed up my suits and tab-collar shirts and put them away for another time when they would be back in style.

They say that the truth will set you free.  Telling you about my embarrassment and shame around these albums is helping to release me.  Again, there is nothing wrong with the music on any of these albums…they are not duds.  It’s just that hindsight is 20/20.  Looking back 20 and 30 years later, what was I thinking?  Thanks for reading.  I’m off now to download a couple of these songs onto my iPod.  At least I can listen to my iPod in secret with my ear buds and no one will even know what I’m lip synching to in my bed room.  What albums do you still love but are embarrassed to admit…be honest?

A Non-Traditional Strawberry Shortcake

This is my take on strawberry shortcake.  I love strawberries, but place them in a traditional strawberry shortcake recipe and I don’t really care so much for them.  I think that the strawberry sauce with its syrup is too sugary sweet for my liking.  The shortcake is another thing I don’t like either.  A homemade shortcake tastes like it has too much of something in it.  Maybe baking powder?  Then when it is topped with whipped cream, that does it for me.  Just too much sweetness.  I guess I don’t really strawberry shortcake on second thought.  So I wanted to create my take on traditional strawberry shortcake that takes all the sugar and sweetness out of it.  I want sugar, don’t get me wrong, but I also want it to have a little kick as well.  Something that plays off the tongue.  So this is my non-traditional strawberry shortcake recipe that uses a honey vanilla pound cake and balsamic strawberries.

Ingredients:

For the honey vanilla pound cake:

  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

For the balsamic strawberries:

  • 2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease the bottom of an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.  Line the bottom with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until light.  Meanwhile, put the eggs, honey, vanilla and lemon zest in a glass measuring cup but do not combine.  With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the egg mixture, one egg at a time, scraping down the bowl and allowing each egg to become incorporated before adding the next egg.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.  With the mixer on low-speed, add it slowly to the batter until just combined.  Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula and pour it into the prepared pan.  Smooth the top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes, turn out onto a baking rack and cool completely.

About 30 minutes before you are going to serve the pound cake, take the sliced strawberries and mix with the balsamic vinegar, sugar and ground black pepper.  Stir to mix all ingredients.  Cover and place back in the refrigerator to chill and blend flavors.  Cut the cake and place an appropriate amount of strawberries over the pound cake.

There you have it.  My non-traditional strawberry shortcake.  Even though it’s not my speed, a little whipped cream on top would be pretty good too if you choose.  It’s your choice.  We were so lucky to get some great strawberries at the farmer’s market.  Very fresh and pesticide free which is always nice to have.  Farmer’s markets seem to be everywhere these days so take a trip to your local one and pick up some great fruits and vegetables.  It may cost a little more but the flavor boost is worth it.  What strawberry recipes do you like that you could share on Acorns On Glen?