Nature Walks – Plump And Healthy Prairie Dogs

Yesterday, I shared my coyote pictures, Nature Walks – Coyote Trail and many of you commented on how healthy the coyotes looked. They are very healthy. Part of the reason they are so healthy is because we have a lot of prairie dogs out in the open space, and the coyotes were out hunting for the prairies dogs and rabbits. It is not only coyotes who are plump and healthy though. The prairie dogs are plump and healthy too.

Of course in my house, we are all plump and healthy. I guess it is a vicious cycle. 🙂

Pomegranate Gingerbread Cookies

The holidays are here, and it is time to do some holiday baking. I love to bake all throughout the year, but during the holidays, I like to make things even more festive, to celebrate the season. Gingerbread is one of those flavors that is just perfect for the Christmas season, and has been a Christmas tradition around the world for centuries. There are three main types of gingerbreads – brown gingerbread, wafer-based gingerbread and honey gingerbread.

Gingerbread or Lebkuchen, as it is known in German, is a traditional German cookie given as gifts at Christmas that date back to the 1300’s. Lebkuchen is very similar to gingerbread but it is much darker, more dense and rich, and chewier. Lebkuchen is never crunchy. It is made with honey, whereas gingerbread uses molasses Gingerbread and all its variations are very traditional Christmas or holiday treats in all parts of Europe, but interestingly, it seems like it is more apart of the colder cultures, like Germany, Sweden and Russia. The tradition of the gingerbread man comes to us from Russia, from the late 17th century, when Russian bakers prepared gingerbread men and women as replicas of those people attending parties. 

Pomegranates are traditional holiday foods in the Mediteranean regions of the world. Pomegranates are a symbol of Christmas in Greece and many of the Mediterranean countries. In the modern Greek tradition that meaning has shifted a little, with the pomegranate now being a symbol primarily of prosperity and good fortune. Habitually, a single fruit is hung up above the door of the house on Christmas Day. On New Year’s Day, just after midnight, the fruit is smashed on the doorstep to ensure another year of good luck for the household and those within it. Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol of righteousness, knowledge, and wisdom because it is said to have 613 seeds, each representing one of the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah.

When I made my pomegranate gingerbread cookies, unbeknownst to me, I was actually making cookies that were very culturally blended and just perfect for the holidays; all holidays, from many cultures, celebrated at this time of the year. I was just looking for fun new cookie recipes and thought these were very festive. I had seen an interesting recipe for pomegranate cookies, but then I lost it, and was looking for it again when I came across this recipe instead. So of course I just had to try it. I am very glad I did too. You know I had to personalize it though and make it my own. Would you actually expect me to follow the recipe exactly? 🙂

Pomegranate Gingerbread Cookies

Preheat the oven t 350* F or 190* C.

2 1/1 cups flour

1 TBSP ground ginger

1 TBSP cinnamon

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp salt

1 cup or 2 sticks of softened butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

1 egg

The Icing

1 cup powdered sugar or 1 container of premade white frosting

5 TBSP softened butter

1 1 /2 TBSP pomegranate juice

pinch of salt

pomegranate seeds

crystallized and/or candied orange peel – You can also use crystallized ginger

orange extract

Combine all the dry ingredients together and set aside.

Mix the butter and sugars together until creamy, then add the egg and the pomegranate molasses and beat again until creamy. Add the flour 1/2 at a time, mixing in between. I made my own pomegranate molasses just by combining some molasses with pomegranate juice.

Drop about 1 TBSP of dough on top an ungreased cookie sheet, about two inches a part and bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until the tops have slightly cracked. Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before adding the icing.

Soak the orange peel in some orange extract and heat for about 30 seconds or so in the microwave, then allow to set for at least 5-10 minutes to soften before dicing them into very small pieces.

Remove all the pomegranate seeds from the skin and the pith and set aside.

While the orange peel is soaking, make the icing. I had some white frosting that I used, but it is very easy to make the icing with powdered sugar and butter. Whatever icing or frosting you are using, add the pomegranate juice and combine well. Spread the frosting/icing on top of the cookies and add both the pomegranate seeds and the candied orange peel on top of the cookies and let harden. Then share with friends and enjoy. 🙂 Someone accurately described these tasty cookies as a wassail in a cookie.

I was familiar with the gingerbread tradition in the Northern parts of Europe and Russia, but I was not familiar with the holiday traditions of the pomegranate until just now. I learned something new today. I hope you did too. 🙂

The holidays are here. Enjoy them all, whatever holidays you celebrate. Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – Coyote Trail

I was out walking in our open space yesterday with my new blogger friend Laura from http://apictureasongaliteraryquote.wordpress.com/, when we encountered not one, not two, but three, maybe four, coyotes out in the open space with us. They were a little too close for our comfort, but all worked out well. I did get some great shots of them though.

Laura and I found out we live just minutes away from each other and decided it would be fun to meet up and go for a walk. We really enjoyed each other’s company and our walk, but we weren’t expecting all the coyotes as company. They are beautiful though. We hear them all them time, and we see them quite often, but not usually so many and not so close. They were definitely bolder than usual too. I am not afraid of them at all, but we were definitely on alert and were being very careful. We had no choice but to keep walking back “to civilization”, and fortunately after a few minutes, they turned to go the other way, but the experience did raise our hair up another level or two. They are really just big dogs, and my dogs are much bigger. 🙂

This one is hidden in the tall wild grass. He is camouflaged well.

Whether we want them to be or not, everyday is an adventure. Live life to the fullest and embrace all of life’s adventures. Stay safe and stay well.

Nature Walks – Just Flying Around

For those of you who are photographers, you know that so much of what we “shoot” is luck and timing. As you all know, I love photography, particularly nature shots. And I love my birds too. It is hard to get good shots of birds in flight, but every now and then I get lucky and am able to snap off a few. Here are some of my recent shots of birds in flight, from ducks to hawks to egrets.

Mallards

Red Tailed Hawk

Canadian Geese

Snowy Egret

and even a dragonfly.

Have a great day Everyone. ‘Til next time.

From Leftovers to Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Who does not have a ton of leftovers after their Thanksgiving feast? If you are like me, you usually have a ton of leftovers. As you all know, I can get very creative with my leftovers, recreating them into something totally different that what they were when I first cooked them. That’s the fun part. There are lots of different mediums used to create art. Mine just happens to be recreating from my “firstovers” and changing them around to something completely new. I love doing that. 🙂

My latest recreation was a big pot of creamy pumpkin soup. The whole entire soup was recreated from leftovers. I still have a few more creative ideas in store too. You’ll just have to wait a bit longer for those to come your way. 🙂

My inspiration for this soup came from my pumpkin and shrimp pasta. More Pumpkin I had so much leftover from that, so I used it as my base. After our Thanksgiving feast, I used the rest of the roasted vegetables, the gravy and some of my turkey. Then I made turkey stock from the carcass and added that to the pot, as well as some more pumpkin/butternut squash sauce, some fresh herbs and a few more vegetables as well. And with a few twirls of my magic wooden spoon, this is what I got. YUM, YUM!

It was so good. And as usual, I had more leftovers than when I first started. I already have a few takers who are interested in some of the soup, which is good. I need help eating it. 🙂

It made for a simple meal of soup coupled with some warmed ciabatta bread and a cool, crisp chardonnay on the side. Larry topped his with a little cheese and then I added some fresh sage on top. After a big Thanksgiving feast, a simple meal was just what we needed.

As I always say, have fun, and play with your food. I always do. 🙂

Have a great day. Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

The Day After

I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving Day festivities. We had a great time. We had delicious food, great friends who are really family, and lots of laughs and lots of fun. Everyone around the table stated what they were thankful for, and not surprising at all, the most popular answer, even with the kids, was family and friends. Thanksgiving is all about love and being thankful for who and what we have been blessed with.

I was busy cooking, so I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but I did manage to take a few.

The meal focused around the “star” of the day, the turkey. This year we did something a little different. We brined it over night, like always, and then Larry smoked it. It was good, but my favorite way is still the old fashioned way, slow cooking it in the oven.

Gabe and his girls, Cora, Nahila, and Tehvia, 3 of my “nieces”.

We had all the traditional Thanksgiving foods, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, roasted vegetables, gravy, and herbed popovers. These were my contributions. Gabe made a big pan of mac ‘n cheese and Lauren brought some homemade cranberry chutney, cranberry brie puffs and a delicious Lemoncello cake for dessert. We placed the cake next to the pumpkin and pecan pies and the pomegranate molasses cookies I made. (Well I made the cookies. The pies I bought).

Mike and Lauren.

Thank you Mike, Lauren, Gabe, Cora, Nahila, Tehvia and especially Larry, for making this a very special Thanksgiving once again. Love you all and I am so thankful for all of you.

I brined the turkey in an apple cider brine this year. It was yet another new twist to a timeless classic.

Apple Cider Brine for Turkey

2/3 cup Kosher salt

2/3 cup sugar

6 whole cloves

1 tsp black peppercorns, cracked

2 tsp whole allspice berries, crushed, or ground allspice

1 TBSP fresh ginger

2 bay leaves

6 cups apple cider

2 cups hot water

4 cups ice cold water

1 large navel range, cut into wedges

Mix the salt, sugar, apple cider, hot water and spices together in a large saucepan. Bring to a rapid boil and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat then add the ice cold water and the orange wedges. Bring to room temperature then pour over the turkey in a large baking bag and chill in the refrigerator over night. When you are ready to cook the turkey, discard the brine and season. And cook your turkey how you choose.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone. We all have so much to be thankful for everyday. ‘Til next time.

Thanksgiving Is My Favorite Holiday

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. It is about being thankful and appreciative for all that you have. It is about spreading love to others and helping those in need. It is about spending time with loved ones. I will be in the kitchen cooking in just a bit. You would think I would be making this elaborate meal, but in truth, it will be a simple meal for friends who have become family.

I will leave you with some quotes from others on this Thanksgiving day. May it be a blessed day for all.

Thanksgiving

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

We Give Thanks

Our Father in Heaven,
We give thanks for the pleasure
Of gathering together for this occasion.

We give thanks for this food
Prepared by loving hands.

We give thanks for life,
The freedom to enjoy it all
And all other blessings.

As we partake of this food,
We pray for health and strength
To carry on and try to live as You would have us.

This we ask in the name of Christ,
Our Heavenly Father.

—Harry Jewell

From my house to yours, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone.

Nature Walks – Barrow’s Goldeneye

I love where we live. I love our lakes and all the variety of wildlife we have around us. You just never know what or who you are going to see on any given day. Today, out on he 4th lake, all my feathered friends were having some kind of a party. There wert so many different types of ducks and and loads of geese out too, all just having a blast swimming around in he cold, icy water. We had Hooded Mergansers, Ring-Necked Ducks, Mallards, Buffleheads, Barrow’s Goldeneyes and of course our Canadian Geese. I think I even saw a Cakling or two as well. Sometimes it is hard to tell. Fortunately I have a great zoom on my camera, which helps a lot. Sometimes I still can’t tell until I download everything on my computer and really zoom in. And even then, sometimes i have no idea what I just saw. 🙂

I am going to focus on my Barrow’s Goldeneyes today though, since these are my first of the season.

I hope your day is just ducky. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone. ‘Til next time.

The Caramels Are Done!

As you know, my friend Priscilla and I have a tradition of making our delicious caramels every year. We have been making these delicious caramels together for quite a few years now. Video #18 – Making Caramels with Priscilla

We love getting together to make them and catching up with each other as we are stirring the pots. The part I DON’T like, however, is the cutting and wrapping. It’s not that I don’t like it, but it is just so time consuming, especially since I make two big batches every year. Each batch that I make is 8 lbs of soft, sweet caramel, so that is 16 lbs that have to be cut and wrapped. On average, it takes me 4-5 hours per batch to cut and wrap them all. But they are now done for this year. WHOOOOO HOOOOOOO!!!!!

We always make plain caramels, and usually a chocolate nut one as well. This year’s chocolate nut caramel was chocolate salted cashew. I keep saying i want to venture out and try even more flavors, but then I remember the cutting and wrapping and think against making yet another batch. Maybe one day though. Who knows? 🙂

All that is left to do now is to package them up and hand them out. My friend Karen was asking me if they were going to be shared with friends. Her exact question was “hope those cavities are going to be shared amongst friends”. Yes indeed! I do not need all those calories or cavities. We make them to share and share we will. Each caramel is made with lots of love. 🙂

For all of my American friends, Have a very Happy Thanksgiving, and for everyone else, have a great day. Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

More Pumpkin

Pumpkin season may be coming to a close, but it is by no means over just yet. I love pumpkins, so I am going to ride this pumpkin wave for as long as I can. I have another delicious pumpkin recipe coming your way, but first, I wanted to share this fun little pumpkin piece. It was something I saw the other day and just had to share it with all of you too.

Meet Patches the pumpkin. Patches is just a “tiny” little pumpkin, weighing in at a mere 1432 lbs. That is A LOT of pumpkin pie right there. My friend Lauren didn’t think Patches was a real pumpkin, but it is. 🙂

Now for my recipe. There is NO WAY even I could cook that much pumpkin, and I wouldn’t even try. My oven, or even my kitchen, couldn’t hold this much pumpkin, and how would I even begin to move it. 🙂 My recipe only calls for one 15-oz can of pureed pumpkin. 🙂

Pumpkin and Shrimp Bowties

Of course, I changed the recipe and made it my own. What else would you expect, right?! 🙂 I made a lot of changes, so it is really nothing like the original at all, but then that is nothing new to you. that’s just what I do. You can make this dish with either chicken or shrimp. The original recipe called for shredded chicken, but I had shrimp down, and just expanded on it from there.

1-1 1/2 lb peeled shrimp

5-6 pieces of bacon, diced

1 onion, diced

1 TBSP garlic

3 cups fresh spinach, stemmed and chopped

1-1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

1-2 TBSP butter

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup heavy whipping cream

salt & pepper to taste

1 TBSP fresh sage or 1 tsp dried sage

1 cup grated Parmigiano cheese

1 cup Mozzarella cheese

fresh parsley, chopped for topping

olive oil

bowtie pasta

Cook the bowtie pasta just until it is al dente. Then drain and set aside until you are ready to use it.

Preheat the oven to 350* F or 190* C.

Spray a 9×13 baking pan with cooking spray.

Combine the pureed pumpkin, chicken broth cream, sage and seasonings together and set aside.

Cook the shrimp in the butter and olive oil until it is done. Then remove from the heat and set aside.

Cook the bacon for about 5-7 minutes, then add the vegetables and continue cooking until everything is cooked.

Add the pumpkin mixture and blend everything together well. Add the cooked pasta and shredded Parmagiano cheese and combine well. You may need to readjust the seasonings.

Once everything is mixed together, spoon half of the mixture into the prepared baking pan and add half of the cooked shrimp on top. Repeat until the pan is filled. Add the Mozzarella cheese on top and bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until all the cheese is completely melted.

When it is done, spoon it up and serve with your favorite side dishes. I just made a simple salad and used the rest of my cheesy bacon bread Cheesy Onion And Bacon Bread that I topped with my chimichurri sauce. Chimichurri Topped Roast I also added a dollop of chimichurri on top of my shrimp bowties too. I had a cool, crisp chardonnay on the side too. Yummy!!!!

Pumpkin season is coming to a close, so pumpkin it up while you can, although to be fair, good food and good taste is always in season, regardless of what the calendar says. 🙂

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

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