Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Am I Ready for Summer Gardening? Maybe

     Normally around the first of June I discard all the winter annuals and replace them with hardier ones that I know will thrive in our desert summers. That includes the geraniums.  Geraniums do so well here in Fall, Winter, and Spring but become spindly  and unsightly when the temperatures start to soar.  They just don't want to bloom during our three digit summers.  All the low-desert gardening experts say to just get rid of them and plant new in the fall, so usually I do.  But this year they really outdid themselves in my front planter box,  and even though I know what they'll look like in a few months, I just can't bear to toss them.  So.....I'm moving them to my shaded patio  to try and squeeze a few more weeks from them.  You can't blame me for trying, can you?

     I  tend to roll with the punches where my garden is concerned now, unlike the first  couple of years we lived here in Phoenix.....I was in garden culture shock!  So many things were different! But I've learned now to appreciate those differences, and  I've found that with a little ingenuity I can grow things year round. Gotta love it!

     The potato vines have been amazing.  I planted them last summer and here we are almost a year later and they're doing great. Now that I've found them they are definitely going to be a staple around here.  As you can see, I've already started to clear away in the front  to make room for the little toughies that will hold down the fort until September.

     In the backyard the red Oleander bush has burst into bloom and is already topping out at 7 feet. It totally fills up the southwest corner at the fence. I really won't have to think about it much at all this summer.....I just get to enjoy it!  When the temperatures get to be over 110 degrees,  any plant that can take responsibility for itself is a beautiful plant!

     Then there's my favorite climbing rose "Golden Showers". Roses have to be babied a bit to keep them blooming in our heat, but I think they're totally worth it......especially troopers like this one!

     So I'm off to the garden center this weekend and will surely run into other gardeners who are determined, like myself, to have some color even under the hottest of circumstances. We won't be able to duplicate the easy-going successes we've had during the other seasons, but we are, evidently, willing to try.

Optimistically Yours,

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Simple Strawberry Banana Sheet Cake

      I have a confession to make. It's about my family (hangs head in shame). What is it you ask?  I know you want to know 'cause don't we all like a good confession every now and again?  Okay I'll quit stalling......we have a dessert in "we want dessert with every meal". Yep, if we could justify it, we'd all throw caution to the wind and have something luscious every night. Oh, and let's not forget a little something after lunch too.  Maybe it's just me, but I think for anyone who really likes to cook, doesn't it just look so nice and seem so right to put a delicious dessert in your daily menu plans? 

     Reason prevails most of the time in our family, thankfully, and we suck it up and have only the occasional dessert after dinner.  I think most families are doing the same thing. Still, that doesn't mean you don't WANT something more often, does it?  Obviously finding lighter versions of the originals (when you can find a really good one) is part of the answer. Smaller portions are always an option too. Hubby and son don't seem to like this option very much. Obviously there's no easy answer. I'd like to tell you I found the answer but I haven't.

     I have, though, found at least one little idea that seems to be working for my family. I've started making sheet cakes. It seems there are several definitions of what a sheet cake actually is, but here's my take on it. I took a standard cake recipe from a favorite old cookbook and adapted it (actually that means I experimented with it) using bananas and strawberries that I had on hand. The difference was that I decided to bake it in a very large cookie sheet....and when I say large I mean large (12x18). It turned out great and the best part was that I actually got 24 pieces from it. We had 3 slices for dessert that night, I saved another 3 in the fridge for later in the week, and I froze (unfrosted)  the rest in 2 packages of 6 each for another time. This kept the cake safely tucked away in the freezer instead of on the counter in the glass cake keeper. Out of sight, out of mind.  

     Obviously the slices are thinner, but very generous. No complaining at all from the guys about little pieces. I topped it with the Strawberry Cream Cheese frosting right before I served it. It turned out to be an incredibly moist cake.....good warm from the oven, reheated, or straight from the fridge. I've since made several versions, including an absolutely delicious orange version along with a chocolate one. Those recipes will be coming up real soon so be watching for them!

Strawberry Banana Sheet Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsps baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
Mashed strawberries/bananas to equal 2 cups
4 oz orange juice
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 12x18 inch baking sheet (the kind with a lip) by spraying liberally with a cooking spray. In mixing bowl combine all ingredients and mix for 3 minutes on low speed. Pour batter onto baking sheet and bake for 23 to 25 minutes.  It is okay to go ahead and frost while cake is still warm. Makes 24 slices.

Strawberry Banana Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
Mashed strawberries/bananas to equal one cup
2 cups powered sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a medium mixing bowl using a hand mixer,  blend the cream cheese, orange juice, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Add the fruit and mix another minute or so. Finally, add the powdered sugar a little at a time until you get the consistency you want. If you need to you can even add more orange juice if you like. I wanted it to be a spoonable consistency rather than a spreadable one but either would be good. This frosting will keep in the fridge, covered, for about 2 weeks.