Friday, June 26, 2009

Root Beer Bundt Cake

When company is coming, it is my duty to make a dessert. I love baking and I enjoy trying new recipes. Earlier in the year, I purchased "Baked" by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito, who own a Brooklyn dessert shop by the same name. I love this book. I have tried several of the recipes and they all have turned out great. This cake is a chocolate lover's dream. I don't detect the root beer flavor as strongly as the authors describe it but the overall flavor is decadent. It is fantastic with vanilla ice cream.

Note: The icing recipe makes way too much for the cake. I think you can half the ingredients and still have enough.

2 cups root beer (do not use diet root beer)(I used A&W)
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder (I use dutch processed cocoa)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs

2 ounces dark chocolate (60% cacao), melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup root beer
2/3 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar

For the root beer Bundt cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously spray the inside of a 10-inch bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray; alternatively, butter it, dust with flour, and knock out the excess flour.

2. In a small saucepan, heat the root beer, cocoa powder, and butter over medium heat until the butter is melted. Add the sugars and whisk until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

4. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until just beaten, then whisk them into the cooled cocoa mixture until combined. Gently fold the flour mixture into the cocoa mixture. The batter will be slightly lumpy--do not overbeat, as it could cause the cake to be tough.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, until a small sharp knife inserted into the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Gently loosen the sides of the cake from the pan and turn it out onto the rack.

For the root beer frosting:
1. Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until the frosting is shiny and smooth.

2. Use a spatula to spread the fudge frosting over the crown of the Bundt in a thick layer. Let the frosting set before serving, with the ice cream on the side.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Creeping Jenny - she blooms!

I planted these two urns in front of Michael's salon with Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), Million Belles (Callibrachoa) and Spike Plant. A few weeks ago, he came home and asked me if I knew that Creeping Jenny bloomed because the ones at the salon were blooming like crazy! I confess, I didn't know this and I've never seen one blooming. He said a client was also quizzing him about it and wanted to know if it was a special variety. After googling it, it seems that everyone else knows that Creeping Jenny does indeed bloom. Maybe it prefers the hot concrete surroundings and bright light in order to do so. This is one of my favorite pot plants and groundcovers, but I've never seen it blooming in our garden.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Turtle watching

A few days I was startled to see a turtle in the middle of the pathway next to the patio. I looked closer and realized that she was digging a hole in the sand. I had never seen this before - she was using her back feet and would alternate scooping out sand and then use the other foot to scoop out more. She was in this spot all morning. I wasn't sure what was going on and then I realized she was probably going to lay eggs there. I did a little online research and learned that turtles lay eggs and leave them to hatch and the young care for themselves. It can take all summer before the eggs hatch but they are often taken dug up by predators. A person can cover the holes with a wire cage of sorts to protect the eggs but I'm not sure if I want a wire cage in the middle of my pathway all summer. And what do you do if they hatch and you are not there to let the baby turtles out?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Touring gardens in the rain (B'ham Open Garden Tour)

This past Saturday Michael and I trekked to Birmingham for another Open Gardens Tour (there was a previous one in April). It was raining and thundering when we left home and probably for the first time in the history of mankind, the massive storm system was moving southeast (whoever heard of such??) directly in line for Birmingham. We were undeterred and hoped for the best.

I was most excited about seeing the garden of Louise Wrinkle. She has been featured in many books and articles and her garden is legendary. After many starts and stops - (Mountain Brook is the hardest place to find streets even when you have a map)- we located her garden. We entered from the side street here -

Click on photo for larger image

As we walked up a long paved pathway through a gorgeous wooded garden, it started to rain. We purchased our tickets and briefly spoke with Mrs. Wrinkle before hurrying on to see what we could before the bottom fell out. The lighting was so dim that many of my photos were dark. I also did not have my tripod with me and the slow shutter speeds caused many to be blurry.

Heading back down, the bottom dropped out.

That's Michael in the distance wishing he were somewhere else.

Mrs. Wrinkle had a 5 page handout of the plants in this garden and it was single-spaced! I have an invitation to come again so hopefully it won't rain on the next trip.

Garden #2 was the beautiful garden of designer Tony Rhone. Mr. Rhone's garden was featured on the previous tour but I wanted Michael to see these statues. We couldn't figure out how to get them in the car.

It wasn't just raining when we were at this garden, it was lightening! And you know how some days just don't go your way? When we stepped out of the car, my camera bag fell open, my camera slammed into the pavement and I thought I had shattered my lens. Fortunately, I had a UV protector over the lens and it only broke the filter. Close call!

Garden #3 - there was a lull and it actually didn't rain at all for this one. This house was situated on a steep hill and the landscaping was immaculate. The garden designer is John Wilson, a super nice and talented guy.

We skipped the last garden. We actually drove by it but could not figure out where to park. The instructions said to park on the street but it was a narrow street. We had already risked our lives with the weather elements, all we needed was to get rammed by another vehicle.

The second half of the day was quite nice. We went to The Summitt which has a Smith and Hawken! We found a unique little plant called String of Pearls. Thank goodness there is not one of those stores in Florence! We also had dinner at PF Chang's and dessert at Ben & Jerry's. And Old Navy had all their men's clothing half priced and I picked up a few things. And wouldn't you know it, the sun came out after we got there!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

June Bloom Day

This is a brief one as we had such a rainy weekend that I barely had time to get out and take photos.

I am on a lily kick and planted several last fall. This one is "Scheherazade"

This is "Caravan"

The Bee Balm "Jacob Kline" (Monarda didyma) is just starting to bloom. I planted this last fall in the border that I'm re-doing that will features reds.

The Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus) is really spectacular at the moment. I just love this little tree.

I've never seen so many blooms on the Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). This is "Blue Bird"

An unknown daylily

Verbena bonariensis

The hydrangeas are still the star of the garden and I took several close-ups that I fill feature in a later post.

Bloom Day is the brainchild of Carol at May Dreams Gardens. To see more blooms, visit her blog.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Lily in the language of flowers

The Lily's height and beauty speak command. The Jews imitated its form in the decorations of their first magnificent temple; Christ described it as more splendid than King Solomon in his most gorgeous apparel. According to ancient mythology there was originally but one species of Lily and that was orange colored and the white was produced by the following circumstance: Jupiter, wishing to render Hercules immortal, prevailed on Juno to take a deep draught of nectar which threw the queen into a profound sleep. Jupiter then placed the infant Hercules at her breast so that the divine milk might ensure immortality. Hercules drew the milk faster than he could swallow it and some drops fell to the earth from which immediately sprang the White Lily. (From "The Floral Offering: a Token of Affection and Esteem; Comprising the Language and Poetry of Flowers" by Henrietta Dumont.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I'm published!

Excuse me a minute while I gloat! I've had three photos published in a new gardening book. I've written articles for magazines in the past but this is the first time I've had my photographs in a book. Marie Harrison, a garden writer from northwest Florida, contacted me about a year ago and asked me about some of my photos for a book she was working on, "Flowering Shrubs and Small Trees for the South". I had completely forgotten about it until this week when she graciously sent me an autographed copy. My photos of Fountain Buddleia, Beauty Bush and Kerria were used. It was very exciting and the book looks great with detailed information on more than 100 flowering shrubs and small trees that grow well in the South. Thank you Marie for the book and for the opportunity!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hydrangea madness

I knew summer had arrived when the hydrangeas started blooming last week. That plus the fact that I stepped outside after dinner this evening and found myself soaked in sweat after being out there for only ten minutes. Ugh, that part I don't like about Alabama!

I've never counted the varieties of hydrangeas in our garden but I'd say the number would be close to fifty. Michael is the hydrangea fanatic but I have to confess that I have grown very fond of them.

One of the easiest to grow is "Annabelle". It blooms on new wood and can be cut down to the ground and will come back and bloom -

"Veitchii" is one of my favorite lacecaps. It should be covered in blooms in a few weeks -

Michael's favorite is "Purple Tiers" -

The much lauded "Endless Summer" sulked for two years but this year it is pretty impressive -

"Lady in Red" has performed in a spectacular fashion, growing very fast and blooming heavily every year -

And probably the most common hydrangea, "Nikko Blue" is hard to beat -

The oakleaf hydrangeas are excellent and more adaptable to sunnier spots. If you have limited space, try a dwarf variety, such as "Sike's Dwarf" -

I have created an entire guide on growing hydrangeas on my website. These plants are easy to grow and excellent for shady areas in your garden.