Spring Planting and a Photography Assignment

It has been quite awhile since I posted in this category. The biggest stumbling block has been our erratic weather that is the norm this time of year. If we manage to get a day without rain I have to choose between running and yard work, often running wins that debate. But, lately we have managed to eek out a few days with not just dry weather, but some sun to go along with it! Spring is slowly trying to make its way into the Pacific Northwest, so I have finally been able to weed, clean and plant in the yard.

This time last year I custom built planter boxes for our fence line. I described how I made them from small palettes in a previous post, these were stored under our house during the winter.  Now it was time to pull them out, check for damages and fill them up!

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The repairs were minor for the most part, a few staples and some cleaning were all that was required. I am fortunate enough to live near some beautiful nurseries, one of which is Flower World in nearby Snohomish County. The selection is enormous and the prices are really good, compared to other nurseries in this area. Which is really important because I need 72 plants to fill these four containers! I also have several large pots that require several annuals each-you can see how the price tag goes up really fast! You can see one of those pots on my home page. So, Flower World was my first stop.

flower world

This would be enough for a great start!

When it comes to organizing the plants I have to really pay attention to the height the plants will be in a few months. I try to put the tallest along the top rows, middle and low growers on the second and bottom tier, and some trailing varieties in the corners of the lowest portion. Of course, I try to mix up the colors, but that doesn’t always go as planned.

I started by lining them all up and sorting into height categories, then figured out how to divide the colors among the four planters.

I plant them at the fence, so that they can be lifted into place as they get fairly heavy when full of plants, soil and water.

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Everyone is fairly small now but in a few months the boxes will be full and, hopefully, colorful.

So, what about that photography assignment? Well, I have been taking a digital photography class at a nearby college, in their continuing education program. It is 7 weeks and we have completed the third class now. We have had a number of assignments designed to help us learn the various functions of our cameras, I am really learning a lot! One of the biggest lessons for me is how to use the aperture priority function for more control over my compositions. Another big help has been the white balance function, which is usually set on cloudy around here! Our instructor assigned us the task of taking 15 photos of our backyard, and has challenged us to take a different perspective. So, I decided to photograph the fence line where these planters are mounted. Sort of a “squirrel’s view” of the fence when they run along the top, which they do often!

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In a few weeks I am heading to the Washington coast to take some landscape shots, complete with tripod. This should be interesting!

Half Marathon Training, Week 8 Update!

Wow, I can’t believe that we have hit the half way point already! Ours is a 16 week schedule and it is the end of week 8. And, what a week it was-not pretty for me! I have been struggling with a couple different, yet related issues. First off, I have been running at a much faster pace for some reason. Perhaps I am finally on the verge of some sort of breakthrough with respect to my training. The Tuesday, 6 mile run, should have been around an average 9:40 pace for me, but for some reason my first 3 miles were 9:22, 9:17 and 9:15. I kept telling myself to slow down, but I just didn’t! After the 4th mile, which was 9:35, I just could not catch my breath! I had to walk a bit during the last two miles and ended with a 9:35 average. I felt light headed, winded and completely out of shape! Which brings me to my next problem, nutrition. I did not eat much the day before, and took this six miles for granted. I told myself “its just 6 miles, it will be fine” and had my regular breakfast. I should have respected the run!

When the 4 mile run scheduled for Thursday rolled around, I was a little nervous. I did eat more the night before, got some good carbs into me, but what would happen with my pace? Once again I told myself, “its just 4 miles, it will be fine.” It was for the most part. My first split was 9:19, then 9:17 followed by 9:12! I knew I should slow down but this time it was just for 4 total, so I let it go and ended with an average of 9:17. I was irritated with myself for not being able to control my pace, but that was quickly replaced by the fact that this little 4 miler put me over the 500 total mile mark on my Nike run app!

4 mile run

 

This means that I have averaged 50 miles a month since I started keeping track (as I started the app last June, 2016). This is a major milestone for me and I am proud of my old body!

My happiness lasted a couple days until I realized that I had to run 8 miles on Saturday and was really worried about my inability to regulate my tempo, something I used to be really in tune with and was able to manipulate at will. My goal for this run would be to start at a slower pace and increase, albeit incrementally, with each subsequent mile. I prepared a well balanced pasta dinner for Friday night and we planned our trip into Seattle for the run around Green Lake-the same destination as last week’s 8 mile run. We got lucky in that the rain held off until I was (almost) done. Of course, my hubby was done 15 minutes before me, as he is so much faster. Here are my splits:

8 mile run

My goal was to have all green, which would mean that I did, indeed, get faster each mile. But, I am still very happy with this result! I did run too fast on the fourth mile, and was on track to finish strong but I got caught up in an event that was held at the Lake, a charity walk, which made darting in and out of people a much slower pace than I had preferred, you can tell that occurred in mile 7. Overall, I did a much better job of controlling my speed/pace, which was the overarching goal for this run. The week ended far better than it started!

Next week, we ramp up again. This time we have a 5, 4 and a 9 mile run! My husband will stay on this schedule, but I have to make some sort of change. I, unfortunately, will be having a colonoscopy on Wednesday. If you have had the pleasure, then you know that fasting is required on the day before, which is our Tuesday, 5 mile run day. I don’t think it would be wise to run on a day where all I have in me are popsicles and jello! I think I will run 5 on Monday and then get back on schedule.

I will let you know next weekend how this all plays out-wish me luck!

 

April 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule
This is a blank and printable April Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar

March 2017 April 2017 May 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Week 5

  3/28

5 miles

  3/30

5 miles

  1

7 miles

2

week 6

3

 

4

5miles

5

 

6

7miles

7

 

8

Beat the bunny 5K

9

week 7

10

 

11

6miles

12

 

13

4miles

14

 

15

8miles

16

week 8

17

 

18

6miles

19

 

20

4miles

21

 

22

8miles

23

week 9

24

 

25

5miles

26

 

27

4miles

28

 

29

9miles

30

week 10

Notes:

Sally’s Baking Addiction, April Challenge

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When Sally first posted her April challenge, I immediately knew I wanted to incorporate her idea into an Easter dessert. Usually the holidays are celebrated at my in-laws but this year my husband and I hosted Easter dinner. Our extended family is not real big on desserts in general but they tolerate my incessant need to bake, which I appreciate!

Sally usually presents her followers with a recipe that highlights a specific technique, but this time she focused on the technique itself, while providing a killer frosting formula to go with it! She posted a video on her blog, Sally’sbakingaddiction, that demonstrated the technique of piping simple roses. Her unique twist was to make them two toned and to use a star tip, which makes is much easier than the flowers we made in culinary school. If you have ever used a flower nail and a petal tip, then you know how tough that can be to master. Although, I am tempted to go back and try again now that I have Sally’s amazing vanilla frosting recipe (same link as above).

First I had to choose the cake flavor I wanted to make for our Easter table spread. I wanted something different and appropriate for spring. I searched for a strawberry cake recipe and was quite discouraged. They all seemed to rely on strawberry flavored jello and boxed mixes with artificial flavoring, as well as a lot of food coloring. I finally found “made from scratch strawberries and cream cake” from The Kitchen McCabe. It looked perfect for my needs. The recipe is enough for a four layer, 6 inch cake and 12 cupcakes. This would allow me the opportunity to try out Sally’s technique for roses on both the cupcakes and for decorating the top of the 6 inch cake. The cake on its own is moist and delicious! I had a lot going on during this time period and decided to break up this project over the course of a few days, so I have included my timeline here as well.

I followed this recipe exactly as written, no changes this time! The first step was to make the strawberry puree which I did by placing 2 pounds of strawberries into a food processor and mixing until smooth. I then strained out the seeds and ended up with 2 1/2 cups of puree.

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Only 1 1/2 cups were needed for addition to the dry ingredients, so I saved the extra cup (more on that later!)

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This cake batter smelled amazing!

I panned up two 6″ rounds and 12 paper lined cupcakes and baked as directed. As soon as all the cakes were cooled they were double wrapped in plastic and popped into the freezer. I wasn’t planning on frosting them just yet. The next day I removed the 2 cake layers, defrosted them, leveled the tops and split both to create four layers. I made Sally’s vanilla frosting and decided to add in some of the strawberry puree to the portion of frosting that would be between each layer.

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Sorry about this picture! It was the only one I had to show the layering.

By adding in some of the puree I was able to boost the flavor. Also, the cake is not strawberry colored because I did not add food coloring to the batter. I knew I would be covering the cake with frosting and decided to omit the extra artificial additive. Of course, if you would rather your cake look like it is strawberry flavored, you could add some red or pink gel paste, but the flavor is still present without it. I then applied a crumb coat and put the cake to sleep in the fridge until decorating it the next day.

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I placed the frosted cake onto a gold cake round that I had from another project. This would be the final decorating platform.

Finally, decorating day arrived. At the last minute I decided I wanted to make the cake look like a basket of flowers-actually, a basket of two toned roses! I took some of the vanilla frosting and tinted it red, hoping for a pink color. That did not happen and I had a batch of red frosting, so now I knew that my roses would be red and white! I put that aside and began again and got a lovely shade of pink, yeah! I used a basket cake decorating tip, like this one basket weave tip

I worked my way around the cake.

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I finished the top of the basket with dots from a round tip

Now it was time to pipe some the roses. I was nervous about jumping right to the top of the cake so I did some practice flowers on the cupcakes first. I lined the piping bag with some of the red frosting that I had made, just as Sally directed in her video. But I had some pink left over from the basket portion, so I lined part of the bag with pink as well and then filled the bag with the vanilla frosting (so, three toned roses instead of two). I set to work on the cupcakes. I did not have the exact tip that Sally recommended in her video so I chose an alternate closed star tip171

I was happy with how the frosting was flowing from the tip and how each color combination was different from one another. I then went to the cake top.

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I could have stopped here and been really happy with the results, but flowers need leaves, and I could not help myself! I colored a little more icing and used both a small and large leaf tips to add a few details.

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I placed a green dragee at the base of each leaf. Now I was happy!  My family loved the look and taste of this cake!

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A big thank you to The Kitchen McCabe and Sally’s Baking Addiction for the inspiration and a great holiday dessert!

Half Marathon Training, Week 7 Update!

We made it to week 7, and our first really long run of 8 miles. Tuesday’s 6 mile run went pretty well, overall. The weather was good, if not a little cold. There was no rain, but that wind! Yeesh, it really cuts through you! We are still in long pants and long sleeves when we are out there. I see a number of other runners on Instagram and on the running blogs in shorts and tank tops. Obviously it is warmer around the country. My pace is slower these days, don’t know if it’s the weather, my old body or both! Thursday’s 4 mile run felt like a sprint, even though it was raining. My husband was at work that day and claimed a “editing emergency” prevented him from running. Truth be told, I don’t think his heart was in it!

Saturday was the big 8, and the weather was gorgeous, with the exception of that wind again! For the long runs we like to head into Seattle for a change of scenery, and we decided to make the 30 minute trip over to Green Lake. It’s a 2.8 mile loop around the lake and there were plenty of people out for a pre Easter walk, run or bike ride. Of course, these days you have to make the most of a non-rainy day, so it was no surprise that it was busy.

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It took me an hour and 18 minutes of straight running to pull this off as my pace dipped close to 10 minute/mile. But, overall I am pleased with how I felt during and after the run. Sore, definitely, but not completely dead!

We have another 6, 4 & 8 ahead next week, and a lot more rock climbing planned as we get closer to our Smith Rocks trip in May. I hope my feet forgive me one day!

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April 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule

This is a blank and printable April Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar

March 2017 April 2017 May 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Week 5

  3/28

5 miles

  3/30

5 miles

  1

7 miles

2

week 6

3

 

4

5miles

5

 

6

7miles

7

 

8

Beat the bunny 5K

9

week 7

10

 

11

6miles

12

 

13

4miles

14

 

15

8miles

16

week 8

17

 

18

6miles

19

 

20

4miles

21

 

22

8miles

23

week 9

24

 

25

5miles

26

 

27

4miles

28

 

29

9miles

30

week 10

Notes:

Hot Cross Buns, It must be Spring!

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I love this particular Hot Cross Bun recipe. It is a little more complex than others that I have seen, with a few extra steps, but it is hard to argue with the results! Like most other formulas out there, this one uses the straight dough method for the rolls themselves, and similar instructions for combining the batch of cross dough, but it is the spiced bun glaze that really sets this recipe apart from the pack.

This recipe is from a culinary cookbook, I have mentioned in the past that culinary texts are written differently than standard cookbooks or recipes in general. I have adapted this and made a few changes but the format will be by weight and volume for the most part.  One additional step done here is to condition the dried fruit. This step requires a 2 hour, minimum rest, so plan ahead! However, after that step the recipe moves along smoothly since it is a straight dough method, everything goes in together and combined quickly.

The flour, butter, sugar, yeast, milk powder, salt, vanilla paste, eggs and spices are combined first then the temperature controlled water is added. Once the dough has pulled together and is soft and pliable the dried fruits are added.

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The dough is allowed to rise, covered on the bench until doubled in size (about 30 minutes)

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It is then degassed and folded into thirds, allowed to rest again for 15 minutes. This lets the dough relax and is easier to portion and shape. The recipe calls for 3 1/2 oz portions to be rounded and panned 5 rows by 6 rows for a total of 30, rather large, buns!

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yes, I do weigh them-this one was a little big and had to have a pinch removed!

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The rolls are covered and allowed to proof until doubled which takes about an hour

While the rolls proofed I made the cross dough which is applied right before they go in the oven. The cross dough is pastry flour, butter and milk which is combined and mixed until smooth.

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The cross dough was put into a disposable pastry bag that had been fitted with a plain tip.

This was piped onto the individual rolls to form the cross pattern.

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The pan went into a 375°F preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until the desired color was achieved. This particular cross dough is not sweet. As I said before it is just flour, butter and milk. Many other recipes use cream cheese or other flavored icing and apply it at the end of the baking process. This recipe uses a lemon, ginger simple syrup to give the rolls flavor and shine.

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This bun glaze is water, sugar, ground ginger, lemon juice, lemon zest and cream of tartar. It should be made ahead of time and chilled before applying to the hot rolls.

As soon as the rolls come out of the oven the glaze is generously applied.

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They are shiny, sweet, sticky, fruity and delicious! The extra steps are worth it!

 

 

Half Marathon Training, Week 6 Update!

Well, after 5 solid weeks of faithful training, we finally had a bit of a stumble. Our 5 mile run on Tuesday went great, in fact I was happy with both the weather and my 9:31 pace. However, Thursday was supposed to be a 7 mile run, to take the place of the Saturday long run which was downgraded to a 5K. It was raining, windy and we were not feeling it that day! We decided to listen to our bodies and minds and drop back to just a 5 mile run. But maybe that was for the best because on Saturday I had my fastest mile to date! And, a PR at the 5K “Beat the Bunny” fun run! I had a 9:02 1 mile and a 9:11 pace for the 5K! I really never thought I could go that fast. I was 3rd overall in my age group out of 22.

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Of course my husband, aka the flash, ran his usual 7:07 pace and cruised over the line well before me. He always does well on race day! He was third in his age group as well, and in the top 20 overall!

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It is always fun to watch the little kids meet the bunny and collect some Easter eggs and holiday treats. We had fun. Although we did fall 4 miles short on the training goal. Next week we ramp up again. We will run the first of two weeks at distances 6, 4 & 8 mile training runs. I really hope the weather keeps improving!

April 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule
This is a blank and printable April Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar

March 2017 April 2017 May 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Week 5

  3/28

5 miles

  3/30

5 miles

  1

7 miles

2

week 6

3

 

4

5miles

5

 

6

7miles

7

 

8

Beat the bunny 5K

9

week 7

10

 

11

6miles

12

 

13

4miles

14

 

15

8miles

16

week 8

17

 

18

6miles

19

 

20

4miles

21

 

22

8miles

23

week 9

24

 

25

5miles

26

 

27

4miles

28

 

29

9miles

30

week 10

Notes:

ON THE RISE, PART II

It is rainy and windy today, not really a surprise around here! It is the perfect day to spend time baking in the kitchen and I wanted to try a few more shaping techniques from the Craftsy class that I reviewed here. I used the same recipe and, once again the dough came together nicely, and was allowed to double in size.

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The dough was portioned slightly differently as I wanted to make three different shapes.

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The six smaller portions on the left were to be made into small, Dutch crunch rolls, the larger were earmarked for 4 telera rolls and 4 double knots

I was on my own today and did not have help to make a video like the last post, so I will try to describe the shaping process for each roll.

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The six rolls at the top were made by flattening the dough portion and each corner folded into the center to form a loose ball. The ball was placed, seam side on the counter and rolled to form a denser ball, with tension, to form the tight surface. The four at the bottom of the pan were shaped the same way but then two deep indentations were made to form the telera pattern. It should look like this when baked:

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The four in the middle were rolled as was shown in the video I made previously, but the long log was then tied in the middle, like a single knot, then the ends were tucked in the hole in the middle. This is the double knot shape.

The six small rolls were supposed to have the Dutch crunch topping but, turns out I did not have the rice flour that I thought I had! So, they were egg washed and sprinkled with sanding sugar, the double knots were also egg washed, the telera were left with just the flour for a more rustic look. All were baked at 350°F for 20 minutes.

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The indentations in the telera rolls proofed away! They look like potato rolls instead. I think the tender sweet dough was too soft to hold up to the shape of the telera roll. I may have to try again with a firmer dinner roll recipe.

The double knots and small round rolls held their shape better, all three were delicious!

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In an attempt to believe spring is actually here, I made an Easter bread basket.

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Up next, Hot cross buns for Easter Weekend!