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Monthly Archives: December 2010

For The Gardener: Online/Mail Order Shopping Tips

For The Gardener:  Online/Mail Order Shopping Tips

 

Garden Catalogs

Garden Catalogs

Winter here in the north is a tough season for many gardeners. Outdoor gardening chores slow way down this time of the year and it’s easy for us outdoor types to go a bit stir crazy. This time of year would be a true Purgatory here on Earth  it were not for the wonderful mail order catalogs and the retail gardening sites found on the Internet. Indeed, one of the most pleasant “gardening” activities during these cold months is browsing through the various mail order catalogs as they arrive in the mail or surfing the online nurseries and planning the additions for the coming year’s garden.

Mail order and online ordering can be a blessing or a curse, so it pays to go forth armed with a little knowledge and wisdom before making purchases. Here are a few tips to help you when you do decide to order those newest additions for your yard and garden:

Be aware that most of these catalogs and updated web sites are coming right at the time when we crave getting back into the swing of gardening the most. I always try to set a buying limit before I even open a link to a site or open one of those tempting catalogs that arrive in the mail. I also try to refer to my gardening journal for ideas on what I need or to refer to my wish list for what to add to the gardens. Definitely set a budget and try to refer to your wish list before viewing an online site or opening up a single page of a catalog!  Also, set your spending limit on the high side. You will probably go over the limit a bit, at least I do. But, the shock to the pocket book will not be as severe as it would be with too low of a shopping budget or no budget at all.

Whether shopping from a mail order catalog or online, try not to gamble:  Shop from reputable sources. Most vendors are honest, but go with established companies. If you do buy from a small specialty source, order only one or two items to see what the quality of the plant material is, to see if that transaction has gone smoothly, and to see if the plant has lived up to your expectations. Definitely make a journal entry so that in the future you can refer back to the experience you’ve had with that company and its plants.

Be aware of descriptions and enhanced photos. It isn’t unusual for a vendor to post an enticing photo of  a plant and a persuasive description. They are, after all, trying to make a sale. A good salesman will always sell the sizzle, not the steak itself. A case in point are photos I’ve seen of  “blue” daylilies. Almost everyone who is into daylilies knows the Holy Grail for a daylily aficionado is the elusive true-blue daylily.  Genetically, this is the only color daylilies cannot produce. Breeders have come close, but there is always a pink or red tone to the blue–more a mauve or purple. Yet, it isn’t uncommon to see enhanced photos showing a true blue tone to a particular cultivar.  This is particularly true of less than reputable vendors.

Along with that, beware of vendors who use catchy names for plants. An example is for creeping thyme. I’ve seen it called, “Walk on me plant”.  Common names are fine, botanical names are better. Often the vendors with catchy, uncommon names for a plant are also not known for good plants, products, or service.

Read the policies of the company. Often this information is on the same page as the order form. See if there is a daytime phone number you can call if you have any questions before you place your order. For online shopping, find out if there is a phone number and/or an e-mail address. Clear up any questions before you commit to a purchase! Read plant guarantees carefully. Some firms will not guarantee a plant after the first growing season. Some will offer money-back guarantees, others want the culprit plant shipped back to them, and finally, others will offer replacement plants or credits. One other thing: You must follow the rules exactly. If you drown a plant or fail to plant it promptly or in conditions that are contributing factors to its demise, you most likely won’t receive a refund, credit, or replacement. Most if not all nurseries and garden centers will only honor their guarantees if the gardener has followed planting instructions and expected cultural practices.

Use wisdom and care. You must be aware of your zone and your particular growing conditions. If a plant loves zone 7 conditions and you live in South Bend, Indiana, you are on your own. Yes, we all push the zone limits, but seasoned gardeners who do this are very realistic and are aware that the plant is out of its normal range. Overall, gardeners are gamblers. But, we hedge our bets and offer the best possible conditions and protection for that plant. Most companies state the zone conditions of a particular plant with the plant or seed descriptions. If you live in zone 5 and order zone 7 plants, you might not get a refund or replacement. Also don’t buy a ton of out-of-zone plants for your garden. One or two, here and there only. Stick with plants that will do well in your zone. Along the same idea, try to buy from sources that share a similar growing climate, particularly for shrubs and plants. A saucer magnolia grown in Georgia may not be able to survive a winter in a zone 5a to 6a region. However, bend the rules. You sometimes have to buy a plant that was grown in an area of warmer or dramatically different climate or growing conditions. Do grow that plant in a protected bed for the first two or three seasons to get it acclimated to your area before placing it in its permanent position.

Shop locally. Many garden centers and nurseries offer the same stock or items found online and in catalogs. For example, if you can find Burpee seeds on a rack locally, purchase them locally. If you can find a particular perennial, shrub, or tree locally, ditto. Reserve shopping online and via mail order for new or unusual plants and varieties. However, if you are on a budget and can’t afford a large shrub or tree grown locally and you simply must have it, then it makes sense to buy a smaller plant via mail order or online.

Check out the bottom line dollar figures for shipping and handling as well as the quantity, size, and price of your chosen plants or seeds. Do comparison shopping between the different catalogs and online sources. Also check for early bird specials, quantity discounts, and discounts for the amount spent.

Many print catalogs are also available online. Often a catalog that costs a few dollars via mail will be offering the same stock online and you can save the cost of paying for a catalog. Many offer PayPal or other alternatives to credit card purchases as well.

Keep a copy of your order and any order numbers, the contact person you have spoken with in any telephone conservations, and copies of your canceled check, credit card statement, money orders, or PayPal transactions. You might need all of this information in case of a refund request or dispute.

Fill out your orders on a separate sheet, before filling out an order form. Put it aside for a few days. If you have really blown your budget, go back to the orders every few days and take a long, hard look to pare it down a bit. After you feel comfortable with your order, mail it out or complete the online order. Sit back, relax, and wait for the adventure of “Christmas in April” when all of your plant purchases start to arrive!

One last point: Read reviews of different mail order/online businesses before purchasing. One of the best sources for consumer reviews is the The Garden Watchdog. Gardeners are quick to praise or criticize a nursery or garden supplier based on their experiences. To find out about a particular company, go to this link:  Garden Watchdog

Part of the fun of gardening is mail ordering and online shopping. It is often the best way to find seeds or plants that are not available locally. Use a little wisdom and common sense. You can prevent the possibility of an unpleasant shopping experience and still be able to have that showcase garden of your dreams!

May as well join in the laughter!

Today, I was walking out of the building at work, getting ready to head home. Minding my own business. At first, I didn’t know if the bird was snowblind or distracted, whatever, but it came in towards me like a Kamikaze pilot and I had to duck or we would have collided, no joke!! It wasn’t divebombing me, it was clearly intent on its purpose to get to the old and shaggy Norway Spruce that is next to the exit that I had just left.

I imagine the expression on my face and my body language were quite interesting and comical at the same time. One of the residents who happened to be walking outdoors broke up in a gale of laughter.  It took me a couple of seconds, but I proceeded to join in on the laughter as well. All I could muster up was to call it the “killer kamikaze bird”, and fell out in even more laughter.

What made it more special was this person is usually very withdrawn and rarely reacts or talks to anybody. I clearly made his day a little more joyful.

About the situation itself.

I  know that some people would have found it either annoying or awkward to be the subject of hilarity and laughter.

The thing is, as we grow older, I find myself not taking myself as seriously as I did when I was younger.

Stuff happens. Some very funny stuff at that. It’s good to lighten up.

Being the the cause of someone else to break out in laughter over an absurd or funny situation involving oneself isn’t a bad thing. It’s not like I was being mocked. And if it brought someone to find humor in a strange little situation, to come out of his shell however briefly, so much the better.

Another case in point.

Now, this could have really been a humiliating situation, but what the heck! Stuff happens.

I don’t use dryer sheets. They make me itch. Ditto for fabric softener in the rinse cycle. A few years ago, I went to work and was ambling down the unit at the hospital where I worked and one of the employees broke out in peels of laughter. She pulled a sock off the bottom of the back of my lab jacket. I had just fetched it from a warm dryer that morning and didn’t realize that a black sock was stuck to it. Yup, drove into work, walked in from the parking lot, took off my coat and it was still clinging to me like a little black tail! I took the sock, thanked her, and deadpanned that I sure could use the other one about now–my feet were wet from walking through the puddles. And then I proceeded to laugh as well.

Life is too short . There is enough seriousness and heartache we see or face every day that we may as well enjoy the humor involving the absurd little things that happen to us. Rather than feel indignant or embarrassed, enjoy the moment and may as well join in the laughter!

Marilyn’s Killer Cinnamon Rolls

Marilyn’s Killer Cinnamon Rolls

Marilyn's Killer Cinnamon Rolls

Marilyn's Killer Cinnamon Rolls

I think these are better than Cinnabons, no joke! The secret is the addition of cinnamon, vanilla, and lemon zest to the dough.  Sweet enough that a simple glaze is the best:

Marilyn’s Killer Cinnamon Rolls

2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
2/3 cup sugar, and
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warmed milk
2/3 cup butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla
6 to 7 cups flour, or more if needed

Dough prep:

1/2 cup melted butter to spread over the dough before spreading the filling

Filling:

1/2 cup melted butter for filling
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, optional
1 1/2 cup raisins, optional

Pan preparation:

Melt 3 Tbsp melted butter, generously brush pans using all of the butter
Mix 1/4 cup sugar with 2 tsp cinnamon. Sprinkle over bottom of pans

Glaze:

2/3 cup melted butter
4 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
6 tablespoons hot milk, more as needed

Directions:

In a small bowl mix together warm water, yeast and 1 tsp sugar and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix milk, remaining 2/3 Cup sugar, melted butter, salt and eggs; stir well and add yeast mixture. Add 1 cup flour, cinnamon, lemon zest, and vanilla. Blend thoroughly.

Add half the remaining flour and beat until smooth. Stir in enough of the remaining flour until dough is slightly sticky and holds its form when gathered into a ball. Turn out onto a well-floured board; knead 5-10 minutes until smooth. Dough should be firm, but form into a soft ball that “gives” and is smooth and elastic, like a baby’s bottom.

Place in well-buttered glass or plastic bowl, cover and let rise in warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, about 1-1 1/2 hours. When doubled, punch down dough and let rest 5 min. Roll out on floured surface into a 15×20″ rectangle.

Filling the rolls:

Prepare the filling.

Spread dough with the remaining 1/2 Cup melted butter. Spread the filling over over buttered dough, edge to edge. Sprinkle with walnuts and raisins, if desired.

Roll up jellyroll-fashion and pinch edge together to seal. Cut into 12-15 slices. Prepare the pans.

Place cinnamon roll slices close together in prepared pans. Let rise in warm place until dough is doubled in bulk, about 45 min. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until rolls are nicely browned. Cool rolls slightly.

Invert rolls onto cooling racks which have waxed paper beneath. Allow syrup from bottom of the pan to run over the bottom of the rolls. Cool slightly until the syrup firms up, return to the pans. (It might seem like a pain, but it will help keep the rolls from “welding” to the pan and tearing when removing them).

Creamy Glaze:

Mix melted butter, powdered sugar and vanilla.

Add hot milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until glaze reaches desired spreading or pouring consistency. Spread over slightly cooled rolls.

‘Tis the season: The Christmas War version 2010

The annual Christmas battle has begun and the press is eating it like a plate full of  Mom’s best homemade cookies. Or so it would seem.

The American Atheists placed a billboard at the entrance of the Lincoln tunnel going into New York at the Jersey side of the tunnel. It features a silhouette nativity scene with the caption, “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

On the opposite side of the tunnel going into New Jersey, the Catholic League posted the exact same billboard but with the caption, “You KNOW It’s Real.”

My opinion of this latest version of the annual Christmas War? Each one of us has our own traditions and beliefs regarding this time of the year. We celebrate in ways that are personally  meaningful to each one of us. Those who are Christian celebrate the birth of Jesus and hold this holiday sacred. Those who are secular or who are non-Christian also celebrate their own holidays or even Christmas itself.  But the universal theme of this season and Christmas in particular  is to extend goodwill to all. To lay aside differences and reach out to one another. Regardless of what we believe.

Apparently, that time-honored tradition of setting aside our differences and extending a helping hand to the less fortunate among us is dying out, being replaced by a battle of the secularists vs. the believers.

My final thoughts:

Both groups aren’t going to change what people believe by erecting competing billboards at $20,000 apiece.

$40,000. That’s a lot of cash. That kind of money could be put to good use helping financially strapped families, the homeless, the sick with no health care, and the forgotten elderly people of this country.

So much for Peace on Earth and extending a helping hand towards others.

‘Tis the season, indeed…

“Just because!”

So many times I remembered when I was a kid thinking that when I grew up, I promised myself I was still going to play.

I loved board games, playing outdoors, tag, crack the whip, hide and go seek, Mother may I? Simon says–all of this was Da Bomb.

When we lived in Ohio, there was the marina down at the end of the street along with the city park. We’d play there for hours and we’d fish, hang out.

In Illinois, it was all about playing outside, hitting the woods, the tree fort, the creek and the river. Camping out, hanging out with friends, maybe indoor and outdoor games, maybe riding the horses down at a friend’s place next to the Sportsman’s Club.

It was a fairly loose agenda in both places of my childhood years. We’d do whatever the moment carried us to do, “just because”.

When we hit high school, it was more about partying and dances or sports related activities. Sometimes we’d hit the YMCA for swimming. But, I think adolescence is when actual playing and the joy and wonder of childhood started to change. Everything started to have a purpose and the spontaneity of childhood, the “just because” factor, started to take a back seat.

When the kids were little, we’d take them on outings and to the parks. We’d get them on the playground equipment, but more as parents keeping a watchful eye on them and spotting them on the slides, swings and merry-go-rounds. We’d play board games with them on weekend evenings or a game of I Spy With My Little Eye every now and then.

Any actual physical activity with other adults became generally sports related like volleyball or bowling. Maybe fishing, perhaps a game of Euchre or other card games.

Again, those are not bad activities.  But somehow, we’ve lost most of the exuberance of childhood, enjoying the great outdoors with the enthusiasm of a child, doing nothing and doing everything, “just because”.

I know we have more cares and responsibilities with our passage into adulthood. I’m sure most of us would look silly hanging out in a tree fort. Not to mention the neighbors might call the men in white coats on the neighbor who has finally gone ’round the bend!

But I was looking at my oldest cat which set me to pondering about this. Woody is now 15 years old, and I think he’s not long for this world. Age and numerous cat problems are catching up with him. But, I caught him playing the other day with one of the ornaments. Slap shotting it around like it was a hockey puck. For a brief moment, I would have thought he was a kitten again. But he was doing it for the sheer fun of it. Again, it was the feline version of “just because”!

Several years ago I was visiting my best friend. It was a beautiful summer day with fluffy white clouds passing overhead.  A typical late afternoon on a warm day. We were just hanging out in her backyard when she pointed at one cloud and said, “Look! There’s Mickey Mouse!” Sure enough, the cloud did look like Mickey. We spent maybe a good 45 minutes pointing out what this cloud and what that cloud looked like. I hadn’t done that in years. I think looking at Nature through the eyes of a child, the imagination and fun for fun’s sake and playfulness  is something that starts to elude us as we grow older and are burdened with the weight of everyday life.

We have Prozac and other good and truly wonderful drugs for depression. We have numerous pills to help us to sleep at night. But, I really think if we started to look at the world through the eyes of a child, started to regain that sense of playfulness, we’d certainly have a more positive outlook on life in general and might find some of our own worries and troubles easier to bear and find ourselves resting a little better at night.

So, if you find me skipping stones across the surface of the lake someday or jumping into a pile of leaves next fall, please don’t think I’ve finally lost all of my marbles! I’m just enjoying myself, and do join me for a little while, “just because”!

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

Spritz Cookies

A Christmas Tradition: Press (Spritz) Cookies

Mom made these every Christmas and they were always a hit:

Mom’s Press (Spritz) Cookies

1 lb butter (can use 1/2 butter, 1/2 stick margarine for these–don’t use vegetable oil spread!) at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1/2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 TBSP warm water

6 cups of flour

Cream the butter and extracts. Add the eggs and beat until smooth

Add the dissolved baking soda and blend.

Gradually add the flour until a stiff, moldable dough forms. Do not add too much flour; it should hold its shape and stick together without crumbling

The dough can be put through a cookie press as-is, or you can divide the dough into three portions. Leave one untinted, tint one portion green, the other portion red and form 3 ropes together to put through the cookie press

Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until just set and bottoms are starting to JUST brown.

Yield: About 5 to 6 dozen press cookies, depending upon shapes used.

You can add maraschino cherry bits, colored sugars and other decos to these just before baking.

Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening

Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

It might seem surprising to some, but as gardeners living here know, winter is not a static time for garden-related activities in the southern Great Lakes region.Along with planning this year’s gardens, there are many tasks that need our attention during the winter season.

It’s a good time to sharpen tools and to check and tune-up power equipment such as mowers and trimmers. With winter in full force, one can beat the rush and be well prepared for the start of the spring season.

January and February are the best times to order seeds, plants, and supplies from mail order sources. The selection is better and the gardener can take advantage of early bird specials. By ordering early, we are in good position to get exactly what we want to plant and grow this year.

Winter is the time of year when thaw and heave cycles can wreak havoc with perennial plants. On days when the snow has receded, we can stroll the grounds and check plants for heaving and place them back into the ground. Placing more mulch over the plants will prevent further heaving. This helps to keep the ground at a constant temperature, and it prevents premature dormancy break. Mulch can be removed in the spring.

An ideal time to spray broadleaf and newly planted evergreens with an anti-transpirant is when the temperature is above 35 or 40 degrees. This will help prevent “dehydration” from arid winter winds. If woody plants have been in the yard less than a year, it won’t hurt to take out the hoses and water these new shrubs and trees if the ground is too dry. The roots are still becoming established and the plants will need to take a drink despite the cold. Just remember to disconnect the hoses from the faucet to prevent damage to plumbing and hoses when watering tasks are done!

As the season progresses, there are pruning chores that can be undertaken. Many ornamentals, fruiting trees, and grapes are best pruned in late winter while still dormant. Prune for shape and to remove watersprouts and suckers from fruit trees. Try to maintain an open framework to these trees, to allow sunlight to reach in. Train your grapes, remove excess vines and cut back the best growing limbs to the buds that will grow this year’s crops. Remove old fruiting branches. Refer to a pruning guide or contact your county extension agent for the best method and time to prune these plants. Be careful when pruning: You don’t want to prune away too much and sacrifice blooms on those plants that flower on old wood!

Dormant oil spray can be applied to ornamentals and fruit trees before dormancy breaks. Late winter is an ideal time to do this. Dormant oil spray helps smother scale and other overwintering insects. Remember to read the application directions for the proper method and time/temperature for applying this.

When there are significant or heavy snowfalls, remove snow loads from evergreens by gently brushing off the newly fallen snow. Do this by brushing upwards to prevent breaking limbs and branches. After ice storms and other bad weather, check for torn limbs on trees and bushes. Cleanly prune away those branches.

You can get a jump-start on the growing season by starting seeds. Seeds require different starting times. Some require pre-chilling or heat, light or dark, for germination to take place. Refer to the instructions on the seed packets for successfully starting seeds. Learn what your average last frost date is, and count back from that point to determine the number of weeks of growing that needs to be done indoors before hardening off and planting outdoors.

We need to look after our gardening partners, the birds. Don’t forget to keep birdfeeders filled during these cold months and well into spring. Birds also need a constant and dependable source of water. Try to keep an open source of drinking water handy. A birdbath heater is a worthwhile investment for this purpose.

Above all else, don’t miss an opportunity on balmier days to take a walk through your winter gardens. The winter garden has a stark beauty not seen during the rest of the year. It is always surprising to see how many plants are still green during this season! There is a great joy and hope when seeing the sprouts of the crocuses and daffodils pushing their way out of the ground, of hearing birds sing, and of the freshness of the crisp winter air.

It might still be fall on the calendar but…

I think winter is just around the corner! We are predicted to get our first big snowfall starting on Sunday.

Lake Effect Snow Advisory

Allen (Indiana)

URGENT - WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORTHERN INDIANA
449 AM EST SAT DEC 4 2010
...LAKE EFFECT SNOW WARNING TONIGHT THROUGH MONDAY NIGHT FOR
SOUTHWEST LOWER MICHIGAN AND NORTHWEST INDIANA...
...LAKE EFFECT SNOW ADVISORY SUNDAY THROUGH MONDAY NIGHT FOR SOUTH
CENTRAL LOWER MICHIGAN AND NORTHEAST INDIANA...
.CONDITIONS CONTINUE TO BE FAVORABLE FOR A PROLONGED SIGNIFICANT
LAKE EFFECT SNOW EVENT DEVELOPING TONIGHT AND CONTINUING INTO
EARLY NEXT WEEK. AS MUCH COLDER AIR SPREADS SOUTH OVER THE RELATIVELY
WARM WATERS OF LAKE MICHIGAN...LAKE EFFECT SNOW WILL INITIALLY
SPREAD INLAND OVER LAPORTE AND STARKE COUNTIES IN NORTHWEST
INDIANA. AS NORTHERLY WINDS SHIFT MORE TO THE NORTHWEST LATE TONIGHT
AND INTO SUNDAY...THE LAKE EFFECT SNOW BANDS WILL SHIFT MORE TO
THE EAST...AFFECTING BERRIEN AND CASS COUNTIES IN SOUTHWEST LOWER
MICHIGAN AND SAINT JOSEPH...ELKHART AND MARSHAL COUNTIES OF
NORTHERN INDIANA. SNOW IN THESE AREAS WILL BE HEAVY AT TIMES WITH
SNOWFALL RATES AT TIMES OF 1 TO 3 INCHES PER HOUR. LESS INTENSE
SNOWBANDS WILL AFFECT SOUTH CENTRAL LOWER MICHIGAN AND THE
REMAINDER OF NORTHERN AND NORTHEAST INDIANA SUNDAY THROUGH MONDAY
NIGHT.
GIVEN THE NATURE OF LAKE EFFECT SNOWFALL AND INHERENT
DIFFICULTIES IN FORECASTING...PRECISE FORECASTS OF SNOW AMOUNTS
REMAIN DIFFICULT AT BEST. THE POTENTIAL FOR SIGNIFICANT SNOWFALL
TOTALS BY DAYBREAK TUESDAY AND FOR SIGNIFICANT TRAVEL IMPACT DURING
THIS TIME FRAME IS HIGH. INTENSE SNOWBANDS ALONG WITH THE EXTENDED
DURATION OF THE EVENT SUGGESTS THAT SOME LOCATIONS WILL RECEIVE IN
EXCESS OF A FOOT OF A SNOW. LOCALIZED AREAS WHERE SNOWBANDS
PERSIST COULD RECEIVE IN EXCESS OF A FOOT AND A HALF OF SNOW BY
DAYBREAK TUESDAY...ESPECIALLY IN BERRIEN AND WESTERN CASS COUNTIES
IN MICHIGAN. LESSER AMOUNTS...GENERALLY IN THE 3 TO 7 INCH
RANGE...ARE ANTICIPATED IN THE ADVISORY AREA.
INZ017-018-041800-
/O.NEW.KIWX.LE.Y.0015.101205T1200Z-101207T1100Z/
WHITLEY-ALLEN IN-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF...COLUMBIA CITY...TRI-LAKES...
SOUTH WHITLEY...FORT WAYNE...NEW HAVEN
449 AM EST SAT DEC 4 2010
...LAKE EFFECT SNOW ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 7 AM SUNDAY TO 6 AM
EST TUESDAY...
THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORTHERN INDIANA HAS ISSUED A
LAKE EFFECT SNOW ADVISORY...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 7 AM SUNDAY
TO 6 AM EST TUESDAY.
* TIMING...LAKE EFFECT SNOW WILL BEGIN AROUND DAYBREAK SUNDAY.
CONTINUED LAKE EFFECT SNOW SHOWERS WILL PERSIST INTO MONDAY
NIGHT AND MAY BE HEAVY AT TIMES.
* SNOW ACCUMULATIONS...TOTALS OF 3 TO 6 INCHES BY DAYBREAK
TUESDAY.
* OTHER IMPACTS...VISIBILITIES WILL BE HIGHLY VARIABLE WITH
INTENSE SNOWFALL IN NARROW BANDS. UNTREATED ROADS WILL BECOME
SNOW COVERED AND SLIPPERY. TRAVEL ON AFFECTED PORTIONS OF
INTERSTATE 69 AND ROUTE 30 COULD BECOME HAZARDOUS.
PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...
A LAKE EFFECT SNOW ADVISORY MEANS LAKE EFFECT SNOW IS FORECAST
THAT WILL MAKE TRAVEL DIFFICULT IN SOME AREAS. LAKE EFFECT SNOW
SHOWERS TYPICALLY ALIGN THEMSELVES IN BANDS AND WILL LIKELY BE
INTENSE ENOUGH TO DROP SEVERAL INCHES IN LOCALIZED AREAS. USE
CAUTION WHEN TRAVELING.


Now I will really be put to the test regarding enjoying the winter. I think I’ll fill up the bird feeders this weekend and get the snow gear out. I might just build a snowman or two in the front yard as well!

The 2011 All-America Selection Winners

The 2011 All-America Selection Winners

All-America Selections are plants that have been rigorously tested in display gardens across the US. These plants are tested in different climates, soils, and growing conditions. They are then evaluated for performance. The best of the best is awarded the AAS endorsement annually. Look for these winning selections in garden centers and through mail order seed and plant retailers.

And now, sound the turmpets! Here are the 2011 AAS winners:

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’
2011 AAS Flower Award Winner

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ 2011 AAS Flower Award Winner

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ is a new agaillardia featuring an all-new apricot color, edged in yellow. The plants are only 12 inches tall and compact, making this a great border or container flower choice. The foliage is a bright green which contrasts with the flowers quite nicely. The flowers range from 3 to 3.5 inches acrss. Bloom time is from early summer to autumn. The first flowers form in about 90 days from an indoor sowing. The plants are literally covored in blooms. Removing faded blooms will encourage a continued show.

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’
2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

'Glamour Red' Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’ 2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

‘Glamour Red’ is the first kale awarded the  All-America Selections award. The leaves are waxless and the colors are very intense. The leaf form is fringed and the flower head size is about 10 to 12 inches across. Average time to bloom is about 90 days from sowing. The heads will develop good color when early fall arrives and the night temps drop below 55 degrees. ‘Glamour Red’ shows good frost and disease tolerance and is sure to be a hit in the fall border or container gardens.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’
2011 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’ 2011 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel’ is a dwarf and extremely branching plant. At full maturity, it remains about 20 inches tall. Great for the hummingbird garden, the flowers are a brilliant red color and each flower spike is covered with 1/2 inch blooms. The leaves add a dark green contrast to the intensely red blooms. Flowering isabout 50 days from sowing and the flowers hold through wind and rain. ‘Summer Jewel Red’ will add an accent of bright color to containers or gardens. Use in a grouping for dramatic impact.

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’
2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’ 2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

For people who love their violas and pansies, this year’s winner, Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’, offers a beautiful addition to the cool season border and containers. This viola blooms early and prolifically and sports a 6 inch mound of color with a 12 inch spread. The blooms are light blue with a dark blue face and each bloom is rimmed in white. Flowering in just 70 days from sowing, ‘Shangri-La Marina’ will provide a long season of color if sown early indoors and will also offer additional impact to fall garden displays. More resistant to frost than many others, this viola offers extended blooms during the fall and often into the following spring. Use in the garden or in containers and pots.

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Hijinks,’ is a new pumpkin with 6 to 7 pound uniformly round fruits. Great for small jack-o’-lanterns, painting, or in fall displays, this pumpkin will be a hit this fall! The vines spread to 15 feet and show great resistance to powdery mildew and high yield of fruits. ‘Hijinks’ is ready to harvest earlier than many other pumpkins, about 100 days from an indoor sowing or 85 days from transplants.

Tomato ‘Lizzano’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Tomato ‘Lizzano’

Tomato ‘Lizzano’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Lizzano’ is an excellent cherry tomato suited to the container or hanging basket. It is a strongly growing semi-determinate tomato. Ultimate height is 16 to 20 inches with a spread of 20 inches. The fruits are small, about 1 inch in diameter, and are sweet and prolific. The fruits set continuously for extended harvests. The plants start to produce about 105 days from sowing or 63 days from transplant.

Tomato ‘Terenzo’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Tomato ‘Terenzo’

Tomato ‘Terenzo’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winne

‘Terenzo’ is a very sweet, standard sized cherry tomato with fruits of about 1-1/4 inch diameter. Its height is similar to ‘Lizzano’, about 16 to 20 inches tall. This tomato is excellent for container or hanging basket growing. It is a bushy or determinate variety and its fruits are resistant to cracking. Expect a high yield of fruit throughout the summer.

A minty kind of day

So, I thought it would be fun to post some minty recipes  for this holiday season. Or, for any time for that matter. Chocolate and mint are an unbeatable combination. So, here are a few recipes to share:

Copycat Andes Mints

Copycat Mints

Andes Mints: Make Your Own!!

1 pound dark chocolate coating
1/2 pound white chocolate coating
*10-15 drops peppermint oil (not extract. Most drug stores do sell the oil and it is also available through candy and cake baking suppliers)
2-3 drops green gel coloring

Line a baking sheet with waxed paper and set aside.

Pour half of dark chocolate coating into a microwave safe bowl and microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each until nearly melted. Stir until smooth and creamy.

Pour onto waxed paper and smooth. Place in refrigerator to firm up.

Add white chocolate coating to a second bowl and melt in the same manner as the dark. When smooth and creamy, add peppermint oil and gel coloring. Stir until flavor and color are well mixed.

Layer on top of the dark chocolate and return to refrigerator. Melt remaining dark chocolate and layer over top of the green mint layer. Allow candy to harden completely before breaking into bite size pieces.

*Start with 10 drops of peppermint oil and more if you feel the candy needs more flavor.

If you have candy molds, you can make these in two layers instead of three.

You can make these as thick or thin as you like.

While we are talking about Andes, here’s a recipe using them in cookies. Fantastic!

Andes Mints Cookies

Andes Mints Cookies

Andes Mints Cookies

3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
12 ounces chocolate chips
2 eggs
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
Andes mints (about 2 boxes)

Servings: 48

Cook Time: 10 minutes

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt together the butter, brown sugar, and water, stirring occasionally.

Add the chocolate chips and stir until melted. Let stand 10 minutes to cool. Add the remaining ingredients and combine to form a dough.

Chill the dough at least 1 hour.

Roll the dough into balls and place on a lightly greased cookie sheet, leaving ample space between the dough balls.

Bake at 350°F for 8 to 9 minutes.

Move to wire racks and work quickly (it helps to have the mints already unwrapped so they can be put on top of the cookies while they are still hot for quicker melting):

On top of each cookie, place half to one whole Andes mint, depending on the size of the cookie. Allow the mint to melt and then swirl the mint over the cookie with the back of a spoon or a knife.

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

Copycat York Peppermint Patties

1 Egg white
3-1/2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon Peppermint oil or extract (start with less if using oil, and remember these will get stronger as they ripen)
Cornstarch for dusting
1 16-oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a medium metal or glass (not plastic) bowl, beat the egg white until it is stiff and forms peaks.

Add the powdered sugar while blending with an electric mixer set on medium speed.

Add the corn syrup and peppermint oil or extract and knead the mixture with your hands until it has the smooth consistency of dough.

Using a flat surface and a rolling pin lightly dusted with cornstarch, roll out the peppermint dough 1/4-inch thick.

Punch out circles of peppermint dough with a biscuit or cookie cutter with a diameter of about 2 1/2- inches. Make approximately 20, place them on plates or cookie sheets, and let them firm up in the refrigerator, about 45 minutes. Alternatively, place in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave set on high for 2 minutes. Stir halfway through the heating time. Melt thoroughly, but do not overheat. Melting the chocolate chips can also be done using a double-boiler over low heat.

Drop each patty into the chocolate and coat completely. Using 2 forks, one in each hand, lift the coated patty from the chocolate. Gently tap the forks against the bowl to knock of the excess chocolate and place each patty on waxed paper.

Chill the peppermint patties until firm. Makes 20 peppermint patties.