Monthly Archives: April 2008

Turtle Bars and Graduation


A very busy graduation season kicked off this weekend with my nephew’s college graduation. (Three more family graduations follow quickly in the coming weeks!)

The night before the big event my mom, my two older sisters and myself got together to finish up the preparations for the family party the next day. However our evening of work soon gave way to an evening of laughter and food.

It began with my mom’s homemade salsa and chips. (Oh, the fresh cilantro was wonderful!) Then we ordered Chinese take-out for supper (I just love cashew chicken!) and ended it all with some rich gooey turtle bars that I had brought.

What a combination: Mexican, Chinese, and chocolate!

The Turtle Bars were a new recipe that I had copied some time ago and never tried. This was the perfect opportunity to try them out on some very serious chocolate eaters, and they passed the test! They were given rave reviews.

Turtle Bars

Mix together: 2 cups flour, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1/2 cup butter.

Press firmly into the bottom of a 9 X 13 baking dish.

Sprinkle the top with 1 cup of chopped pecans. Set aside.

In saucepan, combine 2/3 cup butter and 1/2 cup brown sugar.

Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute stirring constantly.

Pour over pecans and bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle 1 cup chocolate chips on top. Let stand 3 minutes for the chocolate to melt. Then spread the melted chocolate all over the top of the bars.

For nice looking bars, let them cool completely before cutting so that they have a chance to set up. If you don’t care how they look, dig into them right away and enjoy the gooey melted chocolate, caramel and pecans! Yum!

This is a very rich, almost candy-like bar so you may want to cut the pieces small. You may also wish to hid them in the deepest, darkest corner of your cupboard because they are very delicious and you may not want to share them!

Yard Fill (or Why I Have Very Creative Children and a Very Messy Yard!)

A dear friend of mine was the first to name it “yard fill.” I looked at her blankly until she explained that yard fill was all the stuff that fills up the yard when you have children. You know…bikes, little tike’s cars, jump ropes, soccer goals, t-ball sets, toy lawnmowers, etc….

Since our sand box area has become a playhouse of sorts, I have noticed that most of our yard fill originates from the sand box and tends to stretch through-out the yard.

Our sand box was made from some old landscape timbers and sits under the pine trees where it is always shady and cool. It also provides great needles and pine cones to play with. My husband made a little shed beside it to hold all of the sand box toys, but they rarely make it there.

Our sand box toys include the normal array of “big machines” like bulldozers and cranes, but the majority of the toys are a motley collection of old kitchen items. There are frying pans, sauce pans, plates, strainers, utensils of every shape and size, old muffin tins and bread pans, etc…

My children spend hours with these “toys” to create amazing dishes. They use whatever they can scrounge up to cook with, including pine cones, pine needles, sand, rocks, wood, grass, weeds, and even flowers. The picture above is of a chicken-fried steak (a piece of wood covered with sand) with hash browns (wood chips) on the side.

But these “toys” don’t just stay in the sand box! After a rain they get taken to the deepest mud puddle and used to dig ditches, or to the place where the soil is clay-like to help mold pottery. Sometimes a wagon load of stuff is hauled to the “Green Forest” where the children have created a camp site under the silver maples.

During the winter the same “toys” are hauled around the yard wherever the snow is deepest to be used to create snow sculptures and snow men.

So, if you should happen to drive into my yard and see a soup ladle by the back door where someone dropped it on his way into lunch, or an old cooking pot sitting by the mud puddle, or a sandbox covered with plates of dried grass and mud, don’t be alarmed. It’s only our “yard fill”.

Someday I will have a beautiful lawn with flower beds and lovely landscaping. But for today, I’m a mother who wants my children to have the freedom to create and to play, even if it means a messy yard and very dirty children.

Check out more sand box creations in our original movie “An Ode to Yard Fill”.

Attracting Hummingbirds: Feeders

Woodlink Classic Hummingbird Feeder
Another great way to attract hummingbirds to your yard is to use a hummingbird feeder. Put your feeders up in the early spring when the first hummers are arriving and take them down after the last of the hummingbirds have migrated through in the fall.

It’s very easy to make a sweet syrup for the hummers to enjoy. Just mix 1 part sugar to 4 parts of water and boil for 1-2 minutes. (The boiling helps to retard fermentation.) Then cool the mixture and place it in the feeders, storing any unused portion in the refrigerator.

You should never substitute honey for the sugar because it will rapidly ferment in the sun and will grow a mold that can be fatal to hummingbirds.

There is no need to add red dye to the syrup mixture. Some people add it because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. But it is easier and safer for the hummers to just use a red colored feeder to attract them and not use any artificial coloring in the syrup.

You will need to clean the feeders and replace the syrup every three to four days. This helps to prevent the build-up of fungi or bacteria in the feeders which causes the solution to ferment or go sour.

Just scrub the feeder with hot water and vinegar and rinse well. Then refill with syrup and place outside.

We prefer using the Woodlink Classic Hummingbird feeder because of it’s ease of use. It is dishwasher safe, so it can be be quickly taken down, put through a cycle in the dish washer, then refilled and put back out. It also has a bright red base that attracts the hummers, holds 12 oz. of nectar and has six feeding stations. (http://stores.ebay.com/mtmyhouse)

Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little time to attract hummingbirds to your yard, sometimes they arrive right away, other times it takes longer. Just keep trying other positions for your feeders and keep watching!

Mocha Flavored Sour Cream Cake

Mocha Flavored Sour Cream CakeMy mom found the original recipe for this rich, moist cake years ago so its been in the family for awhile. I remember enjoying it when I was growing up and now my kids are loving it, too. One of my nieces even served it at her graduation reception.

It is baked in a Bundt pan so it looks like it was very complicated when actually it’s very simple. Over the years we’ve even found a few shortcuts that make it easier!

Mocha Flavored Sour Cream Cake

Combine filling ingredients: 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 Tbsp. instant coffee granules. Set aside.

Combine: 3 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking soda,
3 tsp. baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt. Set aside.

Cream together: 1 cup butter or margarine and 1 cup sugar.

Add: 3 eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

Add flour mixture alternately with 1 cup of sour cream.

Pour half of the cake mixture into a well-greased Bundt pan. Add the filling, being careful to not touch the sides. Pour the remaining cake batter in the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Check it after 40 minutes)

Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack and cool completely.

You can finish this off with a drizzle of powdered sugar frosting or even chocolate ganache over the top.

It’s great served by itself, but is even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

If you don’t have sour cream, you can substitute 1 cup of milk and 1 Tbsp. of vinegar. The coffee can be omitted and I’ve even added butterscotch chips to the filling.

No matter how it was served, it’s always been a hit!

Attracting Hummingbirds: An Explosion of Flowers

hummingbird on dianthus flower
It is always a thrill to see a hummingbird in the yard! Their diminutive size and ability to dart in and out among the flowers are amazing to watch.

One of the best ways to attract hummingbirds to your lawn is to grow a profusion of flowers. This picture is of a hummingbird enjoying a meal from a dianthus or Sweet William.

Hummers prefer red, tubular flowers and their favorite is the cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis). This perennial thrives in moist rich soil in sun or part shade.

It blooms from July through September and almost from the time of the first blossom, there will be a hummingbird waiting. Some hummingbird enthusiasts have even claimed that this is the one flower that hummers will actually fight over!

For best results, you should plant a variety of flowers with taller ones in the back and smaller ones in the front. Some other flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds are:

Annuals:

Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana)
Fuchsia (Fuchsia)
Geranium (Pelargonium)
Gladiolus (Gladiolus)
Impatiens, Patient Lucy, Busy Lizzie (Impatiens)
Lantana (lantana camara)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Petunia (Petunia)
Pinks, Sweet William (Dianthus)
Sage (Salvia)
Spiderflower (Cleome)

Perennials:

Bee Balm (Monarda)
Columbine (Aquilegia)
Coralbells (Heuchera sanguinea)
Day lily (Hemerocallis)
Hollyhock (Althea)
Larkspur (Delphinium)
Lily (Lilium)
Lupine (Lupinus)
Phlox (Phlox)

Vines:

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans)

Shrubs:

Azalea (Rhododendron)
Beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis)
Butterflu bush (Buddleia)
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Rose mallow (Hibiscus)
Scarlet bush (Hamelia erecta)

This is not an exhaustive list, but it should be enough to get you started. It may take awhile for the hummers to find your garden, but your time will be well rewarded when you spot that first hummingbird!