April 17, 2014

Spring Beautiful, Lenten Roses

Is there anything more seasonally refreshing than the first vivid green shoot poking up through the tired, brown winter soil?  It gives us a feeling of hope & vitality for another year to come.  Spring bulbs, crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, answer this longing.  But there is another, lesser known perennial called Lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis) that also rejuvenate the winter weary soul.

Lenten roses, also known as Hellebores, get their nickname for their growing season.  The green stems first emerge in late winter putting on a colorful riot of drooping bell-shaped blooms usually in early April during Lent.  I planted my first hellebore three years ago and they have proven to be a yearly favorite.
The flowers range from burgundy & pinks to pale yellow-greens.  After flowering, the green foliage stays throughout the summer & fall providing a lush green backdrop for other summer perennials or colorful annuals.  I have found that I get a better, stronger color if I apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) lightly as they first sprout and then again in the fall.  Lenten roses prefer light shade and well-drained soil.  Their range is Lower to Upper South and into the mountains of West Virginia (U.S.).  Flowers will begin to fade to pastel shades as seeds form.  Once the seeds have dropped, more green shoots will appear.  These can be transplanted and shared with friends in the fall.
I planted three Lenten roses on my cat, Sweetboy, grave 3 years ago.  There are now at least 15 plants there.  I need to divide them but they are so beautiful, clumped and full.  We see them every time we look out the back door.

April 16, 2014

Asparagus Soup

Source for Photo - Simply Recipes
 I thought I would share one of my favorite Easter recipes, asparagus soup.  It is the perfect start to Easter dinner or any meal for that matter, warm and creamy.  But the greenness of the soup lends itself well to spring.  And the fact that asparagus is the best spring crop, hands down, is also a plus.

Asparagus soup

2 Tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups fresh asparagus, cut in one inch pieces
2 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 ounces cream cheese
2 Tablespoon sour cream
small bunch fresh snipped chives

In a large saucepan, melt butter.  Add onions & garlic.  Sauté until tender but not brown.

Add asparagus, broth and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes or until the asparagus is tender.

Pour the soup in the blender a few cups at a time and process until smooth.  ***Use caution when blending hot liquids as the pressure will cause the soup to spew out of the blender and scald you.  The best way to avoid this is to slightly vent the top of the blender and cover the vent with a wet paper towel.  Keep a firm hold on the lid while blending.

Add the cream cheese and sour cream to the last asparagus addition in the blender.

Return to the pot and reheat before serving.  Top each bowl with a few snips of chives and Enjoy!

April 15, 2014

Hand-Painted Easter Egg Ornaments

Many years ago a friend from Germany taught me her family tradition of hand-painting Easter egg ornaments.  My first egg was very basic but over the years have added more details to my eggs.  The sky is pretty much the limit with these eggs.  You can be as creative & imaginative or as understated as you desire.  I have several plain but sparkly eggs that were made by coating an egg painted in a single color with Mod Podge and then rolling it in glitter.  I have a 3-D egg that I hot glued tiny rosettes then hand-painted leaves.  For a couple of years I was very creative and based my artwork some of my favorite famous paintings, Van Gogh's Starry Night and Monet's Water Lilies.  I made an egg for each of my kids when they were born with their names and birth dates.  The egg pictured above was inspired by our trip to Riva del Garda, Italy.
DIY Hand-painted Easter Egg Ornaments

1. I like to gently wash my eggs first in mild soapy water to clean the exterior and allow the egg to dry.  If you have clean eggs and clean tools, you can eat the contents of the eggs after blowing them out.  Egg yolks and whites can be safely saved for 2 days in the refrigerator.

2. Next, gently but securely hold the egg in the palm of your hand and poke a small hole in the top & bottom of the egg using a straight pin.  It is helpful if you twist the pin a little rather than forcefully poking it through. Then enlarge the hole with a very small drill bit twisted by hand into the hole
or by slightly 'chipping' away around the hole.

3. Take a paperclip and unfold it.  Poke this into one of the holes and gently scramble the contents so it will come our easier.

4. Now you want to blow out the contents into a clean bowl.  I originally just blew with my mouth over the hole and the contents came out the other end.  I have also tried using an infant bulb syringe places over the top hole to 'blow' air into the egg and the contents out.  Both methods work fine.  It depends on if you are squeamish about eggs or if you have a bulb syringe. 

5. After all the contents are out, I like to run a little warm tap water into the egg, swish it around and blow it out to remove anything that might stink later.
6. Once the egg is completely dry you are ready for painting.  I use basic craft store acrylic paint and a variety of width paint brushes.  You will also need a chopstick for drying the egg.  Before you paint, very gently insert the chopstick into one end of your egg.  Set the chopstick in a tall glass to hold the egg upright during drying.  I keep the chopstick in the egg the entire time to help hold the egg and not smear the paint. 
Depending on the picture you are creating, you may need to allow the egg to dry in between colors.  For instance in the egg pictured below, I painted the background, allowed the paint to dry then added the butterflies.
7. After the paint is dry you can add a ribbon at the top for hanging.  I have done this several ways.  You can use hot glue to attach a length of ribbon.  I have added pearl top pins or tiny rosettes over the ribbon, also using hot glue.  This is especially useful if you have a large hole to cover.  Oops!  The last way, is to run a length of thin silk ribbon through the egg with a long needle, knotting it at the top and bottom.

The best way to store the eggs is in an egg carton, Styrofoam or paperboard.  The lids on mine don't close because of the pins on the top of some of my eggs, so I use a rubber band to secure the lid down.  Even with these precautions, I have broken two eggs;  two of my favorites, Starry Night & my daughter's birthday egg.  I haven't gotten around to replacing them yet.  Maybe this is the year!  A friend also gave me an extra large duck egg (it was abandoned) that was beautiful just by itself.  Keep in mind how you will store the extra large eggs if you choose this route.
I couldn't resist these adorable hand-carved wooden bunnies from the market in Garmisch, Germany on our last trip.  They make the perfect accent to my Easter Egg tree.  I usually display the eggs on a couple of bare branches that I stick in a mason jar filled with interesting pebbles.  I tie a pretty pastel ribbon around the top of the jar and Voila!

April 14, 2014

Hey friends! I'm back! And boy did I miss these guys a bunch.
 Last week I was in Kaiserslautern for an intense training class that literally covered 400+ slides! Power Point and finical management overload. Though, I did enjoy the trainer and eating out every night was a nice change. I had a few salads I am dying to replicate at home (one with figs, honey, and goat cheese that was out of this world). I'll have to share once I figure out the best dressing.

Saturday, we went to my favorite climbing crag in the whole Frankenjura, called Kuhloh. It is only 25 minutes away in a forest with huge beech trees and awesome, classic, Frankenjura routes. I was mostly happy to just play with my little ones since I hadn't seen them for a whole week! They are so darn cute! Man I love them. Scroll past the pictures from this weekend to see some of my favorite Cooperisms from the last month.

Cooper got a haircut that morning. I always feel a little guilty cutting those curls!
The bubble gun I brought back from K-town was a big hit.

Is she not precious! She learned about 30 new words while I was gone too I think!

So tired and so happy to be with daddy.
"Hey mom, look, scissors! And more scissors over here" - as he pointed to R rated Graffiti in town on a fountain. Hint - part of the male body.

As I read a book about pirates - "Not all pirates are bad though mom, right? I mean, Captain Matt isn't bad is he?" (Captain Matt is a friend of ours over here who is a Solider).

"How did you marry? Did you just find your brother or someone like that to marry? Or did you have to meet the person from somewhere like college?"

 Aren't little ones the best! They put so much laughter into our lives.

April 8, 2014

Spring Mantels

Don't you just love Spring! I know I do. The promise of outdoors, sunshine, fresh flowers, and new life. I always try to "dress" my mantle with things that can remain out longer than a holiday. And I'm trying to add a bit more coral to the blues in my living room. We have tulips in a taurine in the dining room, and daffodils in a hanging vase on the wall. Now we just need to paint our eggs and get the baskets ready!

Here are some other ideas for mantels I really liked and might try next year when shopping without little ones is a bit more feasible.