Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reston Zoo

Thank you all for the nice welcome back, I really appeciated all the sweet comments.

Today we had to take Gregg's vehicle into the dealership and on our way back we decided to have a walk around the Reston Zoo.  We walked by where they keep the monkeys.  This one is a Brown-headed Spider Monkey, Ateles fusciceps fusciceps.  

Their natural habitat is in the tropical and subtropical humid forests in Central and South America, and they can live for 25 to 30 years.   

Spider Monkeys have a prehensil tail that they use as an extra hand or foot.  

There are only four fingers on their hands, no thumbs.   This helps them move through the trees, from branch to branch easier and faster.  

Spider monkeys will open their mouths to show off their teeth if they feel threatened

Mature females have one offspring every two to three years.

I obtained all my information about the animals from nearby markers such as this one.

It is a small zoo and by the time we had finished our walk around  we had a phone call to say Gregg's vehicle was ready for pick up.  

The last time we were here was quite a while ago in 2008, and you can see that post here where I focused on the Prairie Dogs.  I saw them again today but will share that post at a later date.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm back....

sort of.   It will take me a while but I will start slow and return visits from my last couple of posts. Instead of my usual Monday recipe post, I thought today I would share photos I took of a few sparrows I was watching while sitting in the passenger seat at our local supermarket.  Cute little things and no matter what kind of birds they are I always find them entertaining, and very relaxing.

I found this quote from Dr. Seuss,  a lovely one to end a post.

"Life is too short to wake up 
In the morning with regrets.
So love the people who treat you right,
Forgive the ones who don't,
And believe that everything 
Happens for a reason.
If you get the chance, take it.
If it changes your life, let it.
Nobody said it would be easy,
They just promised it would be worth it."

Dr. Seuss was a very smart and wise man.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Taking a break....

I am taking a break and this will be my last post for a week or so. Sorry I won't be able to visit or answer any comments for a while, but I will be back and will catch up with you I promise. 

Random Photo

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A poem....

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went,
Then you may count that day well spent.

(I like the first verse best as I don't necessarily agree with the second, because the opportunities for kindness don't always present themselves. I don't think a day is entirely lost. We are always learning each day, so do not think it would be lost.  We can simply keep on trying.)

But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay.
If through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face.
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost,
Then count that day as worse than lost.

~George Eliot~

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Food Post - Tuscan Minestrone

I made this for the first time on Friday, February 20th, 2015.  It had been bitterly cold, as it is now. That morning it was 9 degrees  Fahrenheit, definitely a day for a hot bowl of comforting soup for supper.  I found this recipe last year, put it on my 'to do' list, read that list out to Gregg and asked him which one he would like me to make.  He chose this.  You can find it at "Never Enough Thyme", link here.  Lana is its host.

Tuscan Minestrone

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 5 minutes

1 medium onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 celery rib, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
28 oz. canned diced tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
1 small zucchini, diced
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 lb. tender green beans, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1/4 lb. small shell shaped pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish

Prepare all your ingredients.  I always find it helps to measure everything out ahead of time.  Peel and chop up your veggies and have it ready and waiting, measuring out the pasta and even opening up the cans.  I also grate the Parmesan cheese ahead of time and refrigerating until I am ready to put the meal together.

So, prepare the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, cabbage, parsley and basil and set aside.

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic.

Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion is translucent.

Add the cabbage and cook, stirring, for 1 additional minute.

Add the vegetable stock, tomatoes, parsley, basil, Italian seasoning, bay leaf and if you are using it, the Parmesan rind.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Add the zucchini, garbanzo beans and green beans and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay leaf and Parmesan rind.

While the soup simmers, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, and cook the pasta according to the package directions.


Add the cooked pasta to the soup pot and season the soup to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately.

Pass the grated Parmesan separately.

What did we think of this soup?  It was great, though I did make a few changes.

I couldn't find any fresh sweet basil at the one supermarket we went to and frankly did not feel like hunting it down at another.  I had some dried basil in the pantry and used that instead.  I added a good heaping tablespoon.

I also had okra in the freezer and Gregg prefers it to the zucchini, so I substituted the okra.

The flavor of the broth was especially delicious and I am wondering if it was because of the Parmigiano-Reggiano rind that I used.  Lana mentioned that this was a great flavor enhancer.  You're supposed to throw it away like the bay leaf, but the slice I cut off was more cheese than rind.  I found what was left of it in the bottom of the pot, a small piece, and decided to see what it tasted like.  Oh my goodness, was it yummy, all melty and gooey but solid enough to scoop it up on a spoon.  

I will no longer be buying the tall round containers of already grated Parmesan, and am trying to cut out as many preservatives out of our lives as I can.  Once we started using the fresh we realized we will never go back and if you use a micro grater the cheese is as fine as that other stuff but is a whole lot healthier and tastier.

When I had added the okra, garbanzo beans and green beans, after cooking them for the additional ten minutes, the green beans were still not cooked enough for our tastes.  I cooked them for 15 more minutes and they were perfect.

There was a lot of prep work in this meal but starting out early does the trick for me and it was so worth the effort.

We served this with a crusty loaf that we bought from Wegmans.  It is called Rustic Batard and is our current favorite.  It went beautifully with this soup.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Meadowlark Garden Collage

As we have St. Patrick's Day coming up this month, I found myself making a collage with that in mind.

I am linking with Judith's Mosaic Monday.  Thank you for hosting Judith.

Saturday, March 7, 2015


would be right next to the tail of an alligator, don't you think?

These are from a trip to Florida January 2014.  We visited the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park.  There were two ways to get to it from the main entrance, a boat or a tram ride.  We took the boat and this is a sight that we were greeted with not five minutes into the ride.  Two turtles sharing a log with an alligator.

I am linking with Misty at Camera Critters, and Eileen at Saturday's Critters. Thank you Ladies for hosting.


You can find all kinds of beautiful flowers from around the world if you click here.  Our new link opens on Saturday at 12.00 a.m. (East Coast Standard Time USA) and closes the following Thursday at 11.30 p.m.

These are once again photos from last year's trip to the The Norfolk Botanical Garden, a place we always head for when in the area. 

Luiz Santilli Jnr created Today's Flowers and asked me a few years ago to take over his role as host.  He occasionally pops in to say hello, so "Hello Luiz and thank you!"

Today's Flowers' home page can be found here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


I am still sharing photos from the trip we made to Skyline Drive.  It is probably closed right now due to the snowstorm we had.  When we were there it had recently opened after the last one and there was still a lot of left over snow around but the roads were clear.

Thank you to the Skywatch Team at SkyWatch Friday.
Please visit and look at all the great sky photos around the world.


Thinking of Anni of Hootin' Anni and Bird D'Pot today.  You can read my previous post about Anni being in hospital and I send her my love and wish her a speedy recovery. 

I am a little late for Good Fences as we only just got our power back after several hours.  It starting snowing and it is still snowing. We have got about four inches so far.  

I am sharing another lovely entrance on our way to Skyline Drive a few weeks ago.  

And now for Willy-Nilly Friday 5, in the order that they happened.

1)  I am an admitted wimp this week.  I let the cold get to me and have not been out much.  This is me, Denise, Queen Wimp!  Our friends up north, not just in the USA but in other parts of the world, have my utmost admiration.   They enjoy the winter, they ski, they sled, they fish in holes cut in the ice, they put on their snow shoes and get on with it.  Queen Wimp decided to stay home this week but I had fun, just inside not out, and my niece in Germany called.  We were on the phone for over an hour.  I love catching up.  We never pause for breath but yes, we do shut up long enough for the other to get their four-pennyworth in.  It was a great conversation and almost at the end of it Gregg came home and it went on for another half hour.   Lovely!

2)  I went grocery shopping a couple of times and enjoyed it, after I carefully eased over icy patches.  Memories of many falls on ice in winters' past are still etched in my brain and subsequent long recovery periods from badly sprained ankles, damaged knees and consequent hip problems that took months to heal.  I heal slowly.  A voice just popped in my head, my dad saying, "We're slow healers in this family."  I think this is why I am now cowardly Queen Wimp in the wintertime.

3)  I read, I cleaned house, played on the computer, watched TV quite a bit, some British cops and robber who-dunnits mostly, and Gregg and I enjoyed watching The Barefoot Contessa and Tricia Yearwood on the food channel, and I read some more.   When I was young I used to love reading about Greek Mythology, filling my bicycle basket with books after pedaling up to the library.  Not even when my back wheel was picked up, hooked somehow by a small truck that came in too close and threw me across the road, literally, did not stop me from going up to the library.  I have told this story before but it has come to the fore again as Gregg mentioned yesterday how he is looking forward to us buying bicycles for our summer exercise.

4)  I never told my parents what happened that day.  I never told my sister.  When I found myself sprawled in the middle of the road, a car literally skidded to a halt inches from my head.  Its driver ran out to see if I was okay, his face was a look of sheer fright and horror.  His face scared me!  The truck was oblivious and didn't stop.  More people came rushing towards me to see if I was hurt.  I had skinned elbows and knees but apart from a few bruises I was very lucky, I was okay.  I was more embarrassed than anything else.  What????  It wasn't even my fault.  I was 12 and so embarrassed.  I was helped to my feet and walked to the side, and I heard them say, someone should get a policeman, that driver, he came in too close.  I just wanted a hole to appear in the ground and swallow me up.  I hated all this attention.  Another kind soul picked up my bike which had a few minor dents in it but this very nice gentleman said it was fine and I could ride it.  People were asking me if they should call my mum and dad, but I certainly didn't want that to happen.  I knew my days of biking through town would have been at an end. I said no, no thank you, that I was fine, honestly, and as I saw a bobby heading in our direction, I quickly thanked those kind people and pedaled off down the road as fast and as steadily as my legs could take me, hoping that bobby wouldn't have seen me or recognized me, and crying all the way home.  That bobby would have known my dad and I was very thankful that he came when things were starting to calm down and did not see anything amiss as far away as he was.  I was probably acting like I had robbed a bank, I just wanted to get away.  If he had spotted me earlier he would have asked for my name and I would have to have told him that my dad was a policeman.  My dad would have been informed, horrors!  There would be no more peddling up to the library every week to get my precious books on Greek Mythology, no animal books, no cooking books, which were my all time favorite reads of the day. In seconds I saw the resulting scenario, the same look of fright and horror on my poor mother's face, the talk she'd have with my dad about my precious transport, transport gone, all this in the mind of a 12 year old flashing through in seconds.  When I got home my mum was out visiting a neighbor, and I quickly tidied myself up and covered my scrapes and bruises pretty efficiently.  And you know what?  I never ever told my mum and dad about that day, and I used to tell them everything.  But I did have a few more years of peddling up to the library, with one slight change.  When I came to that busy area I always got off my bike and walked the rest of the way to the library.   It was about a mile from home, two miles to school.  I was never allowed to ride my bike to school but I could walk there with my friends. Years later my son came to me and asked if he could pedal seven miles to a comic book shop with three friends, all whose parents apparently, so they said, had given their permission.  This would have involved contending with rush hour traffic.  I had 'the' look on my face and said, "Absolutely not!  That's way too dangerous!"   And I found out later that all of the other parents had said the same thing, no way!  Poor kid, hobbled at such a young age.  Actually he was also around 12.  So if he reads this story of how I almost got clobbered by a truck, I hope he understands why I said "NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!"  And at the age of 18 he went head over heels of the handlebars on his bike and fractured one elbow and badly sprained the other?   Cripes!   The same look of fright and horror on my face when I heard.  It's amazing how one's own memories come flashing back.

5)  I had a very nice encounter at the supermarket yesterday.  A lady standing behind me at the register looked in my basket and joked about us all getting lots of food in before the snowstorm tomorrow.  I chuckled and said, "Yes, we have all got that 'time to batten down the hatches' mentality."  She had a lovely accent but I could tell she had lived in the States for many years, like me.  In a short space of time she volunteered the information that she was originally from Austria and had come over here when she was young as an au pair.   I told her a good friend had done that and had married an American.  I said, "This is my American" pointing to Gregg, "but I met him in England."  While my groceries were being checked we had a lovely conversation, one that I was disappointed had to end when Gregg said to her, "Sorry, I'm going to have to drag her away now".   Our groceries had been bagged and we couldn't hold up the line.  It was a busy day, everyone was getting ready to batten down the hatches for the snowstorm tomorrow.  She asked me if I knew Innsbruck and I told her yes, that I had visited it when I was on my holiday, that I remembered it as a beautiful city surrounded by mountains.  She had gone to school there.  I found out that she loved to ski but had to quit when she broke her ankle a few years ago.  I told her that I had been in Austria in my early 20s on skiing holidays, but that I wasn't very good at it, that I kept falling.  I told her I never broke any bones but I did sprain an ankle or two, but I still kept going.   Sound familiar?   She spotted an impulse buy of mine.  Salt and pepper shakers in the shape of two bunnies in a basket.  She said "I was admiring them in your basket, I collect them."  I laughed and told her that I have several salt and pepper shakers for every season.  She shook my hand and said, "Auf Wiedersehen", and I said "Auf Wiedersehen" in return.  I told Gregg when we got out of the store that I wanted to bring her home for a cuppa, she was such a delightful lady.   It really does make a day meeting warm and friendly people. It is one of life's blessings.

Impulse buy!

And Queen Wimp says bye-bye for now.  I don't think I will be getting out today either.  Son was supposed to come over but the weather put paid to that.  Rats!

Thank you Ladies for  these two fun memes.

Theresa at Good Fences and Tanya's Willy-Nilly Friday Five.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

News about Anni of Hootin' Anni and Bird D'Pot

I just went over to visit Anni's blog at Hootin' Anni and her husband had left a message letting everyone know that she had a massive heart attack on Sunday and was recovering in hospital. This is in case you haven't been over there yet.  A lot of us have been leaving our love and support and thought you might want to go over and give her your own message.

Feel better soon Anni, you are very much in my thoughts today.

Her link is here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dreaming of bees and flowers and things....

Bee I am expecting you!
Was saying Yesterday
To Somebody you know,
That you were due.

The Frogs got Home last week,
Are settled, and at work.
Birds mostly back,
The Clover warm and thick.

You'll get my letter  by
 The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me
Yours, Fly.

Emily Dickinson

Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday Food Post - Butter Cake

We were going to go out but the hours kept skipping by and there is always more than enough to occupy us around here.  I have been wanting to make this cake for several weeks.  On Saturday afternoon, when the weather was so cold that I didn't feel like poking my nose outdoors, I declared it would be my baking day.  I found this recipe at "Just A Pinch" at this link.   Please go visit as it is always worth looking at the original recipe for any good tips I may not have shared, and besides that there are lots of other delicious recipes you can try.  The recipes are actually a collection from several good cooks. I am thinking of making it again for Easter.  I have a cute bunny cake plate that is ready and waiting.  

Butter Cake  -  Serves 10

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes


3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup of buttermilk
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softend
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 eggs, room temperature

Butter Glaze:

1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar (white sugar, not powdered)
3 tablespoons water
1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Turn oven on to 325 degrees F.

Get your bundt pan, grease well with butter and add a couple of tablespoons of flour.  Roll the flour around until flour coats all the pan. Knock the excess out.  It is important not to skip these steps, otherwise your cake will stick.  

With an electric mixer combine the cake flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix to combine.

Add the buttermilk, butter, vanilla and almond extracts and eggs. Mix well.  Do not over do it, mix just until ingredients are combined.  It takes about three-and-a-half minutes but use your own judgement.  If you feel everything is mixed in properly then stop.

Pour into the prepared bundt pan.  

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour to 1-1/4 hours, or until tester comes out clean.   Mine took the longer time but oven heat varies. Another tip suggests checking after 50 minutes.

Glaze instructions:

Combine all the ingredients except the vanilla in a saucepan.  Bring to a slow boil over medium heat.  Stir in vanilla, set aside to slightly cool.  I started this process about 20 minutes before the cake was due to come out of the oven.  

Using your favorite oven mitts carefully take the cake out of the oven and place bundt pan on a cooling rack.  While it is still hot and leaving the cake in the pan, pierce exposed cake with fork tines or a bamboo skewer (I used a chopstick).  Pour half the glaze slowly over the cake and let the glaze drip into those holes.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then unmold onto a cake plate.  

Pour the remaining glaze slowly over the cake.  Let cool and serve
with fruit or ice cream and refrigerate any leftovers.  

Apparently the longer this cake sits and matures, the better it will be.

If you don't have any cake flour there was a very clever substitution tip which produces great results.

All-purpose flour (just under 1 cup)
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Place two tablespoons of cornstarch in a one-cup measure.

Fill the rest of the cup with all-purpose flour.

Use in place of the cake flour in any recipe.

One cup of substitute is equal to one cup of cake flour.

What did we think?  It came out beautifully and was such a delicious cake.  I can see it will be a favorite to prepare for company.  The glaze alone was delectable, and I was very happy with the texture and taste.

I didn't have any ice-cream or fruit, but if I am going to prepare this for that company, I would definitely dress it up with our favorite vanilla ice-cream and fresh strawberries, but to be perfectly honest it can stand alone as is.

The almond taste isn't overpowering, very subtle, which was a big plus in our book

I decorated simply by putting raw almonds on the top at intervals.  They made a nice tasty nugget to eat with a slice. 

I will be cutting it into small slices and freezing it.  Looking at how this turned out I think this would be a good cake to freeze.