Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Winter Visit to the Botanical Center: Thinking of the Thaw

February in Iowa is a month of conflicting feelings. One one hand, you are full of hope for spring, and growing things, and the warm weather to come. On the other hand, if you have to look at one more darn pile of flipping snow or one more pair of soggy snowpants, you're going to SCREAM. So, February is a good time to go to the Botanical Center and get some Vitamin D therapy. We don't go there a lot, usually once or twice a year, which is enough time that it is a little bit different.

My favorite part is the gardener's showcase room.  The botanical center usually has a theme, and the plants are arranged in collections according to that theme.  I found this fantastic orchid there, obviously in the 'yellow' section. 

The pictures above and below are of the same row of plants, looking in two different directions.  These are ALL different kinds of coleus.  Each one of these is a different variety.  I find it fascinating how many kinds there are.  This collections belongs to a individual, and is one of the largest known collections. 

When we were walking through the dome section, I found a gnome!  I have seen these particular gnomes before, at Reiman Gardens in Ames, IA, last summer.  I did a post about those gnomes after we visited.  The botanical center must have brought their gnome back home to live out his days.

My son is old enough to participate in the scavenger hunt activities the botanical center does for kids.  He walks around clutching the paper in his fists and demands that I help him find all the things.  He really has a thing for turtles, and here he is trying his hardest to look through the cracks in the bridge to see the turtle that just swam under it. 

This is another grouping of yellow plants.  I don't remember what the theme was, besides the color, but there was a treasure chest.  My son would have liked to help himself to some. 

He settled for a 'rock on' and 'peace' pose for the camera.  I don't know where he learned that.  He just did it when I asked him to stand up for the picture.

It was so nice to spend a few hours inside a tropical world, and feel the humidity.  I'm one of those people that doesn't really mind heat and humidity at all.  I'd take that over cold and snow ANY day.  I wish the botanical center was closer.  I'd love to come over with a book and park myself on a bench on a regular basis.  But since I can't do that, I just enjoyed it for the day, and used the time to dream about spring.  What do you do to help you get through the winter?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Using the Harvest:: Roasting a Pumpkin

You might remember I got a really cool meat cleaver for Christmas.  Well, I got my first opportunity to see it in action yesterday.  The deputy (my fiance) has been complaining about all the pumpkins sitting around in the living room.  I guess he thinks they will rot or something, and leave a mark on the carpet.  Pshaw....I said.  (Really! Well, at least a sound that means that).  I check them a lot, and I didn't think they would rot anytime soon. After all, they didn't ripen for a few months after I brought them inside in early November.  The pumpkins I am referring to are called Musque De Provence, or Fairytale pumpkins.

Here are some links with pictures and descriptions:
Seed Savers Exchange  (called muscade de provence here)
HighMowing Seeds

Evidently, they have a very long shelf life, which I can attest to...Mine were still mostly green when I brought them in. I was kind of worried about that, because most things, if it isn't ripe when you pick it, it isn't going to get much better.  This pumpkin cures after you bring it in though.  Over the months, through November, December, January, it slowly turned to a deep dusty orange.

Since the deputy was complaining, I decided to make one of these pumpkins into puree.  I started by using a sharp chef's knife, and I cut out the stem.  Then I used my cleaver and a mallet, and gently tapped my way through the middle.  The cleaver actually went right through like butter.

I was really impressed by the beautiful deep orange color of the flesh.  The size was impressive too.  This pumpkin weighed in at 23 lbs.

My son helped by scooping out the seeds.  He was adamant that he be allowed to do this.

The pumpkin halves were huge.  I sprinkled each half with salt to help draw out the moisture.  I turned them face down on a tray covered with parchment paper.

I let the pumpkins roast at 425 degrees for about an hour and a half.  I bumped it down to 400 degrees at about an hour through, so the outside wouldn't burn.  With a smaller pumpkin you can roast much little as 45 minutes.  I let it stay in until I could poke it with a knife and it went in like butter. Then I let it cool for a really long wouldn't believe how hot the pumpkin is on the inside. 

When it was finally cooled off enough to handle (barely), I peeled off the skin.  All the flesh went into my food processor with a little bit of water to make it smooth.  Then I put it into these freezer containers.  My 23 lb pumpkin turned into 4 1/2 quarts of pumpkin puree.  It all went into my deep freeze for the time being.

Now, I am ready to make pumpkin bread, muffins, pie, soup, or all of the above.  I don't have to buy one of those cans of pumpkin from the store.  What would you make with this pumpkin puree? And for that matter, what am I going to do with the 3 other 23 lb pumpkins sitting in my living room?!!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snowshoeing: Getting Out and Moving in the Wintertime

Usually I have the activity level of a hibernating bear in the winter.  I can't garden, so what is there to live for?  (just kidding).  But I do hate the cold and the dark.  I am still fervently wishing for spring to come, but I have been trying to get involved in a few things to get me outdoors and getting some vitamin D during the winter months.  Last month, my friend Erin and I tried snowshoeing through the Polk County Parks and Rec dept.  They had a class where they brought out the gear and let you try it.  This was perfect for me, because I thought I would like it, but wanted to make sure before I dropped several hundred dollars in gear.

I discovered that I LOVE snowshoeing.  It is the winter equivalent of hiking.  I also discovered that I cannot type the word  'snowshoeing' without messing it up, unless I concentrate extremely hard.  I usually type something like 'snoeshowing', and then I cuss to myself, and fix it.  So after Christmas, I used some birthday money and bought 2 sets of snowshoes, one for me, and one for my son.  We got tons of snow this week, so today we went out to Grimes Farm in Marshall County and tried them out.  Above is a photo of a pretty stream, melting a little because it was close to freezing and sunny today.  The tracks you can see in the picture are not ours, but probably deer. 

 My son was impressed by the winter landscape, and wanted to be much more adventurous than I thought safe for the first outing.  I was not willing to hike down too close to the stream, for instance, though he wanted to.  I got him a set of poles to go with his...I still need to get some poles for mine, but I was okay for today, because the terrain was pretty flat.

Grimes Farm has some nice trails, in addition to a bike trail that ends up there, that comes out of Marshalltown.  It is a conservation center, so there are a lot of nice benches, birdhouses, and wildlife feeding stations.  They have an actual conservation center building, that you can go into.  I haven't ever been to this place when the building was open though, so I haven't seen the inside.  This windmill is pretty cool. 

They have allowed some parts of the area to be very prairie-like.  I think that they took bits from surrounding farmland and preserved this section in a more natural wild state.  It is obvious from all the tracks that we saw that they have quite a variety of wildlife here.  In this picture, my son is plowing through a grass area.  In some of the pictures you can see the high prairie grasses that will grow here in summer.  I rode my bike through here once or twice this summer after I discovered it, and the grass grows higher than my head then. 

I talked my son into taking a picture of me, for the record.  These snowpants I'm wearing kind of make me feel like the Michelin Man, but they are warm and very easy to move in.  My dad got me an Arkansas pullover, made of fleece, which is very big and very warm, and I can wear it without a coat on a sunny day like this one.  I may look big and puffy in this picture, because of all my gear, but when I compared a close up of this picture to one taken in the same outfit when Erin and I went snowshoeing last month, I can see a big difference in my face.  I have lost 9 lbs since New Year's, and I am feeling really good. It is a big deal for me to change my behaviors in the winter, because it is so hard for me to get out and do things. 

Snowshoeing is fabulous exercise.  Someone at my height and weight can burn up to 450 calories an hour doing it!  I probably burned slightly less, since I was doing it with a little guy, but that still beats the pants off of the treadmill for the same amount of time.  I have really been trying to eat less and move more.  It's as simple as that.  Eat less.  Move more.  That is the cure for a lot of things.  I have been having trouble with my knees and snowshoeing is great for getting a high calorie burn with little to no impact on them.  The soft snow absorbs it. 

Pretty soon (I hope) it will be spring and I will be back to walking outdoors and gardening up a storm.  But snowshoeing is one way I can still get out and enjoy the outdoors while getting a lot of healthy exercise.
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