Friday, August 28, 2009

A Rare Visitor

It was a chilly summer morning. I was walking towards the kitchen when I caught sight of something flying across the grass patch outside our apartment ... 

It had a distinct red tail. Two fluffy white legs ... looked like it was wearing a pair of white fleece pants, very appropriate for the chilly morning. A sharp hooked beak. A bird of prey. 

I admit I was a little afraid of it due to its size. It surely looked huge from far when it had its wings spread out. While taking the photographs, I was moving toward it, inch by inch. As I proceed cautiously, I noticed there were a couple of times when it stopped moving, only to turn its head in my direction, before walking towards me, in a rather clumsy manner, then stopping to look for food on the grass. 

Seriously, I had no idea what kind of bird it was. Uploaded the photographs for hubby to see, and he suggested, after checking on the internet, that it could be a red-tailed hawk! I think he is right. The size, the colour of its body and tail, the beak. 

The bird could be injured, since it was sighted by my neighbour yesterday. It could be out looking for food, while using the woods in our area as a recovery point. 

I hope the bird recover soon. Seeing the bird and following it to the next block of apartments was a good start to a chilly "autumn-like" summer morning .... 

Monday, August 24, 2009


"Knock, Knock" 
My neighbour's face peeked through our living room window. 

"The cicada are coming out of their shells! Do your boys want to see it?"
"I have never seen them coming out of their shells before!" she spoke in great excitment.

There were like three cicadas on the tree.
The first one was already out. 
But its green wings were not spread out yet. 
Neither did it move. 
The second one had its head out of its shell.
The third one moved a little as we went nearer. 
There was a little crack on its body.

We waited for a while.
The first one started climbing!
The second one had half its body out already!
I could a little green peeking out from the shell.
The third one now spotted a even bigger crack.

Ok, I don't really know much about cicadas. I know they are called "Chan/2" in chinese. Did a little homework on the internet and this was what I found :

Most cicadas go through a cycle which lasts 2 to 5 years. 
The female cicada cuts slits into the bark of a twig to lay her eggs. When the eggs hatch, the newborn nymphs drop to the ground and burrow. Cicadas live underground as nymphs for most of their lives. The nymphs feed on root juice, and have strong legs for digging. When they are ready to emerge as adults, they construct an exit tunnel to the surface. They shed their skin (molt) on a nearby plant. The skin remains clinging to the plant, after the adult cicada emerge. 

I would love to video the process. But it was too long a process. 
Found a file from Wikipedia, showing how the cicada shed its skin. 
Look carefully at how the wings "unfold" as the adult cicada emerge! 

My little boy pulled the molted skin from the trunk. 
See the hole on the skin?

The adult cicada stayed on its molted skin, supposedly drying its wings, before it spread them out and started climbing up the tree, away from its skin. My little boy, not contented with just the skin, pulled the cicada off the trunk and tried to deposit into a glass jar, for his friend, who was afraid of the insect, to have a closer look. It was then, that I realised how strong the grip of a cicada can be. I had to use a stick to pull it off my boy's fingers! 

It was an interesting start to our day ... I'm sure I will miss all these "Live" lessons when we move out of the woods next year .... 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A "Sweet" Day!

Our tomatoes and peppers have finally ripen!
Not all of them, just a handful.But it's enough to get us excited.

The cherry tomatoes are firm and sweet! The pepper although a little small, has a very strong pepper scent when you bring it to smell.  The big tomato is juicy and sweet too! Only one has ripened so far ... We will wait patiently for the many others to do so since it has been warm the last few days =)

Our neighbour gave us one of her cucumber. It was huge! 
I am looking forward to our cucumbers growing bigger.

Will they be as big as hers?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Members of Our Little Garden

Introducing to you, the members in our little garden =)

This plant was brought back by darling son from school, for Mother's Day.
We were pleasantly surprised to see two big orange flowers greeting us when we came back from our vacation! We were glad we had the marigold, as it attracted bees, to help pollinate our other plants. 

Chinese parsley, or coriander.
We cut a handful of fresh leaves from the garden whenever we eat our noodles. But after a while, the stem turned woody, and little white flowers started growing. The fresh leaves stopped growing by then. We threw the plant away after a while.

Big Sweet Tomato Plant
We planted the big sweet tomato plant at the end of spring. We didn't think it would survive, but it did! We are now waiting patiently for the green tomatoes to turn red =)

Cherry Tomato Plant
We planted the cherry tomato plant, thinking that our big tomato plant may not survive. We were then told by our neighbour, that it was too late for planting tomatoes. It might flower but there might not be any fruits. We were a hopeful lot =) 
We thought we could just try, since the seeds had already germinated! I'm glad we didn't give up!

Pepper Plant
Planted the pepper plant together with the big tomato plant. It was doing well, till we caught bugs eating the leaves. After a while, we thought it might just stop growing, since there were just too many leaves with holes on them. We were excited when we saw the first flower, then awaiting patiently for the plant to fruit. 

Cucumber Plant
We planted this very late, since at that time, the temperature was appropriate for growing cucumbers. We were informed that we would need a structure for the plant to 'creep' up.
Only, since there was only a few leaves, we thought just a few short sticks would do the trick. When we came back from our vacation, we were surprised to see leaves 'overflowing' from the pot! It was really messy, as the plant had no structure to 'climb'. It was also interesting to study how the cucumber grow from the flower =) At this time, the biggest cucumber measures 5 inches, and is expected to grow up to 10 inches! 

Belated Birthday Cake

Darling son is 5 years old!

We celebrated his birthday during our summer vacation, at Disneyland.
I promised him I would bake him a birthday cake after the vacation.

There were so many things to do after our vacation ended. Lots of washing, unpacking and cleaning the house, which was vacant for three weeks.
And also to prepare the kids for school, since the new school term would be starting in a couple of weeks. It was only in August that I finally settled down to baking a cake for darling son YW.

He requested for a Carrot Cake, as he loved cream cheese and carrots!
However, the boys are not fans of coconut and raisins. Hence I added more carrots and nuts into the cake, and topped the cake with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting! The cake was not too sweet, and was quite moist even though it was left in the fridge for a few hours. The light frosting gave the cake the required sweetness.

Big Bill's Carrot Cake
Recipe from Dorie Greenspan, Baking From My Home to Yours

For the Cake :

2 cups All Purpose Flour
2 tsp Baking Powder
2 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
3/4 tsp Salt
3 cups Grated Carrots (About 9 carrots)
1 cup Coarsely Chopped Walnuts or Pecans
1 cup Shredded Coconut
1/2 cup Moist, plump raisins, or dried cranberries
2 cups Sugar
1 cup Canola or safflower oil (I use Olive Oil)

For the frosting

8 oz Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
8 tbsp Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature
3 3/4 cups Confectioners' Sugar, Sifted (I use 3 tbsp)
1 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 cup Shredded Coconut (Optional)

Finely chopped toasted nuts and /or shredded coconut for topping (optional).

To make the cake

  • Butter three 9 x 2 inch round cake pans, flour the insides and tap out the excess. I used only two cake pans, and halved the cake recipe.
  • Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon and salt.
  • In another bowl, stir together the carrots, nuts, raisins, and coconut.
  • In a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil on medium, using a hand mixer, until smooth.
  • Add the eggs one by one, and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.
  • Gently mix in the chunky ingredients.
  • Divide the batter among the baking pans.
  • Bake at 325F for 40 - 50 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, since I halved the amount of cake ingredients.
  • Completely cool the cakes before frosting.

To make the frosting

  • With a hand mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese until smooth and creamy.
  • Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth.
  • I only use 3 tablespoons of sugar as I find it just the right amount of sweetness.
  • Beat in the lemon juice.

To assemble the Cake

  • Put one layer top side up.
  • Cover the layer generously with the frosting.
  • Using a spoon, smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer.
  • Top the first layer with the second cake, right side up.
  • Frost the top, and the sides if you want.
  • Finish the top with swirls of frosting.
  • If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts, sprinkle them while the frosting is soft.
  • Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set frosting before serving.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly.

I halved the recipe for the cakes, and baked the cakes in two disposable aluminum round pans. Instead of using canola oil, I used olive oil. My boys are not fans of shredded coconut and raisins, I added extra nuts and carrots. I used 5 carrots, and 2 cups of pecans. As for the cream cheese frosting, as I find 31/2 cups of confectioners' sugar a little too much for my liking. As I creamed the butter and cream cheese, I gradually added the confectioners' sugar by the tablespoon, checking the sweetness of the frosting at the same time. In the end, only 3 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar was used! I did not halved the recipe for the frosting, and hence, I had two thick layers of frosting. The boys had a great time licking the leftover frosting off the spoon!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Our Little Garden

I don't have green fingers. Neither am I an experienced gardener.
I don't like ants and insects crawling in and out of the plant pots. 

Hubby dear was the one who did all the work =)
He sowed the seeds. He digged his fingers into the potting mix.
He transplanted the plants when the pots were too small. 
He caught the bugs, who were eating the leaves. 

See how the garden has grown from little plants in many pots in Spring, to tall and bushy plants in Summer? 

Although I occasionally helped out in watering the plants, and the boys too, I must admit that seeing the plants flowered and fruit, brought joy and happiness! Each morning, we will count the number of cherry tomatoes we have, the number of cucumbers, and not forgetting the big tomatoes that are about to ripen. I am looking forward to eating them! And for me, it is a very educational lesson, learning about shoots, shapes of leaves, colours of flowers, pollution, and how temperature affects the growth of plants. 

And yes, growing some plants when we are back at our tiny island, called the little red dot,  would be nice =)

Related Posts with Thumbnails