Iris Garden Pt. 2


Happy (?) Memorial Day! How patriotic am I?

I’m here for another installment of iris garden photos. The set from my first visit can be found here. Also, kid portraits from this second visit are here. There were definitely a lot of different things blooming on this second visit, and many things had died off. I was so glad I took as many poppy photos as I had on the first visit, because most of them have died now.


This photo is special because it is number 5000 on my camera! I got this camera about a year ago after being SLR-less for a year since my first one had died. Going a year without has definitely made me appreciate having one again.


Before you become skeptical of this garden’s title, I should post an irisy photo. Hopefully I’m not duplicating too much from my first post (I haven’t even compared). I tried to photograph the more unique-looking ones. Check out the trim on the left iris. 


This garden would make a nice place for some engagement photos. How cute would this photo be if a happy couple was sitting on the bench?


It’s almost a little sad that I’m photographing benches, but I wanted to capture the scene. And yeah, that’s someone’s house in the background. I wonder what it’s like to live next to an iris garden. A couple of the yards have openings into them, and people go in. I’m not sure if you’re supposed to, though. 


These are black irises, though obviously really just a very dark purple-blue. They look much blacker in real life–it’s just hard to capture that without having a really odd, detail-less photo. Anyway, I think they’re kind of cool.


I can’t resist dogwood blossoms. I guess this is a variation of a dogwood tree, anyway.


I think the color peach is coming back in style. It probably has some other trendy name, though, like “mint orange.” I’ve always liked it, though. 


These photos aren’t related, but it kind of looks like they are.


Hello, lovely colors!


Now the white version of these are in bloom, so of course I had to take lots of pictures of them like I did of the lavender ones the first time.


In the garden store I took more photos of the different spikes and decorative pieces.


There are lots of cool ways a person could photograph wedding rings at this garden. Anyone want to loan me theirs?


I think I warned you that I’d be taking more photos of the hearts. Since the first visit, tags had been added to each and every one of them, so my friend helped me temporarily remove them from the ones I was photographing. They were easy enough to put back on, so shush. 


We’ll end with the odd man out. For the record, this style of tiling up photos with other photos or color blocks is not my idea (not that any of you thought so). I see it in various other photography blogs and copy. I’m such a biter! (Raise your hand if you are familiar with that term.) 

Thanks for looking. 🙂

Cell perplexion

Well, I finally bit the bullet (not totally sure what that actually means) and changed my cell phone’s minute plan. (And it’s obvious that all of my English classes teaching us to start with a “hook” statement have completely gone to waste. Seriously, Jessica? Cell phone plans?).

It took a long time because I had a predicament that I’m sure phone companies like AT&T create on purpose: they jump the minute plans from 450 to 900 when most people probably talk somewhere between the two amounts. And not only that, but if you downgrade to a smaller plan, your rollover minutes are cut down to the equivalent of one month’s worth on the new plan. On the 900 minute plan that was once a necessity, I now rack up rollover minutes like mad, making it seem even riskier to give them up. What if my phone usage suddenly takes a turn? What if something happens in the family that requires my phoning them regularly during the day? Suddenly the 4,000+ rollover minutes I had saved would be very helpful to have around. Yes, I’m serious–I had that many. It was ridiculous.

But what is more ridiculous? The customer service rep who helped me make the switch asked if I was calling to increase or decrease the minutes on my plan. I know he just has to ask and not assume, and he was an excellent rep, but I still thought it was a funny question.

So, beginning next month, my monthly minutes will be down to 450, and so will my supply of rollovers. Given that lately I use between 150-250 “anytime”* minutes per month, I should be perfectly fine. I just need to allow myself to grieve the loss of thousands of rollover minutes and then move on with my life, stronger for it.

One day I predict all phones will have unlimited minutes for a relatively small fee. Remember when the long distance from a landline (what’s that?) was by the minute and dependent on where in the US you were calling? Now I’m pretty sure you pay a flat fee, though I’ve been landlineless for about five years. My knowledge is based on commercials and ads I get in the mail.

*I’m not sure why they are called “anytime” since they are technically only minutes used during the designated daytime** hours. I suppose they have to say that since there’s that cruel trick where if you make a call at 8:59pm, your entire call is docked from “anytime” minutes even though the bulk of it will happen during the “night.” Life is unfair.


**Am I allowed to add a footnote to a footnote? Just wanted to mention that I certainly don’t consider hours up to 9pm to be daytime. In fact, I don’t consider anything after 5pm to be daytime, really, but they didn’t consult me on this matter, for some reason.

Kid portraits

Finally another portraits post! I’ve been anxious for more portrait practice but hadn’t had another opportunity until I went back to the iris garden with my friend and her little boy last night. It wasn’t the most masculine place to photograph him, but he had fun running around. The place was almost empty most of the time*, which made it an extra-perfect night to be there. Of course I will do a separate post, later, with more flower photos. You can view the iris garden post from my first visit here.


Kids can be a challenge since they are constantly moving (though I should say that it tends to be a fun challenge and all the more rewarding when a decent photo is captured). He was playing this running game where he’d run up to me or his mom so I’d try to focus and snap photos on his way. Very few were not blurry. 🙂


I love all the colored benches they have around. I was trying to get him to sit in various colors. 


I need to do more black and whites. 


Too bad he’s not one, or this would be a clever shot! Instead, I like to think he’s saying that I’m number one. Because I am.


The left photo has some composition issues (he was moving toward me so I had like a third of a second to frame the shot), but his little face looks very cute so I kept it.


I was taking a photo of this flower when I saw his little hand enter the frame. “No no–don’t touch the flower..” but you know how kids are. Touch first, then think about listening.


Backlit photos are something I want to practice more.

*Aside from a guy who wandered around taking photos while talking on his cell phone the entire time. I almost made a remark about it to my friend (or did I?), but then I thought about how many times I’ve done the exact same thing. (Not that calling the kettle black always stops me in my ridiculing tracks.)

Rainy Evening

Usually I go on a weekly walk with my friend, but the rain canceled our plans and I decided to do some comfortable, rainy-day things with my extra time.


Like light a candle! I would light more, but I need to buy more tea lights.  This lantern is supposed to hang, but I haven’t figured out a good spot to hang it, yet, so it just sits on my bookshelf. I love it, though.


I also had some tea and ate breakfast for dinner. That’s a very proteiny meal! And yes, of course I always use garnish on my everyday meals. Who doesn’t? PS: These photos remind me of my aunt Kathy, because she makes the best scrambled eggs and she got me that awesome mug.


And since it wasn’t actually all that cold and my deck has a cover, I took some photos of this Steller’s Jay pondering the meaning of life.


Or maybe just looking for food.

Pássaros

There are so many birds lately! It makes me happy. Yesterday I took several photos from my deck, so here are a few.


K was over to help me hang a flower basket, and she pointed out this heron that flew across the lake and wandered around in one general area for awhile. He was too far to get decent photos, but of course I still tried.


 I don’t know how long this dragonfly has been on my deck, but it’s been at least two days. It’s almost like he’s dead, but he has moved a little.


His wings have peachy spots. It seems like just the light reflecting, but it’s not. This must be where people got the idea for stained glass windows.


From the flower basket I was working on.


I love these goldfinches and was so glad they were landing a little closer.


A girl and a boy.


The weather has been very indecisive this weekend. I just thought these clouds looked cool.


Here is an ear-full or museum of Cedar Waxwings. Those are how you refer to them collectively. WhatBird told me. 


Hm…that looks comfortable.


There are lots of museums in the trees. 😀 Sorry, I can’t resist a moment to sound like it’s completely natural to refer to birds as “museums.” 


The left-side photo looks like it was taken during winter, but it’s just a dead branch on the tree.

I’m sleepy, which might be evident by my dry captions. Just the facts. I’m not a nap-taking kind of girl, though, so I made an appointment to play Yahoo! Pool. Such a wise use of time.

Lasagna Bolognese

The audio book I just finished featured an Italian cook as one of the main characters. The author must enjoy cooking, because she would describe the dishes he made in detail, and I’d constantly exit my car with major cravings for garlic chicken, crepes, almond focaccia and artichoke omelets. One scene in the book described some of the process of making Lasagna Bolognese, and suddenly I had the desire to make a really GOOD lasagna. I’ve made plenty of lasagna, but I usually take every shortcut possible, so I was ready to put a little more effort into it.

I chose this recipe, mostly because the picture looked tasty. Of course, I made a few changes (usually out of laziness), so I will post what I did based on preference and some things I read online. Most of the text is being copied over from that recipe, though.

The end result was very delicious (I only wish I could’ve taken a decent photo to display it). I had started having doubts toward the end of the cooking, and was worried it wouldn’t be worth the effort, but I was really surprised at how good it was! I loved the bechamel sauce with it, and didn’t miss ricotta at all. I wasn’t sure the nutmeg would stand out, but it really did add richness to the flavor. I will definitely make this again sometime–I read that the bolognese sauce can be made ahead and stored for about a week in the fridge, so that helps with the timing.

LASAGNA BOLOGNESE

Ingredients

Bolognese Sauce:
2 oz. Diced pancetta, finely chopped
1 Medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 Carrot, finely chopped
4 Tbsp salted butter
11 oz Ground beef
8 oz Ground Italian sausage
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 lb peeled and chopped tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes along with the juice in the can)
1/2 cup (give or take) white cooking wine
1 cup whole milk
Sea salt to taste

Béchamel Sauce:
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup salted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Lasagna:
Enough lasagna noodles to make four layers in a 13×9-inch baking pan with the lasagna pieces overlapping each other a little bit. I used about a box and a half of Barilla oven-ready lasagna noodles after reading that recommendation online.
2 cups grated Parmasan and Mozzarella (a bagged mix they sell at the store)
1/8 – 1/4 cup chopped Italian/flat parsley

Method

Prepare the Bolognese Meat Sauce:

1. Combine pancetta, onion and carrot in sauté pan with butter and cook over medium heat until onion turns pale gold.
2. Add the beef and sausage and increase the heat to high; cook until browned. Sprinkle with nutmeg and pepper.
3. Add cooking wine. (I actually added mine later, but I read that you’re supposed to add it before the tomato sauce and let it cook down…I don’t know enough about cooking to understand why, but there’s some good reason. :))
4. Stir in tomatoes (including the juice if using canned), bring to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. If you are using whole canned tomatoes, break them up as you add them to the sauce.
5. Add milk and season with sea salt. Then turn down the heat and let simmer for 2 and 1/2 hours. Stir at least every 20 minutes. Whenever the sauce simmers down to the point that it is sticking to the bottom of the pan, just add 1/4 cup of water and scrape up the browned bits from the bottom and continue to cook.

Make the Béchamel sauce:
(Growing up, my parents just called this “white sauce” and we served it on veggies and stuff.)

6. Melt butter in sauce pan, then add the flower and stir well.
7. Add milk and stir constantly. Bring temp up to make it boil, but be careful not to burn it or make it boil over. Milk needs constant monitoring, I’ve noticed!
8. Add nutmeg and keep stirring on medium heat until it’s as thick and creamy as you want it. If any lumps form, beat them out rapidly with a whisk until they dissolve. Remove from heat.

Prepare the Lasagna:

9. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cook the lasagna according to instructions (with the oven-ready they don’t require cooking, however I did soak them in water briefly per a recommendation online–not sure if it made a difference). Lay the individual lasagna noodles out on kitchen towels, not touching, so they do not stick together while you layer the casserole.
10. Spread a little olive oil around the inside of a 13×9-inch baking pan. Make sure your baking pan is non-reactive – pyrex or stainless steel. Do not use an aluminum pan as it will react with the acidity of the sauce and ruin the flavor. Put a layer of lasagna noodles down first. Layer on a third of the bolognese sauce, then a third of the bechamel sauce. Sprinkle with cheese. Repeat two more times. Top with a final layer of noodles and sprinkle with grated cheese. (I kept a bit of the bechamel sauce to spread on top to make sure the noodles had enough moisture to fully cook.)
11. Tent the casserole with aluminum foil. Put lasagna into the middle rack of a pre-heated 375°F oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the top begins to get lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving. (My oven might not work properly, but I ended up turning up the heat to 400 or so and baking for an additional 10+ minutes. Then I removed the foil and broiled the top for a couple of minutes to give it a golden brown finish.
12. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the top of the cooked lasagna.

Serves 8.

Here are a few more photos (in random collage form) that might be helpful. I personally get annoyed when a recipe blog has millions of photos inserted amongst the text, requiring you to skip and scroll to find your next instruction, so I kept my instructions all together. 🙂

I didn’t know what pancetta was before making this, so I thought you’d like a photo.
I found it at Winco, so I’d assume it’s at many grocery stores.

Sorry this entry is so long!

Rainbows are visions

Various crises among my family and friends have me a bit troubled this week, so things like seeing a very faint rainbow (can you even see it in the above photo?) over the water outside my back door are little highlights. But I, being the greedy girl that I am, asked God to make it a brighter and larger rainbow so I could get a decent photo. (He’s used to my requests regarding photo ops.) Then I went to do a few things before I left for a meeting, and kind of forgot about it until I walked back out into my living room and saw this:

🙂 🙂 🙂

And though I was definitely on time for the meeting (despite what it may have seemed), having only one minute to spare was almost entirely the rainbow’s fault. I had to get plenty of pictures.

This reminds me of my rainbow story which I must share now. Don’t stop me if you’ve heard it.

Once upon a time, back when I lived with my parents, I looked outside to see a weird gold light on everything, making the trees vibrant against a dark gray sky. Fancy! Then I noticed a bright rainbow, and I went outside to look at it. My dad has outdoor speakers and had left music playing even though no one else was out there. (They were attached to a system that was set to one of those music TV channels that comes with various cable/digital packages. You know, nonstop music of a particular genre, and the screen is generally blank aside from some info about the song, artist, etc.) So I’m out there in the gold light, looking at a rainbow and having an Enya moment, when a song comes on that enhances the experience even more. It was a piano piece from what was likely the New Age music channel.

I liked the song enough that I wanted to know what it was before it ended and stopped displaying the information, so I quickly ran through the house to reach the TV and read what it was. The song was (drumroll)…. Riding the Rainbow by Tom Barabas! How meant to be was that?! Seriously, what are the odds that a rainbow-titled song would play right at the moment I’m looking at a rainbow?

Hey look – you can listen to it here: Riding the Rainbow

It’s definitely worth a listen. I’m a fool for good piano music.

Oh and here’s one more photo, because I think it’s fun that you can kind of see the rainbow’s reflection in the water.

Purchases

It feels like forev since I posted last, but it was just Wednesday. Things have been hectic in the life of Jessica, but tonight I’m free as a bird. Well, as a bird that lives in a large cage–like the ones at zoos. I’m a Lorikeet. I have some stuff to accomplish, but nothing too time-consuming.

At this time yesterday I was wearing shorts and had all my windows open. Now I’m in fleece polar bear* pants and am contemplating turning on the heater. Oh Oregon…just decide! (And it better be the right decision.)

I have a yummy lasagna recipe to post about, but instead of two recipe posts in a row (boring!) I’ll hold off and show you some of the stuff I’ve bought recently. Get very excited!!!!


Awhile back I got a free sample of the SJP Lovely Collection. Normally I avoid celebrity perfumes (it’s too hard to explain why, but maybe I can sum it up with two words: Electric Youth), but many of my standards change when the word “free” is involved. Anyway, I wasn’t impressed with Endless and Twilight, but I loved Dawn. It has a clean, tea-ish scent. I decided it was going to be my reward for accomplishing a personal goal. It’s just too bad the bottle isn’t more interesting.


More extravagance. I had company this weekend and wanted some nice flowers on the table. After mulling over various more temporary options, I decided to go for the orchids. They last so much longer** than cut flowers and they are a great photo subject, so I think I will consider them an educational investment and mark my tax forms accordingly.


This is thrilling, I’m sure. 🙂 It really is, though. At 5’1, I have a hard time reaching most standard chains on ceiling lights/fans, plus my ceilings are taller than average. Now that it’s becoming ceiling fan season, I need to not have to get my stepstool every time the temps change (see paragraph two).


These last three are seedlings I purchased for my new planter that a friend sent. You’ll definitely be seeing these again as I track the growth. I chose these petunias because the hummingbird at the plant store seemed excited about them.


And I chose these because I have a thing for yellow flowers.


And I chose these because I didn’t really know what else to get. 😐

Here is my May wish: that someone would take my laptop and fill it with RAM. Work in Photoshop (or any Adobe program) is becoming a major test of my patience, and I am failing.

*They aren’t made of polar bear fur nor did they used to belong to a polar bear (I don’t think), they just have pictures of polar bears on them.
**Though with me as their owner, their life might be cut short.

Chicken Chow (Lo) Mein

I haven’t posted a recipe in awhile since my perfectionist side wants to wait for better photos. But I’m going ahead and posting something I made and photographed a couple of years ago. Here’s to rebelliousness. *clink*

I haven’t tried any other chow mein (or lo mein, as some call it.. I’m still confused about all of that, but it might be a regional thing) recipes that I can recall, so I don’t actually know how this stacks up against others, but I thought it was good. The original recipe is here, but here’s what I did:

INGREDIENTS

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut into thin strips
5 teaspoons white sugar, divided
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce, divided (you may want to use low salt, as this meal comes out borderline too salty, but it depends on your taste)
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 T peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 package of Japanese noodles (Chuka Soba is a name that’s used for these noodles, or sometimes the package will say they are used for chow mein. I tried a second brand later and found them disappointing, so the noodles really make all the difference. Now if only I can remember which brand was the good one!)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root
2 tablespoons minced garlic
6 green onions, sliced diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
1-2 cups chopped cabbage (I just used coleslaw mix that has shredded carrots, too)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 can of sliced water chestnuts

DIRECTIONS

1. In a medium, non-reactive bowl, combine the chicken with 2 1/2 teaspoons of white sugar, 1 T garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Mix this together and coat the chicken well. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

2. In another medium bowl, combine the chicken broth, water, peanut oil and ground black pepper with the remaining sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. In a separate small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch with some of this mixture and slowly add to the bulk of the mixture, stirring well. Set aside.

3. Cook the noodles according to package directions, drain and stir a bit of oil in to help them not stick together. I used sesame, but peanut or olive would be fine too. Set the noodles aside.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a wok or large saucepan over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the chicken and stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes, or until browned. Transfer this and all juices to a warm plate.

5. Heat the remaining vegetable oil in the wok or pan over high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and green onions, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the reserved sauce mixture and then the chicken. Simmer until the sauce begins to thicken, about 2 minutes. Add the reserved noodles, cabbage, chestnuts and sprouts and toss gently, coating everything well with the sauce.

Now I’m so in the mood to make this! And if I do, I’ll be switching out this photo for sure.

Wildlife update

Tonight I glanced out back to see the clouds and some movement caught my eye. I looked down to see three baby nutria (nutlings?) by the water’s edge. Almost all baby animals are cute, but baby nutria? Just barely. Despite their nasty rat tails, the kids have a semi-cuteness about them and mostly look like beavers. They lose all cute upon adulthood, though. I mean, really–a rat tail and orange teeth? Did they lose a bet during creation?

Standard disclaimers about photo quality in these poorly-lit, far-off situations apply. Forever.


I actually took this picture after all of the nutria photos (I value accuracy!), but this was the scene that caught my attention.


And then I looked down and was all, que the heck? This little guy swam off fairly quickly from the noise of my door opening.


But this one was way too hungry to leave. Their other brother (must I now mention Newhart?) couldn’t decide and was in and out of the water. 


I guess this settles the question of whether geese and nutria are enemies. 


Sibling bonding time.


I have no caption for this photo, so I will tell you that while out on my porch taking photos, hummingbirds kept whirring by and getting really close. I swear I almost got stabbed! They can be really crazy when they’re mating.


Tired of nutria pictures yet?


I have a feeling Holly won’t be crazy about this post. She can’t forget the fateful day when a nutria bared its orange teeth and hissed at her.

And we’re done with the nutria! But I remembered a couple of photos I took the other night when I saw a Belted Kingfisher on a nearby tree. Actually, I think this is a Queenfisher.


Good evening, your highness.


Of course I wasn’t quick enough to photograph it, but shortly after this photo she dove straight into the water and then flew away (hopefully with a fish for her trouble). I know she was just doing her job, but I thought it was a cool sighting.

Okay, I’m tired now.