Texas Redbud

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Redbud trees are early bloomers. Thank goodness. My yard is severely drab right now and needed this bit of color. I just read that you can eat the flowers. I haven’t ever tried doing that. I’m not sure I will simply because bees and butterflies feed off the flowers, which don’t last long (no subsequent bloom later) and aren’t all that plentiful to start.

I took these pictures the Sunday before last. At first, I wasn’t too pepped because it was very cloudy. Then I realized that I could turn the cloudy sky into a clean white backdrop.

I did some other shots, most of which did not really work out.

But a few were kind of fun. I call this one “Fancy Flower Business Card.”

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Look at that negative space. Think of all the address and phone number action you could put there. EXCITING.

My darling Ivy, my friend in the cave

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Ivy

My darling Ivy, my friend in the cave. Don’t know when she got there. Don’t know why she would stay. The glint of her eye says she might once roamed free. But, she has no voice and could never tell me.

_______________________

Sometimes I see very cute faces in things, like last week when I was behind a Jeep without its spare tire. He had a really goofy smile.

But every now and then I see a freaky Cave Demon. GAH! Burn it with fire!

For your reading pleasure, see Jiangang Liu’s IgNoble Prize  for researching what happens to the brain when you see Jesus on a piece of toast.

Austin Fossil Specimens: Cretaceous Period

My 9 year old has a developing interest in fossil hunting. It started a few years back when his grandfather, a former elementary school teacher, took him on fossil hunting trips around Austin.

Now I’ve developed an interest in specimen photography. Honestly? I am terrible at fossil hunting. Is this a fossil? (No, mom. It’s a rock. Put it down.) But is THIS a fossil? (Yes, but we already have a bunch of those. Put it down.) IS THIS A FOSSIL????

I’ll just stick to photography.

I experimented with using a black background, white background, and then making an in situ re-creation.

1. For the black background, I have 4 angles of the Exogyra ponderosa fossil.

2. I used a whitish background for my son’s science project.

3. For the in situ re-creations, I used “crafting” sand from JoAnn Fabrics. When I needed a taller background, I used limestone I picked up at the fossil sites.

 

4.  Issues/Problems/Concerns

  • BLACK BACKGROUND: As always, use clean black velvet. I was being lazy about that. WELL WELL WELL. Guess who had to spend way too much time with the clone tool? Stitch in time, people.
  • LIGHTING: I took these in daylight in the west side of my house. I turned on all the kitchen lights and used only one continuous light. I wanted drama/interest. I decided to enhance the shadows because so many specimens in books and online did not provide sufficient detail so that my kid could identify his fossils. Words are not nearly as helpful as a picture which captures the fossil’s significant details.
  • UNDEREXPOSE: My camera’s automatic exposure settings caused problems with the specimens (flattened the items/loss of detail). Underexpose slightly from what your meter says. You want to grab the shadows to keep the detail.  Then increase exposure a bit in post-process. If you blow out the highlights by overexposing, you will lose the tiny details which make a useful specimen. Increasing “clarity” in PS will just make a digitized mess of things and won’t get the depth back.
  • LENS: Yes, I took these on my kit lens for my entry-level Nikon DSLR. I haven’t bought a macro lens of any kind. For my purposes (blogging), I can crop and not worry about the final product having sufficient pixels. If you actually want to print these and have adequate detail, seek out a macro lens so you can get closer.
  • APERTURE: Depended. Just like focal length. Use your best judgment.
  • SPECIMEN MEASUREMENTS: I used a tape measure for my kid’s project. If you were going to assemble a large number of small specimen photos, I would not recommend that. Just give the measurements in a caption.
  • SPELLING: FRIIIIICCCKKKK. So many errors along the way. If I were to make a book, I would require an editor.
  • EXOGYRA ARIETINA v. ILYMATOGYRA ARIETINA: I see both online. It seems like books prefer the Ilymatogyra genus. Fossil taxonomy: I am no expert. Just interested in the pics. Again, I would require an editor for a book.

 

 

 

Lemon Drop Marmalade

Small Tree, Adapted to Austin

This citrus is not a native to Austin. However, it is well-adapted to the central Texas region in that it tolerates our heat, cold, and varying moisture. It is also very unlikely to become invasive, which is a major concern when you introduce a non-native species to your yard. It’s cute, too. Why plant some blah bush or non-native decorative tree (stupid crepe myrtles) when you can have this crop plant be just as cute…and edible?!

The Lemon Drop is a kumquat-lemon hybrid. I think I read somewhere that the hybridization developed in south Texas. Kumquats do well here, too. I don’t think you’ll find as much use for a kumquat as you will a lemon drop, though. The lemon drop fruit is far more fragrant and much larger. And I always have felt that kumquats are “aspirational” fruits. Like, you buy it with all the hope in the world that this is the year you totally get kumquats and enjoy them. Yeah, then there they sit.

The recipe I have below should work for most types of citrus. This year, I had a sufficient crop and could experiment with methods of removing the bitterness from the rind while maintaining the texture of a true marmalade.

How to Remove Bitterness from Marmalade

And you if you are here searching for “How to Remove Bitterness from Marmalade,” I am sad to inform you that it’s too late once you’ve cooked it. Lost cause. You’ll need to give it to someone who likes the bitterness. Or find a use other than spreading it on toast. I’m certain you are disappointed to read this! I’ve been where you are. Oh man. Really. I even tried taking out some of the peels. And boiling/draining the remaining peels I used. Didn’t help.

Just start over with a new batch.

Now, if you are just having problems getting the marmalade to set, there are many ways to help that problem, and you can find good advice all over the place. But not for bitterness.

How to AVOID Bitterness in Marmalade

This I can help you with. I tried several methods of bitter-removal. Here are a few options:

  1. Slice fruit thin, perhaps with a mandoline. Soak for 2 days. My result? One year, I picked the fruit young and green. It had very little pith, so this worked fine to plump up the skin. The pith is the bitter part. Soaking a thick pith did nothing to remove the bitterness.
  2. Boil and drain the skins a few times. I read that on My Persian Kitchen. It helps, but I feel like when you totally remove the pith, you lose the texture. I also feel like I lost a some flavor.
  3. Grate zest off, squeeze out juice, chuck the pith. Have I made this batch yet? No. Why? This won’t be the texture of marmalade! Some kinda jelly or something maybe. I think I will make lemon curd.
    TL/DR version
  4. Cut off rinds (with a knife, not with a peeler or grater), keeping some pith on them. Slice rinds up thinly, and boil for 10 minutes. Drain. You will still have some bitterness, but it won’t be unbearable.

RECIPE/PROCESS

I don’t follow strict recipe guidelines. Sometimes, this results in disaster. Usually not. The most important thing is to FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS WITH THE PECTIN YOU BOUGHT. Yes, you can technically cook a marmalade without pectin. But we are removing bitter pectin here.

My preference is a tart jam/jelly/marmalade than doesn’t have a cloying sweetness. I’m not afraid of sugar, I just don’t like sticky, sweet jams. I use a low-sugar pectin and depend on my own taste buds. It’s a forgiving pectin, thank goodness.

1. SOAKING

Very helpful to cut down on cooking time. You can plop your fruit in a bowl for a couple of days to soften the peels. You can also slice your fruits up entirely and soak them in their juices–if bitterness is not a problem for you.

3. PEEL/GRATE/SQUEEZE

Again, depending on how you want this to come out, decide on how much pith to keep. You’ll need some for texture. Then squeeze your juice out.

RECIPE PROPORTIONS

I have read so, so many recipes with all kinds of proportions. 4 oranges EIGHT CUPS OF SUGAR. Criminy, Ina Garten. A good set requires a proper proportion of acid, sugar, and pectin. By using a low-sugar pectin, you have flexibility to avoid the sugar overdose. You will have plenty of citric acid, so no worries there. When you are cooking, use the lowest sugar amount recommended by the pectin manufacturer and bump it up from there if you can’t get it to set. Here’s the deal: This is not an exact science since you’ve probably removed a great portion of the pith, which contains the pectin necessary to make a good set.

3. PROBLEMS WITH SETTING

Oh dear, yes. This is going to happen when you are taking out much of the naturally occurring pectin. You are going to have to test that marmalade after the first round of pectin to ensure you’ve got anything near a set. You may have to go ahead and add more sugar and pectin. That being said, it seems that letting the marmalade sit around for a couple of weeks really does help achieve a firmer set. Unless you have a soupy mix–that needs to be reprocessed.

4. MY MEASUREMENTS

My successful batch had 6 cups of juice, peels with some pith (boiled to remove bitterness) and 2 rounds of pectin + sugar. The first pectin application did not set. I can’t tell you exactly the amount of sugar to use–you have to read your pectin instructions. How many jars did this make? I can’t recall. I make small 4 oz. jars to give away and some pint ones, too. I don’t think marmalade would set well in a large quart jar.

5. OTHER INGREDIENTS

I have seen recipes which call for water as an ingredient. I don’t want my flavor or texture weakened, so a hard pass on the water. I also don’t add butter to my jellies/jams to control frothing. I skim froth off if it is a problem. I also saw a recipe with baking soda in it, and I am not sure how to take that. Spices? Sure, go ahead. I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to try that. You might end up with a chutney if you put too much in. But chutney is good, too.

Foggy New Orleans (Christmas 2016)

Christmas Day in New Orleans this year was extremely foggy. I got to see fog creeping across the river and head to the downtown area. It was eery! And moved a lot faster than I thought it would.

I decided to take a few pictures of the bridge being completely covered in fog while I had the chance.

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IH10 Bridge (New Orleans)

I focused on the foreground to add some interest and color to the scene for the second set of pictures I took. I had a hard time controlling the view since it was not easy to simply break a branch here in there. The terrain of the river bank was a it rough.  But I got a few I was satisfied with.

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IH10 Bridge (New Orleans)

Abstractions: Bold

I could possibly use these in my living room. My walls are a similar yellow, Spiced Butternut from Behr. The color actually looks closer to the yellow here than the online sample. Also, once my paint job is entirely finished (an ongoing saga*), we will hang the red opera banners from the Hannibal series. My husband bid on the banners in the prop auction after the show ended.

The ones below are re-edits of the Pinky Pinks abstractions from a previous post. I just wanted to play around with them a bit more to make them unrecognizable from the originals. I wouldn’t have a room to put these in if I had them printed, though.

*The paint saga:  I wanted bolder paint than the usual greige, beige, cream, or light tan I have always used in common areas. The color I chose is A COLOR. And, it’s in a two story high living room. A LOT OF THAT COLOR.

I haven’t painted all the way to the top. I can’t decide if I am sold on the color. So, my house has been half-painted for over a year now due to indecision. My husband has just resigned himself to living like this because I’m too difficult to deal with on the issue.

Maybe my little abstractions will get me motivated to do something about this problem.

Split/Screen

Small scenes from St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery in New Orleans. I like how the plant appears to grab at death, as if to shoo it away behind the tombs. Or courageously claw at it–protecting us.

But this is an illusion. We are trapped in this maze.The maze is suffocating. Yet, we are are still here walking the same paths over and over bumping into the same obstacles.

I suppose it is better than not existing and not walking the same paths. Then again, I don’t really know that.

All I know is that there is no escape from this path.

That and chickens are delicious dinosaur descendants. Specifically, some kind of T Rex. No really. Chickens are closer to dinosaurs than any other bird.

What will rule humans like we rule chickens? Giant bacteria monsters like  The Blob?  Or giant algae sucking up our oxygen. There was a bacteria which caused a giant oxygenating event  2.3 billion years ago which led to life today. What if algae took over and ate all our oxygen in a “giant de-oxygenating event”?

DOOMSDAY ALGAE.  NO OXYGEN. Do I worry about stupid stuff? Yes! Yes, I do. OR DO I?

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With pink flowers
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Blocked in
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With red flowers