Short and Sweet

A short and sweet little break in nature was just what we were looking for. We had the joy of taking care of our eleven month grand daughter this weekend and were looking for a short hike to take her on in a new back pack. We figured we could take turns holding her if she got fussy or didn’t want to sit in the back pack, and decided to go to the Dave Moore Nature Trail near Coloma. We found it to be ideal for our needs.  It’s an easy 1.1 mile trail loop, very well maintained, with a canopy of oaks to provide ample shade.
The trail took up past this beautiful madrone tree,blackberry bushes, wild grape vines, some interesting rock formations, and lots of colorful wildflowers.
 And on we hiked, right to the south fork of The American River. Here we found a small beach to enjoy for awhile, before carrying on with the trail. In no time at all, we were back at the parking lot, just in time to give our sweetie a bottle and a snack. What a great hike for families with little ones, or anyone who wants a quick dose of nature.I’ll leave you with a little lichen heart along the way that brought a smile to my face. Hope it does the same for you too.

Strawberry Shortcake

I came across this recipe in a newspaper over ten years ago and it quickly became a family favorite. I made it yesterday for Father’s Day for the first time this year and want to share it with you. With all of the fresh, sweet strawberries available at farmer’s markets, now is the time to try it. You’ll be in for a treat!

Grandma’s Shortbread

Ingredients:

2 cups flour, sifted

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup vegetable shortening

3/4 cup whole milk

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. With a pastry cutter, cut in the shortening until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the milk. Stir briefly with a fork, just until the dough holds together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and gently knead it eight times. Do not knead it more than that.

Gently press or roll the dough into flat piece about a half inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the dough into circles (or whatever shape you choose) and place them about an inch apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 450 degrees for 12 minutes or until the biscuits are lightly browned.

The strawberry shortcakes should be assembled while the biscuits are still warm. If the biscuits are made ahead, wrap them in foil and warm them in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes before serving.

Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

Ingredients:

6 cups strawberries, washed and stemmed

1/2 cup sugar

1 pint whipping cream, very cold

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Baked, warm shortbread (recipe above)

Instructions:

If the strawberries are large, cut them in half or quarters. Place the berries in a large bowl and sprinkle them with sugar (optional). Allow the bowl to stand at room temperature while you prepare the whipping cream.

Chill the beaters and bowl of your mixer. Pour the whipping cream into the chilled bowl and beat it on medium speed until it begins to thicken. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue beating until the cream is thick.

To assemble, top each warm shortbread with a generous scoop of strawberries and whipped cream. Serve immediately.

For the record, I turned on our oven during our current heat spell to make these. It was well worth it!

Breathtakingly Beautiful Bassi Falls

Hallelujah! Our long drought is over and the rivers and waterfalls are at peak flow. Now is the time to see them.

One of our local news channels put together a list of five must-see waterfalls nearby, and Bassi Falls was on the list. Never having been to Bassi Falls we recently set out for an afternoon adventure.

Bassi Falls is in the Sierra Nevada mountain range off of Ice House Road. The trail is two miles each way, and is fairly well marked.Parts of the trail were shaded by a canopy of conifers while other areas require climbing over granite under the warm sun. Wildflowers dotted the trail and we had the music of the rushing falls and creek to add to our sensory enjoyment.Heart rocks greeted us throughout the hike and I ended up coming home with six of them in the backpack. I left even more there for the next heart rock collector though. Go have a look!

Soak up all of this natural beauty as far as the eye can see.
Almost there!Here at the base of the falls we could cross low parts of Bassi Creek to sit on a boulder and admire this incredible sight. Don’t you agree with me? It’s a breathtakingly beautiful reward at the end of the hike!

The Giving Tree

We’ve lived in our home for twenty five years. Our boys grew up here, exploring and playing on every bit of the property, and climbing every tree. Tree forts were built, rope swings were hung, a hammock was strung between two, and a zip-line was swung on in between another two. Now, our grandchildren are frequent visitors and they are the ones exploring.

This past winter we had to have four beloved trees taken down from one area of the yard. Each of the trees were either severely damaged from storms or were diseased. We were sad to see them go and worried about how the yard would look with a new lawn area where the trees once stood, and how the shade gardens would do when they suddenly received sun.

Imagine our surprise when the trees were cut down and we saw the shape of this oak tree stump! We knew at once that it would have a special place in the yard once our project was complete.After the trees were removed, the four stumps had to be grinded, roots were dug out of the ground, and a mini retaining wall was built. Then came adding amendments to the soil, and installing a lawn. With each new step of the process we began to feel more comfortable about the project. It didn’t take long before we began to love all of the sunlight we now have in front of the house, as well as our new views. So far, the garden beds planted with shade loving plants are all doing well.

Have a look at our finished project. We couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. A million thanks to that oak tree that provided a shady place for our boys to explore and play for so many years, and now is the perfect little table for us or a sweet spot for a little one (or two) to rest after an afternoon of running, playing, and adventuring.

Forest Bathing

Have you heard of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku)? Forest bathing was formalized in Japan in 1982, and now is recognized as a cornerstone of their preventive health care and natural healing medicine. Lately, the idea has been spreading around the world.

It’s not about hiking through the forest or counting steps on a Fitbit; the objective is to slow down, be present with all of your senses, and relax among the trees. It’s about de-stressing. Let the trees soothe your spirit.Spending time in natural environments has been linked to lower stress levels, improved working memory, and feeling more alive. Forest bathing has been proven to lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress hormone production, boost the immune system, and improve overall feelings of well-being.

I don’t know anyone who couldn’t benefit from that. C’mon, I’ll meet you in the forest!

Daffodil Hill

Daffy Down Dilly has come to town in a yellow petticoat and a green gown! ~Nathanial HawthorneDriving on a winding country road, and passing statuesque pines, and hills covered in emerald carpet, I thought to myself that this is exactly how spring is supposed to feel. Fresh, alive, and absolutely bursting with blooms! Yes, the drive to Daffodil Hill in Amador County is almost as pretty as the historical ranch itself.Fields of daffodils, farm animals and peacocks greet visitors upon arrival. Meandering through trails you’ll come across’s the original 1880s barn, old wagon wheels, gold rush mining equipment, and antique farm implements. There is no entrance fee, but donations are accepted and there is a small souvenir shop to purchase something special. Daffodil Hill in Volcano has been owned by the McLaughlin Family since 1887. Ancestors bought it from Pete Denzer, who had planted a few daffodils to remember his home country of Holland. The McLaughlin’s continued to plant daffodils through the years, and now plant several thousand bulbs annually. It is estimated that there are 300,000 daffodils blooming now. What a sight to behold!

The generous McLaughlin Family gives us all an enormous gift by opening up their private ranch each year for a few weeks to let the public traipse around the gardens and trails, picnic under shade trees, and soak up all that spring in the country offers. We are undeniably grateful!The stunning photo above came right off  Daffodil Hill’s Facebook page. They ask that you check the page or call daily to make sure the ranch is open. Rainy weather closes the ranch until the trails dry out. Make a day of your visit by stopping in the nearby little towns of Amador and Sutter Creek. Both are fun to visit and get a bite to eat.

What a lovely place to celebrate the arrival of spring!

Bale Grist Mill

A little preview of spring was in the air when we set out to explore Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park in Saint Helena a few weeks ago. We had driven to the Napa Valley just for the day, planning to shop, wine taste, and eat dinner at a favorite restaurant, but we also wanted to get a short hike in. The weather was warm, trees were budding, the sky was brilliant blue, and a trail was calling!

A short walk from the parking lot took us into the park where we first took an interesting tour of the mill. We learned that the mill was built in 1846 by Edward Bale, is fully operational, and is the sole surviving water powered mill in California. Inside the museum/gift shop, bags of grains (polenta, cornmeal, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and whole wheat flours) that the mill grinds are available to purchase. The park is quite picturesque with a babbling creek, stately oaks, rolling hills, and plenty of picnic benches in the shade. We hiked the peaceful trail that connects to Bothe State Park and even found some heart rocks along the way. I left them for you to find. Go take a look!Along the easy, two mile hike we encountered beautiful scenery. After driving in the car for a few hours to get to wine country that morning, and anticipating more sitting on the drive home later in the evening, this little hike was definitely needed. A bit of shopping, some wine tasting, delicious food, and a lovely hike — everything in moderation (even in the Napa Valley), right?!

Italian Lemon Poundcake

Record rain. Heavily damaged roads and main highways. Flooding. Broken levees. It’s certainly been a wild winter here in Northern California after years of drought, to say the least.

In between rain storms I’m out in the yard as much as I can to begin to work on a few projects. Blooming right now and brightening these long February days during this very rainy winter are the Hellebores, Daphne, Primroses, and Daffodils. A love note from heaven was waiting for me to find it as I was doing yard work recently. Imagine the smile it put on my face!Outside, rain pounds on the roof, winds howl, and the creek swells. Inside, lemon pound cake bakes in the oven, filling the house with its sweet aroma.

Italian Lemon Poundcake

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup sour cream

4 Tablespoons lemon juice

zest of two lemons

1 teaspoon vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 300 degreesSift flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, vanilla, and lemon zest.Mix half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix in the buttermilk and then add in the remaining flour mixture. Mix just until the flour disappears. Pour the cake batter in a bundt pan that has been generously sprayed with baking spray.Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Turn the cake over on a cake platter.

Spread half of the lemon glaze over the warm cake so that the glaze can soak into the cake. Let the cake cool completely and drizzle the remaining glaze over the cake.

Lemon Glaze

1/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons lemon juice at room temperature

Cream the butter and slowly add powdered sugar and lemon juice. Beat well until the glaze is a creamy smooth consistency.Delicious!

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

It’s cold; it’s raining again, and the grey days have got me seeking comfort foods lately. I love a hot bowl of oatmeal for breakfast on a wintry morning and recently found this new-to-me twist on oatmeal online that shouted warm, cozy, and delicious and had the house smelling absolutely scrumptious! The recipe features nuts, oats, fruit and spices, is easily adaptable, and did not disappoint.

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt (or 1/2 teaspoon regular table salt)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cups milk of choice (almond milk, coconut milk, or cow’s milk all work)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons melted unsalted butter, or coconut oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ounces or 1 pint fresh fruit, divided (I used mixed berries)
  • 2 teaspoons raw sugar (optional)
  • Optional toppings for serving: yogurt, honey, whipped cream, fresh fruit or maple syrupInstructions:
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9 inch square baking dish. Once the oven has finished preheating, pour the nuts onto a rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 4 to 5 minutes, until fragrant.
  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine the oats, toasted nuts, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine.
  • In a smaller mixing bowl, combine the milk, maple syrup or honey, egg, half of the butter or coconut oil, and vanilla. Whisk until blended.
  • Reserve about 1/2 cup of the berries for topping the baked oatmeal, then arrange the remaining berries evenly over the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the fruit with the dry oat mixture, then drizzle the wet ingredients over the oats. Wiggle the baking dish to make sure the milk moves down through the oats, then gently pat down any dry oats resting on top.
  • Scatter the remaining berries across the top. Sprinkle the raw sugar on top  if you’d like some extra sweetness and crunch.
  • Bake for 42 to 47 minutes, until the top is nice and golden. Remove your baked oatmeal from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on top before serving.This makes such a warm and wholesome breakfast or snack anytime. Hope you enjoy it too.

A Gathering We Go

Setting off on a nature walk in our neighborhood with two of our very young grandchildren.

Look for things Mama will like and we’ll make her a birthday present out of them. If you see anything interesting lets take a clipping of it or pick it up and put it in our pockets.How bout this if it isn’t too pokey?

Yes, my love, what a good idea.Back at home we set all of our collected treasures out on a tray with some twine and a sturdy branch and  begin to select items to tie on to the branch.

That’s it; put your finger right there while I tie the knot. Thank you. Let’s do the next one too. That’s so helpful. Let’s see, a bit of moss, some pinecones, a magnolia cone, and what else? Of course, the turkey feather, the rose hips, some twigs, and the heart rock.  Those are all great choices! Where should we put the ribbons? Oh, Mama is sure to love this! What do you think?And here, hanging from a tree branch in their backyard, positioned right outside the kitchen window, is the nature mobile. I’m sure it brings a smile to her face and brightens her day each time my daughter in law looks out the window.Happy Birthday Danielle!