Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Here we are, a few days after National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, or National Zucchini Day for short. Yes, really! Did a kind hearted neighbor with a garden leave you any? Or maybe you’re up to your neck in zucchini from your own garden. If you’ve had your fill of grilling them, putting them in salads or making zucchini bread, here’s a favorite delicious snack cake to try.

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1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 3/4 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cups semi sweet morsels

4 Tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups grated zucchini

1/2 cup chopped nuts

In large mixing bowl, beat together butter, oil, and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and buttermilk.

In separate bowl, add dry ingredients; slowly beat the dry mixture into the wet mixture until incorporated. Add grated zucchini, semi sweet morsels and chopped nuts.

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Pour into a well greased and floured bundt pan.

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Bake 325 for 45-60 minutes.

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U.C. Davis Arboretum

Always free and always open, the U.C. Davis arboretum www.arboretum.ucdavis.edu boasts 100 acres of gardens along the banks of the old north channel of Putah Creek. As you walk, run or bicycle along the trails of the  three and a half mile loop, you’ll come across seventeen stunning garden collections and have ample opportunity for bird watching as well. Whether you’re strolling or moving at a fast pace, this jewel offers a wonderful chance to reconnect with nature.

Sunset magazine has included the U.C. Davis arboretum in the travel section on their website: sunset.com. Look for “15 beautiful botanical gardens: tour the west’s best blooming spaces from San Francisco to Salt Lake City.”

IMG_3509Here’s the shovel gateway arbor. An artist created this 16 foot tall gateway sculpture out of over 400 used shovels gathered from members of the community in 2013. IMG_3517

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IMG_4002Recently I spent a lovely morning at this peaceful retreat with my parents. We strolled along the paths together, admiring everything and learning about the more unusual specimens through the well placed information markers. It was most definitely time well spent.

 

Gift from the Heavens

The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.

~Ralph Waldo EmersonIMG_5066 IMG_4894

Isn’t it breath taking? Majestic and mysterious? Sometimes as I’m driving I can scarcely keep my eyes on the road and I have to find a place to pull over and just take it all in. The wonder. The sheer beauty. The magnitude. IMG_3554 IMG_4380 IMG_3557 IMG_3562 IMG_4475 IMG_3567Remember lying in the cool grass as a child and looking at the sky and the cloud formations? I could spend long periods of time searching the sky and finding turtles or unicorns. These days I still notice the sky throughout each day. On my walk with the dog first thing each morning. Looking out my second story office window at home. While  driving (of course, being careful to keep my eyes on the road too!). I see a lot of hearts within the cloud shapes. Not daily, but often. Did you notice them too in some of the photos above? Sweet messages from above. Nature’s awe inspiring glory blessing us. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Hummingbird

 

Look carefully in these two photos and you’ll see the camouflaged hummingbird in the midst of the alstroemeria!IMG_4343 IMG_4344

Hummingbird

magenta-green and white

carrier of light and wind

from the south you came singing

a high shrill whistle weighted with rain

everywhere you flew the grasses bowed in prayer

and a greenness came to the land as your song was heard

your wings rushed the clouds

to bring sweet wet seed from the skies

and everywhere you looked was singing.

 

~Harold Littlebird, Native American (Pueblo) poet

Charles Jensen Botanical Garden

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IMG_3765Nestled back a bit, but still right on busy Fair Oaks Boulevard in Carmichael, California lies a three and a half acre peaceful refuge called Charles Jensen Botanical Garden. Originally created in 1958 and now lovingly maintained by volunteers, it is a hidden gem. Lush garden beds are full of rhododendrons, azaleas, hydrangeas, dogwoods, and other shade loving plants, and every year one of the beds is planted with masses of tulips to greet visitors upon arrival. Paths invite you to meander around the park and benches are thoughtfully placed throughout.

This time of year in early August, it’s a tranquil, shady oasis, a perfect spot for reflection while strolling the paths or sitting on a bench. Come March and April though, the garden transforms, donning dazzling spring finery while the seasonal creek babbles.

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In any season, it’s a sanctuary to behold.

San Luis Obisbo Children’s Garden

Not long ago I had the good fortune to be visiting one of my favorite cities, San Luis Obisbo, along the central California coast. While there, I spent a relaxing morning at the beautiful Botanical Garden. It’s true, that during my travels, looking for interesting gardens to visit is always high on my priority list, but because of my background in the child development field, it’s impossible for me to hide my excitement when I come across a thoughtfully and well designed children’s garden, such as this. I loved strolling through the botanical gardens, but this was a surprise bonus!

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I wandered alone with a big smile on my face, wishing I had a couple of little ones with me to explore the alphabet soup garden, kitchen garden, the sensory garden, the herb spiral garden, and more.

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Look at the tree stumps painted to look like toad stools!

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A tree with low branches and even an invitation to climb. What child could possibly resist?

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This little fort is called the Oak Den Hideaway.

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Around the bend, I came across the Zoo Garden planted with Monkey Paws, Cat Mint, Lion’s Tail, etc.

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Oh, look at this Dig It Garden and all the tools!

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Why, there’s even a worm box to learn about vermiculture!

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Here’s the sensory garden. How many colors can you find? Can you find a plant that is fuzzy? How does that leaf smell? Can you describe the way lemon balm tastes? Oh, and listen… do you hear the birds overhead? It’s all here.IMG_3702

The entire garden is made up of useful and edible plants.IMG_3701Well, it goes without saying that this enchanting hands-on environment was created by people who know children very well. What a delightfully fun space for children to explore and experience nature and gardening!

Pesto

One of my favorite dinners in summer is pasta made with pesto and home grown cherry tomatoes. Simple, healthy and full of garden goodness, it is the epitome of the taste of summer. Here is the recipe ( found in Cooking Light magazine years ago) I use:

4 cups fresh basil leaves

2 pine nuts

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons butter, softened

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Combine the first five ingredients in a food processor; process until finely minced. Place in large bowl. Stir in grated cheese and softened butter.

 

IMG_5004I cook pasta according to directions, drain and add to the large bowl of pesto. Stir and then add in cherry tomatoes. Serve with sliced, grilled ciabatta bread. So delicious. So quick and easy. Dinner is served.

 

Pretty in Pink

The flowering shrubs and plants that I have in my garden are a palette of pinks, purples, blues, yellows and whites. For me, it’s a harmonious combination that works beautifully together. This morning while doing a bit of dead heading in the garden, I noticed the sea of pink flowers that are blooming right now. Come join me in a little walk so I can show you.

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As we step off the porch theses happy echinaceas greet us. The variety is Magnus. They are dazzling, yet hardy, with long lasting blooms. I am also loving my Green Jewel and Green Envy echinaceas that are also blooming right now, but I’ll show you those another time.

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To our left, this cleome is begging to be noticed. This is an annual in my foothills garden, but I love their bold, long lasting, fire-works blooms and so I plant them as seedlings in the spring, and look forward to their show throughout the summer season.

IMG_4521I wish I could remember the variety of this pink floribunda rose. I planted it at least fifteen years ago and it does well every year. It’s definitely a stunner.

IMG_4689Just look at this double blossom hollyhock showing off her pink, ruffled petticoats! Those petticoats were made for dancing. The hollyhock and the rose above are both in the same garden bed as the cleomes. Just beyond the hollyhock is Clematis Jackmanii.

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Further along the path in a shady area, this pink foxglove with her freckly throat peeks over the trellis. It’s late in the season for foxglove blooms; all of her sisters have already bloomed and have been cut back, but this one had an extra gift to give! And I thank her!

IMG_4682Now we’re back by the porch but on the other side. This ballerina variety of fuchsia lives in a pot in yet another shady area. Because it’s close to the house and in a pot, it’s protected from the snow and freezes we get. I cut it back each winter and by spring she’s ready to don her tutus and pirouette through another summer! The little garden stake in the pot was given to me by a dear friend, Sharleen, as I became a grandmother. Thanks for coming along with me. Enjoy your day.