Saturday, September 27, 2014

Beautiful Paper Wasp Nests

Every year we find a paper wasp nest somewhere on our property.  Not the wasps I wrote about in August.

These paper wasps like to build a nest under something.  Sometimes they are called umbrella wasps.  One of the first years we were here, they built a nest under a metal squirrel guard  It was a beautiful sight to watch it develop, as long as we kept our distance.

This is in the middle of the summer.

A few weeks later they had covered the whole top and were working down the pole.

Sometime they try to build under the deck or the house overhang.  We take them down before they get too big.  We don't want something like this forming any place close to where we sit outside.

Then a couple years ago in the fall, we needed to cut firewood and trim branches.  Our son in law spotted a large paper wasp nest up in a pine tree.  We had frost by that time so it was safe to take down the nest.  Paper wasp males and unmated females die when weather gets cold.  The queen hibernates somewhere until spring and then starts a new nest.  It is so interesting to see how they secure the nest around the tree branches.

Thinking about these past nests brings me to today.  I was walking out to the edge of our property where we have our compost pile.  My grandson told me there was a bee nest out there, but I really didn't pay much attention.  I just told him to stay away.  I should have listened to my own advice.  I had to check it out.  It was so amazing and perfect.  We had removed the birdfeeder from this spot but left the squirrel guard.  It was a great spot for the paper wasps to build a nest.

I was admiring how this nest was constructed and how beautiful it was.  I guess I got too close.  These wasps aren't aggressive unless they are bothered.  They defend each other and their nest with a vengeance.  Boom!  They got me on my camera trigger finger.  I dropped the camera but got a shot.  It's out of focus but you can see how many wasps came out of the hole in seconds.

I'm just lucky I didn't get stung more.  I will be leaving them alone, that's for sure.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Chicken Scratch Vintage Antiques

I like to write about local points of interest.  We don't have a lot of commercial type big box stores out here in the less populated areas of south central Wisconsin.  What we do have is wonderful little stores and shops carrying very unique items.  I wrote about Saving Grace in Berlin, Wisconsin about a year ago 

Last Saturday my daughter and I discovered another similar place on a smaller scale.  It is called Chicken Scratch.  It is named this because it has beautiful unusual looking chickens running around.  It is a newly opened business and is only open every other weekend.  It sells items that are old and vintage.  Some of the merchandise are items that all of us have thrown out.   People were flocking to this sale and walking out with all kinds of old unique items. 

Most of you know that I knit a lot of socks.  I love to block them with wooden sock blockers.  I have a few, but I found another one at Chicken Scratch.  It is for a very large foot (maybe Big Foot), but I love to imagine how many socks were dried on these items.  I usually use the smaller ones for my socks.

Second from the left is my new sock blocker. 

I also bought this pottery plate.

If you are interested in more pictures and information, they have a Facebook page.  You can see some of the unique items they have to decorate your home, porch and yards.  You can also stay updated on dates and times of the many fall and holiday sale events they have planned.

In fact, their next sale is Friday Oct 3rd and Sat Oct 4th 10 - 5.  The City of Berlin, Wisconsin is hosting a Pumpkins on the Petunias event downtown so there will be a lot to do.  

Chicken Scratch is located at:

N217 Hwy 49
Berlin, WI
(920) 361- 3887

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Scented Pine Cones

Fall is officially here.  It's time to think of all the fun decorations we can make.   I love all the fall scents from pumpkin pie to apples and cinnamon.  This is the time of year when there are pine cones all over the ground.  I like to use them for decorations.  I make wreaths, I hang them on the Christmas tree and anything else I can think of.  I usually fill a bowl of scented cones to put on the table.

I recently saw a bag of scented pine cones in a store for $6.99.  You can make your own for pennies.  The first thing you do is gather as many pine cones as you wish.  If you don't have any in your neighborhood, go to a park or walking trail if possible.  There will be more than you will need.  Worse case, you can buy them.  Plain cones cost less than the scented ones.  Shake off the pine straw, and place the cones in a tub of water.  You can use a pail, a tub or even the kitchen sink.  Let them soak for an hour or two.  I forgot and soaked mine overnight.  This process cleans the dirt off and they close up.  Next you set the oven for 200 degrees.  It can be a little higher but not high enough to burn the cones.  Place the wet cones on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil.  The foil is important because as the cones dry some sticky sap is released, and that could mess up your baking sheet. 

Stick the cones in the oven.  Bake them until the cones open up again.  It could take an hour or even three hours depending how much drying needs to be done.  Keep an eye on them and when they have completely opened up, take them out of the oven.

Let them cool.  Now put them in a plastic ziplock bag.  At this stage you can use any scent you like.  I sprinkled them with cinnamon and cloves, and then I put several drops of an apple cider fragrance oil in the bag.  Any essential oil would work.  The last thing to do is shake the bag a few times, and seal up the bag.  Wait at least two weeks.  The scents will have permeated the cones by this time.  When the time is right, open up the bag and use the cones for any decoration.  They smell so good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banana Bread Bars

This is a recipe making the rounds on Facebook.  It is a good way to use up over ripe bananas.  If I see a bag of over ripe bananas at the grocery store, they are usually marked way down.  I buy them and put them in the freezer.  I use them in smoothies and recipes.  It adds great sweetness without as much additional sugar.  You can either freeze them with the peel on or peel them and freeze in a freezer bag.  They need to thaw for a bit to get the peel off if you choose that method.  Banana bars usually have cream cheese frosting, but this brown butter frosting is delicious.

Banana Bread Bars

1-1/2 c. sugar
1 c. sour cream
1/2 c. butter, softened
2 eggs
1-3/4 (3 or 4) ripe bananas, mashed
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Brown Butter Frosting:
1/2 c. butter
4 c. powdered sugar
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. milk

1.  Heat oven to 375F.  Grease and flour 15x10-inch jelly roll pan.  For the bars, in a large bowl, beat together sugar, sour cream, butter, and eggs until creamy.  Blend inbananas and vanilla extract.  Add flour, baking soda, salt, and blend for 1 minute.  Stir in walnuts.

2.  Spread batter evenly into pan.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

3.  Meanwhile, for frosting, heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until boiling.  Let the butter turn a delicate brown and remove from heat immediately.

4.  Add powdered sugar, vanilla extract and milk.  Whisk together until smooth (it should be thicker than a glaze but thinner than frosting).  Using a spatula, spread the brown butter frosting over the warm bars (the frosting will be easier to spread while the bars are still warm).

Yield: 2 dozen large bars

P.S.  Did you know that if you peel a banana upside down away from the stem, you won't get the strings?