Thursday, August 28, 2008

it's an itchy jungle out there

I've nicknamed the Handyman's giant pumpkin plant Gertrude.

It's not a common name. I like it. And the giant pumpkin is not a common pumpkin.

Or maybe it is. But what I look at in the middle of the handyman's yard seems anything but common. It's giant. It's graceful. And it looks like it will eat me if I fall asleep in the yard on an especially sunny afternoon. On a cloudy one she might just nibble at my elbow, but if it's sunny, this tasty morsel is heading inside for naptime.

When I am brave enough to venture among her vines and look for new pumpkins, I can't help but think that there is a delicate fairy world waiting underneath those serving platter leaves that are poised perfectly parallel above the ground.

It makes me wish I were three years old and small enough to spend the afternoons crawling around under there. And then I remember that pumpkins really are itchy. And that Gertrude might eat me.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

a delicious bonus

After I wrote that post on the Front Yard Idea Book, I had one of those rare moments when I remembered something I'd forgotten long ago...

While reading through gardening blogs, I found a review someone had written on a garden plan book.  The blogger gave the book rave reviews, and I made a mental note to go back and check out the book.  I put the blog on my iGoogle waited until I was heading to the public library to find the book.

By then, my iGoogle was full of garden blogs, and there were new posts on each of the blogs.  I clicked on several and tried to search archives and "book" or "review" tags, but I never found the book.  

I won't be making that mistake again.  If you've never checked out Delicious, you should go there right now.  I've got tags for recipes that I stumble across, book reviews for books I want to read, and, yes, even a few ideas for my yard-to-garden conversion.  Now my bookmark tool bar isn't cluttered with things I need to read when I have time to read them.  And, the organizational system is so easy - I type in notes on the bookmark when I make the bookmark. 

So, I just now remembered that book that I may never find.  I should have known better than to make a mental note - my brain space is cluttered with thousands of those mental notes, and it's rare that the post-it ends up on top of the pile when I need it.  Since I just remembered it, I thought I would pass this along.  I heard of Delicious months ago, but until I started pouring through blogs, I never had a need for it.

front yard idea book

I've been hanging at the public library these days.  And at the Barnes and Noble.  And at the Book Exchange.  (The last two have great coffee shops so I spend more time there.  The public library's coffee shop never seems to be open when I'm there, but once I get their schedule figured out... well, they'll move up in the world.)

So, at all of these fine establishments, I've sat and drank coffee and poured over garden plan books, and I just hadn't found anything worth taking home.

I was learning a few things here and there, but I was also discovering that my caffeine tolerance was heightened while reading garden plan books.  Yes, caffeine had almost no effect on me whehn reading the very academic discourse on the concepts of design and geometric theories that influence garden layout/arrangements.   I know there is an art to all of this and that professionals spend a lifetime immersed in those theories to produce award winning garden designs.

But I don't want an award winning garden design.  And I don't want to be caught sleeping in the Barnes and Noble.

I do want a garden that looks good.  Something that is planned and intentional.  Something that makes my neighbors feel good when they glance out their window while they drink their coffee and read the morning paper.  Something that makes the mailwoman smile when she walks up my sidewalk to drop letters by my front door.  Something that relaxes me when I look out my office window.

So, I needed a plan.  I'm figuring out Sketchup for building my plan, but I needed some help on figuring out what to put in my plan.  And then I found Jeni Webber's Front Yard Idea Book at the Book Exchange for a whopping $10.  Okay, the Handyman found it.  

The Front Yard Idea Book is published by Taunton, who also publishes the Handyman's favorite periodicals: Fine Woodworking and Fine Homebuilding.

The best thing that Webber' book has going for it is it's organization.   Well, and photos.  I'm a sucker for a pretty pictures.   But, the organization is delightfully geared for someone with a limited attention span.  Each section addresses a different element commonly used in front yards: paths and steps, ground covers, lighting, driveways and parking, etc.   It's easy to pick and choose the elements most pertinent to my project.

I think the most useful chapter for me so far has been the one on foundation plantings.  After checking out the photographs in that section, I realized that my house is a lady without a skirt.  The foundation is exposed, and while it's not unsightly on it's own, there's potential for great improvement.  Weber gives advice based on several architectural and cultural cues, and there are short checklists to help influence the selection of plants based on their size, shape and texture.  

While I know that paying a professional would produce results leagues beyond what I can do on my own, I'm excited to jump into this.  There's something adventurous about attempting to take out all or most of one's lawn, and I think I'll be referencing Weber every step of the way. 

But, I'm, by no means, a one-book-woman.  If there are more to check out, let me know.  The more ideas the better!

And, since I mentioned I'm a sucker for pretty pictures, I thought I'd share this website I found on making great garden photographs.  A quick skim gave some good tips, but I need to head back there and check it out a little more.  (Okay, okay, the Handyman found it.  One day he's going to take over this blog...)

Friday, August 22, 2008

zucchini muffin streusel

I looked EVERYWHERE for a zucchini bread recipe that included streusel.  

I'm sure I'll get several comments after I post this, and those comments will point me in all the directions I failed to look - but I say BRING IT ON!!!  Because, as it turns out, zucchini bread goes great with streusel. 

We could always use more recipes with zucchini and streusel.

After coming up empty-handed on the zucchini-with-streusal combo from my impatient internet search, I decided to find a streusel recipe and just dump it on top of a muffin recipe.

I had considered an old standby Moosewood (Mollie Katzen) recipe, but I wanted to try something a little different.  I searched and searched and finally ended up at Elise's.  

I have no idea who Elise is.  I have no idea what her credentials are.  I can't even say that I know we'd be fast friends.  But I can say I'd attend any party she hosted.  And I can say that I really need to start my searches there instead of  Her coffee ice cream recipe and her pumpkin ice cream recipe were both absolutely fantastic.  I've tried something other than that, but it's not coming to mind.  It's late.  And it's finally Friday.  The brain gave up on me hours ago.

So, I made the muffins with this recipe.  And by the way, if you run out of batter, like I did, pour water in the last muffin cup.  It'll keep your short-changed muffin pans baking at the same speed as your full muffin tins.  That's a tip from Mama P.  I've made up the reason why, but I always used to see her do it.  She's on vacation in Alaska right now or I'd ask.  We're on our own.

I made the streusel with a random streusel recipe that called for brown sugar, flour, and butter.  Note to self: add nuts next time.  The sugar concoction is delicious, but I like nuts.  And I think I'd like nuts in any streusel recipe.  Some called for it, yet I picked a recipe that had brown sugar instead of white sugar.... and no nuts. 

Lastly, if you're mistaken like me and think streusel needs to be added halfway through baking... think again.  Throw it on before you put the muffins in to bake.  I've got a trail of crispity-crunchity sweetness left around me everytime I pick one up to eat.  While I'm no neatnik, I like to leave my over-indulgence evidence to a minimum.  Streusel just won't stick to the muffin well if it doesn't go on early.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

what has she been doing?

I feel like it's been ages since I've tackled any projects in the garden or recipes in the kitchen.

I've been occupied trying to navigate SketchUp and trying to emulate Scott Kelby.  Neither are going exceptionally well, but I won't be easily deterred.   I might, however, lose a bit of hair and sanity.  I hear both are overrated.

Oh yeah, and then there's that pesky job thing that also takes up time.  Also overrated, though the paycheck is not.

More projects and progress to report later...

For now, have a pepper.

amy butler birdie sling bag

Or, "the bag that my totally cool mom made for me."

Or, "the bag that I found on African Kelli's blog that I absolutely adored." (and another...)

Or, "Emma's pillow."

I set the bag on the couch after ogling it for the longest time.  I went back to work, and Emma-Lou must have thought, "Hey, that looks comfy!"   Judging by all the places I've found her sleeping, I might just have to take that back.  EVERYthing looks comfy to her.  

So, the story behind the bag is that I saw it on African Kelli's blog.  I emailed my mom and said that she had to go take a look at the bag.  My mom immediately called me up to say that she'd had the pattern on hand for a little while, but she hadn't had a reason to get started on it yet.  But she wanted one.... a reason to make the bag.  Not the bag itself.

I have the most generous mama in the whole wide world.  I picked out the fabric, sent it to her, and she made me this AWESOME BAG which holds EVERYTHING and even has my name in it.  (Or, her nickname for me.  My mama sure does love the embroidering machine, but that's a story for another post.)

The only kicker is that now she says when she visits, I have to make one myself.... Reason says to start with some simple totes instead of this fancy sling, but I have a feeling reason will kick in when we sit down and remember why sewing machine lessons never went far - I'm a terrible sew student!

But I do like this bag, and would be tickled if I really could learn enough to make another myself (so I could pass on the sew love, too).  It's got these great pockets inside, and I can even manage to squeeze my computer in there.

And, of course, Emma's given her approval....

Even if she's the one thing that won't fit in the bag.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

an anatomy lesson in progress

In less than a week, I've gone from clinging to the hope that I still have some kind of dietary ideals to a pack of tasty snausages to 70 pounds of meat on my kitchen counter.  That was some slippery slope. 

(It's totally childish and inappropriate, but I love to say, "snausages" instead of "sausages."  It gives you the opportunity to put some serious emphasis on the first syllable.  Because sausage needs emphasis.  It's that good.  And it's been that long for me.)

Even though I would tell strangers I was a vegetarian, I had absolutely no intention of leading them or myself astray.  I ate meat.  I eat meat.  But saying I was a vegetarian was so much easier than the more accurate: "I'm a picky eater."  The list had just gotten too long... fish, deer, elk, any game really.  

And now bison.

Seventy pounds of bison.  Soon to be ninety when the snausage shows up on Saturday at the market.  That's a quarter of a bison if you're wondering.

So now that bison has made the list, I wonder, what can I call myself now?  

Is there a name for someone who won't-eat-commercially-farmed-meat-except-bison-and-some-fish-that's-commercially-farmed-but-wild-is-preferred?  That one's hefty write-in on the wedding RSVP card which says, "chicken or fish?"  And that's one heck of a mouthful to say to your parents when you come home to visit.  And that's one serious way to waste time on a Tuesday morning - why do I care what I'm called?

Because even though they are dangerous, labels are nice.  They're convenient.  They release us from the pressure of constantly having to explain ourselves or constantly having to look at how complex issues really are. 

I suppose it's obvious: meat, for me, is really complex.

Not only is the struggle to find myself a new category to nestle my eating habits into quite complicated, but all these packages are a bit of a mystery to me.  I recognize words like "t-bone" and "steak" (sometimes used on the same package which is delightfully familiar), but there are other words that don't register at all in my mind.  

Roast is a very common word.  Quintessential American fare.  "Honey, we're having roast for dinner!" could come out of any sitcom I watched as a child.  But I'm as unfamiliar with that territory as I am with my new name.  And coming up with a new word to accompany vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc, seems so much easier to me right now.

This should be an exciting winter.  I suspect Emma-Lou will appreciate all the mistakes that are on the way with this growing mound meat in my life.  (Let's hope the Handyman is a good teacher in something besides plant ecology...)  "Fire up the grill, honey!"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

some eggplant and advice

Just a quick note with part of today's harvest.  The zukes are doing well.  The summer squash is absolutely fantastic.  Tomatoes could use a little more heat.  But these guys.... man, they make my heart swell.  I'm so excited.  Picked three today, and there are several more that seemed to pop up overnight (we camped out at a wedding on the river last night - I think those eggplant wanted to surprise us!)

By the way, if any of you have children, or might have children, or just happen to be in the position of toasting someone at a wedding (your child or not), it is NOT appropriate to go on and on about how many people the groom has dated or how many women "auditioned for the role" before the bride came along. Nope. Not appropriate. Don't do it. Even if you have the best intentions. Just my opinion...

Friday, August 15, 2008

pepper belles

These ladies are quite impressive.

There's not much foliage on those plants, at least compared to the Handyman's pepper plants.  And yet, my belles get bigger and bigger.

Everytime I leave the house, I pass by the raised beds.  Everytime I leave the house, I see those belles, and I attempt to will more leaves into existence.

Because in my mind, more leaves means a stronger plant.  Which is silly.

Because those peppers are doing just fine. Heavy foliage does not make a strong stem, and that's my biggest worry. How can those plants hold all those lovely belles up?

Tis a mystery.  I just know that they do.  And that they're beautiful.  And that I will eat them soon.  

Thursday, August 14, 2008

why hang tomatoes upside down from buckets?

Well, since you asked...

There are several reasons.

For starters, there are no weeds.    

At this point in the sales pitch from the Handyman, I was sold.  No weeds sounds fantastic, doesn't it? 

The downside to that is that you're going to have to hang your buckets somewhere, and somewhere needs to be sturdy enough to hold a bucket of dirt, water, and some big, juicy, tomatoes.  Somewhere will need some extra work to make sure that your tomatoes don't rip a a tiny corner off of your house or tip a post over onto your prized roses. 

So you won't be spending time weeding or mulching, but you're going to have to get out some tools to secure those suckers.

How big a bucket should you use? We use 3 gallon buckets. An autopsy of last years buckets (same size) revealed that the roots barely take up a quarter of the space. I have no idea if you'd be better off going bigger or smaller, but we're digging the size we use.

This year there are TWO plants in each bucket.  The Handyman has all patio princesses, and I've got four princesses, two gardeners delight, a tumbling tom, and a yellow pear. 

To be honest, the jury's still out on the princesses.  Those gals aren't the leggy beauties that the others have become.  Their fruit is still mostly green, and the Handyman thinks that maybe they're not for such a northern latitude. (The princess is in the above picture on the right.)
Their fruit, though, is much bigger than we expected.  So while there are many more cherries on the others, these princesses are putting out plump, bigger-than-golf-ball-sized tomatoes. 

We'll need 'em big because we've got 36 health kick hybrids in the community garden plots that are struggling to turn red, too, and my little heart is set on some sauce.

Okay, but I digress.  We're talking benefits of hanging your tomatoes.  How about I just list them?

1) No weeds
2) Harvest at chest height; no bending over
3) Increased air flow
4) Fewer critters to climb up and snack on your beauties
5) Makes more space in your garden for other things, especially in raised beds.

The best reason I can give for hanging your tomatoes (or any other vegetable) is that it's fun.  It's gardening up in the air where you usually don't garden.  Hanging veggie buckets make people do a double-take when they stroll by your yard in the evening, expecting to see petunias or osteospermum or lobelia trailing down from up high.

Sorry, but this is where the photo shoot ended. I started eating, and before I knew it, all the red ones were in my belly.  Upside-down or right-side up, they do all taste the same!

Though much of the information in this post has been mentioned in the earlier ones, there are other posts on upside down tomatoes - with different pictures.  There's even a step-by-step of one way to put your buckets together.  Just click the button on the right, and you'll get a list of 'em!  If you've got something hanging in your garden, do comment so everyone can go see your pictures!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

off the wagon

Kassidy, you've gone and kicked me off the wagon.   The meat wagon.  Or the no-meat wagon.  I'm not good with common expressions.  Whatever wagon it was, I've probably fallen off it now.


Yes, the world of Daisy's eating habits is quite complex.  It started a long, long time ago in a far-away place called college.  There was a boy.  He was cute.  And he was a vegetarian. 

For the first time, I will go public (thanks to this thing we call "the internet"), and admit that I stopped eating meat because that cute boy didn't eat meat.  I came up with all these reasons of environmental and physical and spiritual health, but let's be real.  That boy was awfully cute. 

Cute.  Not handsome... Like my Handyman.  He's the handsomest.

Back to me though.  I stopped eating meat.  And yes, I dated the boy, but by then he was back off the wagon... or on the wagon... whatever.  He was a regular at South Carolina's hottest BBQ places.  But I held strong.  

I don't actually know why.  While I didn't have a good reason to stop eating meat, there really wasn't a good reason to start eating meat again.  So I didn't.  For a year, I refrained from ingesting all the fantastic meat this world offers.  Like Domino's pepperoni pizza.  Or Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich.  For a month I was a grilled-cheese-french-fry vegetarian, and then something strange happened.  I craved salad.

Yep, you read right.  I craved salad.  Never ate it as a child, and it goes without saying that I had not eaten it since escaping to college.

Then, something even weirder happened.  I craved seafood.  Tuna, salmon, halibut - the whole gang.  And, the only thing I hated more as a child than salad was seafood.  So, I figured that I would put a foot down from, or up on, the wagon and have some fish. 

Fish was good.  Fish was a gateway meat.

Then a few years later while being exposed to basic theories of land management and game control, I realized that I could get behind eating a little bit of wildlife.  Yep, not only did Bambi and Daffy end up on my plate, but so did some elk.  Cue the drool.

My first elk was killed by a friend and hung in my garage during my first winter in Montana.  Those were some serious firsts.  It was seriously cold, and that elk was a seriously large, dead animal.  For that week when the elk hung in my garage, I went without anything I thought I might need from the garage.  I'd tried to go in once but couldn't make it past the elk without bumping it... which make it swing... which animated it in a way I found creepy.  

That elk was not commercially farmed.  

All of the elk you can legally hunt (and this one was legal) comes from well-regulated herds.  I had listened to plenty of stories of old timers relaying what happens when ungulate herd numbers get too high and out-eat their food sources in the winter.  It's heartbreaking, and while I'd rather have natural predators back on the landscape, I'll settle for what will work until a better solution is found.  And that is hunting.

So that friend, along with many fire fighting coworkers, provided all the rest of the elk I ate.

Until recently.  As most of you know, Kassidy house sat while the Handyman and I ventured down the Grand Canyon.  And after she'd gone back to the Wyoming sheep ranch she calls home, she left a few unmarked packages in the freezer.  Some unmarked packages that the Handyman got ahold of.  Some unmarked packages that the Handyman grilled. (Without the packing, of course.)

While I'm baring my soul (see reason for becoming a vegetarian above), I must admit, those elk sausages were really good.  They were so good that I'm suspicious of my wagon status.  I could be on.  I could be off.  You see, there was probably some farmed animal hanging out with the elk in that sausage.  It could have been Wilbur or Babe or Porky... or even cute little Piggly Wiggly that used to live near my grandmother's house.  Somebody was hanging out with Mr. Elk in that delicious, tasty, mouth-watering snausage.  And my last stand on the meat front, my last toe-hold on the wagon's edge, was to boycott farmed meat.  

Am I weak?  Am I terrible?  I have no plans to go get that Wendy's spicy chicken sandwich or even buy commercial meat from the supermarket (the former being the greater temptation.)  But, I do like to think that even though I can't be perfect, I can make small efforts in my life that will impact the greater good in a positive way.  I think if we use animals as a food source, they should be treated in a respectful way.  Farmland is better than a strip mall, but there are serious environmental issues with pig farms and other meat-producing practices in some states.   And I think, in some cases, meat really isn't good for us.  After all, sausage has quite the reputation. (And just in case anyone suggests it, I've read Diet for a New America, Fast Food Nation, and I'm working on a few of Michael Pollan's.  Truly eye-opening.)

What are your thoughts?  What wagon are you on?  Would you eat some juicy, grilled, leaner-than-lean and lightly-spiced elk sausage?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

hand pollinating

Have I mentioned I'm not a science person? Or even really a gardening person?

I'm more of a learn-as-I-go type person. And today, I learned about boy flowers and girl flowers.

Yes, most of you covered this in middle school science classes, but I have blocked anything relating to chemistry, physics, or biology completely out of my mind.

I needed that memory space for things far more important than the difference between boy and girl flowers.... things like who Jennifer Aniston is dating now. And what Angelina and Brad named their twins. You know, the important stuff.

But when it comes to that Handyman, I make room for all kinds of random information. Mostly because he insists on talking to me as though I understand what he's actually saying.

Radioactive ions and knapweed. Hubbel and neutral theory. The effective application of latin squares when devising an experimental plot layout. Alleopathy... Endophytes...Augh! I can feel my brain on the brink of explosion. Wait, was it Jessica Simpson that had a nose job or her sister?

Oh no! The important stuff is getting blurry and fading...

And now in my brain I have two images that did not come out of People or US magazines. Above: boy flower. Below: girl flower.

That's it for Hand-Pollinating 101.