Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Black Widow, Black Mission, Black Coffee

Espresso maker

The big presentation is over and I am taking an easy day before I start to catch up on everything else.  Burnout is more of an issue in my life these days.  Not exactly sure why that is.  Perhaps it has to do with being able to focus more intently for longer periods of time.  So after a project, I need some reboot time.  Or maybe it is just that I am older and tired, or maybe both.  Another one of those many things that I don't know.  But I do know, too much study makes me really unable to get on with things.  A break is good!

I consider blogging more of a relaxing activity, but trying to post regularly takes some effort.  That is why caffeine can be my friend.  For a one shot approach, I use the Krups garage sale espresso maker.
Repainted metal kitchen tray cart

This coffee maker was part of a thirty dollar deal that I purchased from a sale a couple of miles from my house.  The Husband and I pulled out a stack of stuff- an old maple dresser, a couple of metal kitchen carts, two step stools, a gate, and many other items.

I repainted one of the carts and use it as a plant stand/end table.  My daughter is using the dresser in my grandson's room.  I use both of the step stools and we use the gate on the garden.  And of course the Krups, when I want one cup not a whole pot.  I find that you get some great deals if you are willing to buy a pile at once.  Of course loading and dragging home said pile was not as fun, but the dresser for the grandson was easily worth the price and the rest was essentially free.

Fall mustard greens
The garden continues.  The orchard is struggling. A strong wind broke one of the plum trees in half.  The blackberries are doing great.  My Black Mission figs are fruiting and are yummmmy!  It is hard to get new seed up for the fall crops (lettuce, radish, etc.) because it is just so hot and dry.

I had to kill a large Black Widow Spider in the garden today.   It had made its home in a concrete block and I saw it the other day and was going to let it live.  But, it started building its web onto one of the figs and I am not willing to shell out a large deductible for the ER if I can easily avoid it.

Whenever you water here in the hot summer time, Black Widows are attracted to the area.  They especially seek some type of crevice where they can hide and nest.  I try to give predators as much of a chance as I think I can.  I know enough ecology to know that natural systems need natural predators and spiders aren't vegetarians.

Black Mission figs and spider's web

I have heard we have a bear nearby.  I have been watching, thinking I might see it, but so far no dice.  I will keep looking.  Hope it doesn't mistake me and the Ruckus for some sort of tasty venison option.  Seriously, seeing one would make me a little nervous, but I am sure it wouldn't try to do me any harm.   I know I am in much greater danger from all the deer hanging out along the back roads and the neighborhood dogs that view me as some kind of track and field event when I am on the Ruckus.

Well, the dog days of summer will be over soon, and that is okay with me.  I have enjoyed most of it, but it is time to move on to new things.  I am glad that each day and each season has its "new mercies".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Office Space 2

Library meeting rooms
This week has been taken up with preparing a presentation for next week. I have a Business Partner and we are looking forward to our first paying gig. She has a degree that pairs up well with mine and a great personal work ethic, so we are creating seminars in our respective specialities and dreaming big dreams. For hours of intense prep work we meet up at the local university's library. This serves as our centrally located meeting place; Internet available, great parking, clean, convenient, air conditioning ( a lot cooler than my 81F degree house.

They are a little strict about bringing in snacks and cell phones, but for free, it is a pretty good deal. There are plenty of coffee spots and eateries nearby. We have our pick of reference books and journals. They also have a shelf that is labelled “New” and there are all kinds of great new publications in my field that all cost about $30 each at Amazon.
Cushy second-floor reading area

We have only begun to scratch the surface of the resources available at this office space. On the second floor, there are little rooms that are never all filled and we can practice our presentations aloud to our hearts content. There are lounging areas where you can sit and read comfortably, or even doze if you are hardcore.

This strategy works well. It gets me out of my house, lets me be my introverted self in a cubicle or corner alone and gives me the freedom to hang out, plan, and practice with the Business Partner. The place is huge and the second and third floors are basically empty except for a few offices. Can you repeat after me, “Yes, thank you!”.

Salad and cheese dip & chips
Another thing that continues to work well is the salad after gardening luncheon (see previous salad post). Today I added home-made cheese dip. I made my salsa and I love it. It might be a little vinegary and sweet for some, but I really like it. I made a cream sauce, added cheddar cheese and then added a ton of cumin and a generous amount of salsa and served up with tortilla chips. Wow, it was that good. I wouldn't kid you about something like that.

So many of the joys and satisfactions of life are the result of the blessings available and the intentionality to make the effort to enjoy them. You are worth it, life is worth it. Bon Appetit!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Cheapso Eatsos

Red Beans on Corn Tortilla
After a quick visit to the Pope County Farmer's Market to round out my salsa making supplies it was time to eat lunch.  Yesterday I soaked half a bag of red beans and last night I cooked them.  I am talking about small red beans, not red kidney beans.  They taste completely different, and the kidney beans are probably my least favourite, so make sure you use the right one. 

Thanks go out to my friends Carolyn and Byron T. who introduced me to Cajun food and red beans.  That's where I got first hand instruction in the art of roux making.  Prior to that I thought that pintos or great northern beans were the go to bean for most cooking occasions.  I love them all, but I have a fond spot for the small red bean.

So lunch was a corn tortilla covered in beans with some cheese melted on top.  After heating, this layer was covered with sour cream, sliced peppers- hot and mild, onion, tomato and cilantro.  Just about perfect if I do say so myself.  The crazy thing is that it is so cheap, delicious and versatile.  It is completely customizable; it can be gluten-free, dairy free, meat free... you pick. It probably costs less than a quarter to make one, depending on how much stuff you have to buy and how fancy you make it.  If you need to cut the grocery bill here is a good bet.  Most of the ingredients don't spoil quickly either, you don't have to eat everything at once (unless you just want to).  South of the border eating is good stuff and we have lots of yummy options around.

Banana tree with flower and fruits
A more exotic item I saw this week was a banana tree in bloom with small bananas.  This is at a salon in town and is the first I have seen  fruiting outdoors in my town.  We have to dig up and store banana plants over the winter here in zone seven so not that many people give them a serious try.  One of the auto mechanics in town has a huge lemon tree in a stock tub that he rolls out for the summer and back into the garage for the winter.  It produces lots of lemons and seems to enjoy the CO and other gases from the garage.

To mix a metaphor, a thing of beauty is outside the box.  We all need to challenge some limitations by thinking outside the box, what do I want to try to do that I don't see around town  very often?  We also need to appreciate the wholesome, simple spectacular, that thing we can make, improve and add too.  The wise and well-lived life has room for both.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hondas and a BLT

2011 Honda Ruckus
Blogging is having to take a back seat.  Not only has life been busy but I have discovered a new passion.  I have purchased a used 2011 Honda Ruckus.

In high school I dated a guy who had a motorcycle and we rode around on it a lot.  I liked it, but he never offered to let me learn and I never thought to ask.  My cousin had a motorcycle and rode me around on it and let me try to drive it.  I promptly  crashed into a pile of rusty stacked tomato cages and spent the day after that catching up on my tetanus and antibiotic shots for the  blood poisoning streaks that were radiating up my ankle and into my foot and putting antibiotic cream on my muffler burn.  Fast forward thirty-five years.

The Co-gardener took me and another friend (Steve, father of the Frankenmato, see previous blogs) to a large, grassy field and let us practice riding his smallish motorcycle.  I was terrible at it but I did it and it remains one of my favourite accomplishments (after grad school and grandchildren) of my 50's so far.  So I have been tooling up and down dirt roads and pastures gaining confidence.  I would like to take advantage of that ninety MPG if possible but mostly I think it will be used for going back and forth to the garden from our house.   

The garden also picked up speed with the rain and short break in hot temperatures.  I am almost caught up with my tomato canning. 
I will try to finish up with salsa.

I have decided to create a new summer ritual. 
I will call it the BLT extravaganza.  Pile lots of bacon on bread or a roll, add condiment of choice and lettuce and top with an incredibly ripe tomato and consume while holding a dish towel under your chin.  Bocadillo rolls work well, they seem to do a good job of holding mayo and mustard and soaking up the excess tomato juice.

Life can have the rituals and it can have some new stuff too.  It makes things a lot tastier and more exciting.  If you see someone who looks like me top-ending it at forty MPH on the highway, please drive carefully and pass cautiously.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sauce City

Sauce just starting and almost ready

Gradually, I am working my way through the tomatoey abundance. This wasn't the best year, but it wasn't the worst year by any means. I am busily canning up tomatoes, and tomato juice, and tomato sauce/spaghetti sauce.

This year produced some of the biggest tomatoes ever (see previous post about Big Rainbow and Salads). I have had lots of nice uniform ripe tomatoes with very little sickness. Some of them scorched in the sun after the grasshoppers and blister beetles ate too much of the foliage away, but that has been it for problems. Not too many hornworms, no blossom end rot, and no blight; a good year.

Grasshopper gnawed tomatoes
I have started bringing the tomatoes to the house to ripen after they start to turn pink. I got tired of finding grasshoppers gnawing on them. Don't know why I never caught on to this before.

Balsamic Vinegar
I have discovered the joy of balsamic vinegar in my spaghetti sauce. For years I have tried to match my childhood memories of the spaghetti sauce from “The Villa Restaurant” in Little Rock. I looked at lots of recipes and couldn't figure out what was missing. Now balsamic may not be their additive, but it matches the taste I remember and I love it.

Finished canned sauce
Another aberration of mine is refusal to peel the tomatoes. I figure it makes the difference between whether I get to can the stuff or not. If I have to peel all those tomatoes, probably not. The peel is healthy, we can eat it. If no one else likes it, too bad, I do, and will eat it myself.

 Right now there are several pots simmering away on the stove. When the water is boiling I will fill my jars and put them in to process. The Ball Canning Guide (you can find it in Wmart next to the canning supplies) gives a really clear how-to if you want to try it and are unsure. Better yet, ask someone you know who cans to let you help so you can see how it is done. That community thing. 

 Canning tomatoes isn't scary or dangerous and is very satisfying. Once you get canning jars it is pretty cost effective. It is easy to find free or cheap jars; ask around, lots of people get rid of them. Canning will heat up your kitchen and it does take up some space. But, when you are done you have beautiful, glowing jewel-like jars of tomatoes on your shelves. Just another step in doing it for ourselves.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Heat Lovers in Zone Seven

White Queen caladiums and begonias
Has the sun scorched your flowerbed or garden?  Are your spring flowers gone and you need a color pick-me-up? Here are some flowers that love the heat and it is HOT here in our Zone Seven plantings.

I have mentioned caladiums and begonias several times before in previous blogs, but it bears repeating.  These are go-to shade loving plants for hot weather.  You provide the water and the fertilizer and they will provide the blooms.

Lantana is a reliable bloom that will flower until frost.  It comes in shades of white, purple, orange, yellow and pink.  Butterflies adore it. What's not to love?  If you are lucky and have a protected spot here it will come back next year from its perennial roots.

Moss Rose
 Moss rose is rather old fashioned, but you can't beat the heat loving properties and the colourful flowers.  Portulaca grandiflora has the full flowers and the smaller leaf.  Others portulacas have different leaves and may have single flowers but they all love the heat and can flourish in a dry spot and flower.  The flowers may be pink, orange, white, red or any tint or combination.

My final choice for a heat loving flowers is Gazania.  Thanks goes out to my friend Rachel of New Digs landscaping for encouraging me to give these a try.  They have proven to be trustworthy perennial workhorses at my gardening day job, with their bright white, orange, and yellow blooms!  The clumps are getting large and will soon be ready to divide.

 I am reminded just how important it is to get feedback and share information.  We get feedback from others and it gives us an idea for a new solution.  Rachel told me that she had great success with Gazanias and even though I wasn't sure they were worth it, I found some marked down and I decided to give them a try. Now two years in, I am delighted at the results.

Just another reminder.  We can share our experience and learn.  That is a great part of community.  It is a safe place to get some feedback that is different; outside your own experience.  The results can be beneficial and beautiful.