Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category


It’s gonna be a good summer.

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Whew.  And I thought the first part was ambitious!  After spending a leisurely afternoon at our local coffee shop thumbing through seed catalogs, my neighbor and I decided that we’d need more room. We’ve got to have somewhere for all those melons, squash, beans and greens to go! Behold, the progress:


Broccoli already planted, even before we’re done.  As you can see from this picture, we’ve got quite an addition going.  Since this was taken, we’ve finished this side and have moved on to expand the garden on the far side of the pathway.  I’m quite pleased with the pathway that we created from broken pots and a few Home Depot pavers:


The after picture is still to come – we’ve got about 3 feet left on one half of the lawn to dig, then comes the borders.  If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been posting much lately, this is the answer!

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Before this season, I didn’t know what suckers were on plants, and now I’m obsessed with searching for them.  As the tomato plants grow, they produce side stems or suckers which, if left alone, will grow just like the main stem.  They’re the shoots which grow directly in the angle of two other shoots, cutting a 90° angle into two 45°s.  They’re fine in theory, but they take energy away from the main stem, causing smaller tomatoes that take longer to grow.  Can you spot the two suckers in the above photo?

At the beginning of the season, I was more vigilant about pinching these off so that my fledgling plants would have all the energy they needed to produce plenty of fruit.  Maybe I could slack a little now, since they’re already well established, but it’s become habit.


So, I’ve taken to pinching the suckers off while I’m playing search and destroy with the hornworms (who have grown to OBSCENE sizes, by the way, and are responsible for the bare stems in the first photo)…


I don’t even know what to do with these, outside of squeal and point.  They’re terrifying, really well camouflaged, and can decimate a plant in a day.  Bastards.

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I’ve been a little distracted lately, so haven’t been posting very much.  A new quarter started so I’m teaching again, work is pretty busy and the rest of my time is taken up with caterpillar war.  The important things.

Because there’s been so much happening outside the kitchen, I’ve been throwing together old favorites and easy improvisations, none great enough to share.  I may have made another carrot cake.  Or two.  What?  Totally rich in beta carotene.  Don’t look at me like that.

The one accomplishment I’ve made in the kitchen this week is to put together single-serve meals for a friend who’s been under the weather.  Nothing says love like mini lasagnas, right?


You can look here for the recipe.  Other than that this weekend, I’ve been taking a cue from Norman.  My position of choice at the moment looks a lot like this:


Zzzzz….  See you on the flip side.

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I rushed home from work in order to get started on using up our glut of produce.  I improvised a raw beet salad, popped the zucchini pie in the oven, then I went out to the garden for my new favorite pastime of caterpillar picking.  Those bums have burrowed holes in more of my green tomatoes – they’re infuriating, so I’m being vigilant and trying to smoosh them before they do any more damage.  I’ve gotten over any squeamishness I may have had at first, because after all – this is tomato war.  It’s not uncommon for a neighbor to hear faint mutterings outside their window while I curse these green wriggly bastards.

Anyway.  On to the point of my story, which is that a gathering of our neighbors started to form, Chris came home from work, and we all congregated for a nice evening.  The zucchini pie came out of the oven, the beet salad came out of the fridge, and we talked the night away.  Everyone said they enjoyed the pie, but I think it still needs some tweaking, so I won’t share that one right away.  My salad creation, however, is ready for print. 


Community Beet Salad

A note: you may want to break out the food processor for this one if you want a quick salad.  Don’t worry about rinsing it between ingredients – they’re all going to turn red anyway. 

For the salad:

2-3 large beets, peeled and grated
4-5 carrots, grated
8-10 radishes, grated
a small handful fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
1 orange, peeled, sectioned and cut into small pieces
one large handful sunflower seeds

For the dressing:

yikes – this is going to be a bit rough, as I measured nothing.  Here goes…

about 1/3 cup good olive oil
about 3 Tbsp orange muscat champagne vinegar – I found this at Trader Joe’s – you could use another mild vinegar and some orange juice for the same effect
2 small cloves garlic, pressed
salt and pepper to taste

Here’s the instructions.  Toss, stir, serve.  Perfect for an evening you’d rather spend outside with lovely company.  Here’s a vague idea of the solar lights – I’ve not gotten any better at photographing them, unfortunately…


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Tea(light) time

We stood outside, looking up at the house.  Our string of solar lights outlining the eaves was glowing blue with a harshness that didn’t do anything for the house.  At the same time, the beautiful covered tea lights that my lovely sister gave me were hanging between our houses, unlit due to a lack of extension cords.  I credit the ingenious solving of this problem to our neighbor Adam, after he and Chris discussed it at length.  Simply disassemble the tea lights to remove the pretty reflectors, triple up the strand of solar lights, climb up on the roof to plant the solar panel and voila – powerless beauty. 

I stayed out of it, because these two are perfectionists in the best sense of the word, and I’m a slap-it-together-until-it-sort-of-works kind of a girl.  I spent my time in the garden, ruthlessly seeking out and destroying tomato hornworms while the fellas went to work.


The result is beautiful, and truly simple.  There’s a light sensor built into the solar panel, so once the sun goes down, these glowing orbs light our path until morning with the power they’ve collected during the day.  Just as soon as I’m home at dusk, I’ll try to capture it in a picture.

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After flipping on the oven and stove to prepare last night’s meal and dessert, I knew that drastic measures needed to be taken – namely, we needed to vacate the hot sticky premises.  A quick search of the property yielded some serving tables, and we were all set for a summer meal outdoors.

This meal is the perfect way to use up the abundance of summer veggies – a big kitchen sink salad (with carrots, goat cheese, apricots and avocado), Corn and Squash Simmered in Coconut Milk with Thai Basil on top of brown rice, and biscuits from the can.  I swear, I don’t know why I ever try to make biscuits – the Pillsbury ones are baked crack.

From Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets:

Corn and Squash Simmered in Coconut Milk with Thai Basil

1 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil

1 package fresh, firm tofu, drained and diced into 1/2-inch cubes

2 medium zucchini (I tripled this), diced into 1/2-inch cubes

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

4 large ears sweet corn

1 serrano chile (I used 2)

1 heaping Tbsp cilantro

1 heaping Tbsp Thai basil leaves

1 bunch scallions, including half of the firm greens, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

1 (15-oz) can coconut milk

1 tsp mushroom soy sauce

3 cups cooked basmati rice (I used brown)

cilantro and basil for garnish

Heat the oil in a wide nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the tofu and zucchini and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp salt.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to brown all the sides of the tofu.

While the tofu is cooking, slice the corn off the cob, then, reversing your knife, press out the milk.  Set aside on the cutting board.  Finely chop the chile(s) with the cilantro and basil.

Add the scallions, chile-herb mixture, and corn to the pan.  Add the coconut milk to the pan, then rinse out the can with a little water and add that as well.  Stir in the soy sauce, an additional 1/2 tsp salt, and a few twists of black pepper.  Simmer until the corn is heated through, 3-5 minutes.  Taste for salt.  Serve over rice garnished with the additional herbs.

Hey, somebody took a layer off that biscuit!


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It’s been a while since I’ve shown off the front yard – this is what it looked like in front of our house just a couple of weeks ago. Even though this picture doesn’t show scale very well (the tomato plants are getting huge!), this is what it looks like now, chock full of tomatoes, peppers, onions, wheatgrass, catgrass, radishes, basil and marigolds:


The other side (in front of my neighbor’s house) is not quite as impressive as of now, and this picture doesn’t do it any favors! I’ve been planting in stages, so there’s no real flow to what goes in this bed.  As of now it’s got artichokes, a blueberry bush, cucumbers, watermelon, bush beans, tomatillos, some new corn seeds, cantaloupe and our three rogue tomato plants (they just appeared this season out of the ground).  I’m planning to punch this side up with some color as well, just as soon as I get to the nursery again.  The benefit to using marigolds is that they’re good for keeping caterpillars away as well as making the front yard more presentable. I had a neighbor stop by yesterday and ask “Do you have any vegetables growing, or just flowers and plants?” That felt great, because it shows that an edible garden can be just as presentable and beautiful as any other front yard landscaping. Anyway, back to the bed – can you see my interesting discovery in this picture?


Norman might be in there all day, depending on when my neighbor comes home.  She’s none too pleased.


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People, the purple beast has been tamed.  I hit a bit of a snag the other day when I realized that, even though the dresser is made up of sturdy, worm appropriate wood, the bottom of the dresser drawers are made of particle board.  Argh. 

The worms thrive in a moist, dark, damp atmosphere, and those conditions don’t mix with particle board – the thing would bottom out in a matter of months.  Luckily, we had extra wood left over from our swing project, so I got to work.

I had my own little power tool day at home and felt like a bit of a badass – I cut out another drawer bottom and drilled it in, drilled some holes in the bottom, realized I need a pedicure…


I then drilled holes in the top of what I found out is the world’s thickest dresser so the worms can breathe, and then came the gross part.  The worms needed to be taken to their new home.  And I needed to take them there.  This was the point when I knew I’d have to upgrade to a manicure and pedicure.  The worms are happy in their new home with fresh bedding, and our garden benefitted from lots of worm castings, mulched in today!  Happy worms…


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About a year ago, Chris and I found a great old garden swing bench at a yard sale.  We couldn’t figure out why it was so cheap, until we took it home and it promptly fell apart.  Doh!

Never one to give up on a failing item (seriously, I’ve nursed our basil plant back from near compost food so many times), I somehow convinced Chris that it’d be worth our (ahem, mostly his) time to fix it, rather than looking for another.  Easy for me to say.

We spent about $30 on wood, and crafted a sturdier bench that looks fabulous, is more comfortable than the originals, and that brings us a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  Not bad!  Now, adding in the time spent on getting this puppy just right might not pencil out quite as well, but we won’t talk about that.

I love that the one picture we have of the process is of me doing my very small part (Look, Ma, black hair!):


Yeah, tracing a line.  I’m a real carpenter over here.

Chris was the hero of the day with this one, and this is our reward:


The first leisurely moment of my week – a lazy Friday morning with some good books, good coffee and fresh fruit with some garden basil.  And my cat Norman staring at me from the neighbor’s porch.  All is well with the world.


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