My Dress Rehearsal

3 09 2009

I knew I was in trouble when I received this fortune cookie with last week’s indulgence of Chinese take out.

Failure

Chinese take out is bad for you and this week just proves it.

Writing has long been my favorite form of therapy; and (unfortunately for my readers) I have readers. Otherwise, I would scribble this stuff down in a notebook and tuck it away in some dark corner.

But paper notebooks don’t upload pictures, and I have pictures. I am reminded (by that annoying voice in my head) that every cloud has a silver lining. I am taking this post to review my most recent clouds and get busy looking for the linings.

These are in no particular order, except the most depressing part at the end because I don’t want to give you bum-out whiplash.

Cloud #1: Root knot nematodes

Nematodes

The name sounds like I’m talking about cartoon characters, doesn’t it? And these bulbous root growths I discovered when unearthing a tomato plant even look like something you’d see on Adult Swim. But, trust me, there is nothing funny about these little monsters! I thought the caterpillars were annoying, but they have nothing on these microscopic beasts.

I was digging up the expired plants in my garden beds in preparation to infuse my soil with a nice helping of composted road apples (that’s horse manure to you city folk), when I discovered my worst gardening nightmare. Up to this point my gardening woes have ranged somewhere between moderate annoyances and fascinating learning experiences. Mother Nature has upped the ante’ and bestowed upon me the wormy devils of the horticultural world: Root Knot Nematodes! I won’t bore you with the details of their biology, but if you are interested, you can go to The University of Florida IFAS Extension and learn all about them.

“Why are these tiny roundworms such a scourge?” you might ask. Because there is nothing on the market to kill  them. Right away I had a brainstorm and hopped online to see if it had been done. The idea was “Maybe I can cook these little suckers out of my soil with boiling water”. Lo and behold, this is the oldest treatment in the book, and one of the most effective. If one can saturate the soil with hot water, the nematodes will die. Manure also helps to deter them, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

So, off I went to grab the propane boiler, which I set up next to the Oasis and prepared to douse my soil with boiling water. Since my garden is divided up into various containers, I figured that I could get a good kill on in the empty sections and boil off each adjacent area as the plants died off. This all seemed like a great idea until I went to get the propane tank.

Cloud #2: Project aborted due to empty propane tank

Soil-Project

The fact that this rusty old tank is empty might actually be a silver lining, since AJ was certain it would rust through and blow us out of the park the next time it was lit.

Propane-Tank

Cloud #3: No Horse Manure

No picture needed for this one. Just look around you. If you don’t see horse manure, that’s what it looks like here, too. If you do see horse manure, please call me. I’ll be right over to pick it up!

I’m sure that were you to consult my astral chart for this week you would discover that my planet of communication is transiting the house of the planet where chainsaw exhibitions and tractor pulls take place.

I found a pile of horse manure for the taking by placing an ad on craigslist.org. Turns out it was available, but only if I could swoop in with a bobcat and get it without causing inconvenience to the owner. I made attempts to put together a horse manure party by organizing a group of people to come take it all at once. That didn’t work. Next, I suggested to the owner that Mike (my boss/friend/sometimes-nemesis) and I could come with two pickups and a trailer to get it. The email replies ceased at that time, so I guess the answer was “No”.

I’ve suffered a week-long inability to communicate properly (especially in writing). I have managed to unintentionally confuse, piss-off and annoy a good handful of people, one result of which being that I have no free fertilizer for my garden.

Cloud #4: Spaced Out Keyboard

Keyboard

Literally. The space bar has broken and constantly gets stuck in the down position. This causes the cursor to run off faster than Karl Rove from a congressional subpoena. Once I chase it down and start backing up, I end up deleting some of the characters of the previous word.

AJ tried to fix it by banging down real hard with his fist and then whacking the keyboard on the desk. I am officially starting a list of things that AJ can’t fix. So far, this is the first and only. Taking a more creative (and less hostile) approach, I popped out the space bar and taped the little springy wire part back in place with some pretty blue electrical tape. Now the cursor only bolts every once in a while. The silver lining here is that it helps me self-edit by reminding me that every superfluous word brings me that much closer to the next unsolicited space.

Cloud #5: Dropped Green Peppers

Giant-Bells

This one isn’t quite so bad. My amazing volunteer green pepper plants have been manufacturing some promisingly giant peppers. We have been watching and watering in anticipation of picking a bunch once they get really big and making a big batch of stuffed peppers.

This morning we discovered that the branch holding these two could no longer do it; and had dropped them to the ground. The silver lining is easy to find on this one. Two gorgeous, free, organic green peppers and many more maturing on the plants.

Cloud #6: My Beloved Stepmother spent the weekend in the hospital.

Judith went to the emergency room with edema and spent the weekend and all day Monday in the hospital. We have both discovered one silver lining on this one. She got a wake-up call that she needs to start taking oxygen and get back to using her CPAP machine for sleep apnea. Her heart is healthy and she can get better if she follows the doctor’s orders. She is also receiving some help at home. Still, this cloud is an especially dark one, since I live so far away and cannot afford to go up there when she needs me. She has always gone above and beyond the call of duty for a stepmother and I regret that I cannot repay her as I would like.

No picture here either, for the above mentioned reason.

There are a whole lot more little clouds, but I’m done dwelling on the bad stuff. I’m ready for the success for which I have apparently been rehearsing. I have great friends and great family, good health (mostly) and a wonderful life in comparison to so many unfortunate people in the world. With the exception of Cloud #6, my hopes are that we can all find some light humor in my misfortunes and missteps and look forward to a time when you don’t have to read so much griping from me:)

My friend and creative inspiration, Doug Havens, has invited me to collaborate on a brilliant creative project, which I hope to reveal in a future post. For now, please take a look at his wonderful imagery at “What I saw” and writing at “Who I met” and try to forget about all of my doom and gloom.





Screamy, Fiesty, Good Food and Silly Cat

16 07 2009

Well, I’ve gone and let weeks go by without any proper updates. Nothing much has happened that would pass for exciting, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

The Oasis is looking lush and tropical.

Oasis-Close

Screamy the Pepper has ripened. AJ thinks I could sell him as a Michael Jackson likeness on ebay. I’m letting him dry above my desk to see what he looks like when old and wrinkled.

Screamy-Ripe

This is “Feisty” the Cuban Anole. How these miniature dinosaur replicas have escaped extinction is beyond me; because they are none too bright. Every day, without fail, he takes his post on the grill lid handle, puffs up his crests and struts back and forth in an attempt to intimidate his perfectly matched opponent.

Feisty-Puffed-Up

Every day, he gives his best fight, only to be equaled by the foe with the steely  bites (which leave both of their noses battered and raw). Neither will relinquish their territory in this daily ritual. This is one neurotic lizard!

Feisty-Throwdown

Talk about neurosis. I got a little obsessed with this eggplant. As it grew larger and more regal, I began to get paranoid about its well being. My research warned that eggplants lose their goodness once they get too ripe. They grow tough and seedy. They are meant to be picked while young and shiny.

This is the first eggplant I have ever grown, and with all of the dangers of over-ripeness, insects and critters I gave in and picked it. AJ chastised me, saying that they were meant to be much larger before harvesting.

First-Eggplant

I sliced it up to find firm, seedless meat. I marinated in Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar with fresh chopped garden herbs. Then I grilled to perfection. Captain Kym came over for dinner. This is when I realized that eggplant (especially my version) is not for everyone. AJ and Kym politely nibbled on the vegetable, while we all devoured AJ’s roasted, stuffed pork tenderloin. Oh well, I thought the eggplant was good.

Grilled-Eggplant

AJ’s pork tenderloin was delicious. However, just as in everything he does, he immediately criticised his recipe and began planning for the improved version. We still had half of the large cut in the freezer, so a few days later he set about perfecting his stuffed, smoked pork tenderloin technique.

Here is his recipe:

AJ’s Smoked Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Sautee Italian Sausage.

Butterfly tenderloin lengthwise to flatten.

Spread Cream Cheese as bottom layer.


Splitopenandcreamcheese

Add a layer of fresh Baby Spinach

Spinachlayer

Next layer: Prosciutto

Prosciuttolayer

Sprinkle with Grated Cheese.

6Italiancheeselayer

Spread the browned sausage.

ItalianSausagelayer

Layer on Ricotta Cheese.

RicottaParmesanlayer

Roll up and tie with cotton string. Season with Rosemary, Dill and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing.

Readyforsmoker-1

Smoke uncovered, spraying with mixture of Olive Oil, Pineapple Juice and Ken’s Greek Salad Dressing until internal temperature reaches 150°

Finished-1

Remove from heat, wrap in foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

Thereitis

Unwrap, slice and enjoy!

Sliced

The mystery guest’s children overran the garden, eating up all of the dill and most of the parsley. I moved at least ten ravenous caterpillars to the carrots, where they quickly matured and went on “walkabout”, looking for places to pupate.

This one chose a green onion. Hope the wind doesn’t blow too hard.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Chives

How’s this for camouflage? I found this fellow on the broccoli. The next day was a perfectly hidden chrysalis that I would have never seen had I not known where to look. I have been aching to try broccoli greens, and carefully harvested the most tender leaves, while taking care not to disturb the sleeping beauty.

Papilo-Polyxenes-Broccoli

Roxanne’s Broccoli & Collard Greens

Harvest a bundle of tender Broccoli and/or Collard Greens.

Wash thoroughly, taking care to remove all insects and insect eggs. Cut into medium-sized pieces, removing central vein from larger leaves.

Blanch by submerging greens in boiling, salted water just long enough to tenderize, and then plunging into ice water. This preserves the bright green color.

Blanched--Greens

Chop bacon, onions and peppers (I used a red pepper and Poblano from the garden). Once the bacon is almost cooked, add pressed or chopped garlic.

Sautee

When bacon is cooked and onions are tender, toss in blanched greens. Drench with white wine, cover and simmer until greens are thoroughly wilted.

AJ, who had previously stated his reluctance to try broccoli greens, enthusiastically ate his portion and raved about how good they were. We enjoyed this dish as complement to his scrumptious smoked chicken. All in all, a week of good, down-home cooking.

Greens

And as if on cue, Smokey the Silly Cat has found yet another way to chill while looking ridiculously uncomfortable.

SillyCatBack071609

SillyCat071609

Hope everyone is enjoying life with peace and happiness! See y’all soon.





Week in Review…Preview

21 06 2009

This is really a bit of catching up for the last two weeks. When I finish this post I am going straight to the garden to do some more stuff. Changes have taken place, and I will share them later.

Garden

When we got back from Jacksonville I couldn’t wait to check out the garden. This is an outdated shot, now; but the Poblanos were getting bigger.

Poblano

We needed a salad so I did a mini-harvest. I selected one of the carrots I had transplanted. It had a nice big top, but when I pulled it up, this creature was revealed. Sorry for the bad focus. Lesson learned? Don’t transplant carrots.

Crazy-Carrot

The salad was good with Chives, Cilantro, Cherry Tomatoes, Celery, Carrot and Carrot Creature all freshly picked.

Today's-Harvest

Mr. Fix-It

This is what AJ has looked like for the past two weeks. That is, when he hasn’t been on the phone dealing with insurance companies, parts stores and our financial matters.

Here he is fixing the battery tray on the truck.

Mechanic

Here he is changing the brakes on the Mercedes. He has fixed so many things that we can’t even remember them all. I’m sure he has sweat at least five gallons worth in the hot Florida sun.

Brake-Job

Smokey the cat, does not work so hard. He just finds various ways to look silly.

Smokey Hose

Mystery Guests

Remember the little bird poop look-alikes?

Mystery-Guests

They got more interesting…

Mystery-Guest

And much bigger.

Mystery-Guest2

This one ate up the whole dill plant it was on. I caught it going for a stroll as I was vacuuming the garden. Lucky thing it was so colorful or I might have accidentally sucked it up.

When they go for a stroll, that means only one thing happens next. I relocated this one to my potted dill plant, where it nibbled a little more and then built a silk hammock. It stayed like this for the entire day.

MysteryGuestHammock

The next morning I found this lovely green chrysalis. I’ve raised a number of these beauties (sometimes right on my desk), but I’ve yet to capture the moment they transform from caterpillar to chrysalis. Maybe next time… The fun part is what follows. In a week or two the chrysalis will turn transparent. This is the signal to get the camera ready for the emergence. Afterward I’ll post a specific page for this guest and disclose its identity to those who don’t already know.

MysteryChrysalis

Here’s another guest I discovered last night. Wish I could give some perspective as to how huge this thing was. I saw it from halfway across the yard. My heart jumped at the thought of being invaded by two inch monster mosquitoes. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but it was at least 1.5 inches tall.

I got closer and was relieved to see that it was a Robberfly; so named because they often mimic their prey and attack when the victim unwittingly approaches. I had never seen one like this, before.

After moments on the internet I discovered that it is Diogmites sp., or “The Hanging Thief”; known for hanging by its front legs while eating its prey. These crazy looking flies are predatory and eat a number of intimidating insects, including bees, wasps and dragonflies. Here is a site with some great Robberfly shots, including the hanging behavior.

Diogmites (?) Robber Fly

Seed Swap at the Funky Chicken Farm

This past Wednesday I went back to the Funky Chicken Farm for a seed and  plant cutting swap. Suzanne Malone gave a great tutorial on growing and collecting seeds from your garden. I met a lot of great people and saw a couple of whom I had met before, including Carol (who was at the previous meetup) and John Rogers, AKA “Bamboo John”.

I explained to John that I had killed the bamboo cuttings he had given us. He generously offered to let us come get new cuttings. This time I won’t subject them to lime overdose.

I got a lot of seeds and some cuttings, which you will see in my upcoming posts (provided I can keep them alive). I am still working towards a page listing all of my seeds.

Etc.

Allan Sr. and Barney the poodle came to stay with us last night. They brought steak and booze; so we had a pre-Father’s Day celebration. Good times and good company!

There’s a good chance I will get caught up on my writing goals, as we just lost over half of our income over the past week. Three of our clients canceled our service, due to the financial downturn. It’s depressing, but I do believe in the saying “When one door closes, another one opens.”

AJ has become “The Pina Colada King”, having perfected a Pina Colada recipe that helps dull the pain. It just takes two of these tropical delights to brighten things up for a while.

I’m sure I’ve got a lot more to say, but the garden beckons…the garden and a “Rum Punishment” as AJ has named his new favorite cocktail.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of the Week in Review.