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.

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Abundant Bounty

3 07 2009

Lots of goodies coming from the garden and the Universe over the past couple of weeks.

The tomatoes are still on full bore. I’ve been picking an average of ten to fifteen per day.

Cherry-Tomatoes

Here are a couple of harvests. This is not nearly everything I gathered over the past two weeks, just two of the bigger days. I collected the muskmelons because the vine was mostly dead. They could have ripened a few more days, but they were OK. The middle melon is the one I did not protect with the pantyhose. In retrospect I don’t see the value of doing this. The skin was thin and split on the protected melons, and the netting did not develop normally.

Sunday's-Harvest

Friday's-Harvest

I made salsa for the first time. I didn’t realize how large the green onions were getting until I cut this one! These were store onions that I just stuck in the ground. They grow back each time I cut them. I also picked a puny red pepper and a smallish Poblano. The salsa is still a work in progress.

Onion Peppers

The past week has been very active for the eggplant. It grew…

Eggplant

and grew…

Eggplant2

and grew! Since I’m not familiar with what these are supposed to look like, I am not sure when to pick it. I’m thinking I’ll pick it this weekend, since the consequences of waiting too long seem to outweigh the risk of picking too soon.

Eggplant-big

Here is Super Eggplant’s sidekick. I don’t know why it looks so different, but I think a bug got ahold of it.

Eggplantnew

The second batch of bananas is looking good. First batch is also coming along nicely, too. They sure are taking a long time, though.

Bananas2

This is the string lily AJ brought back from the river. We keep it in a container under the AC condensation drip. It is going great, and bloomed this week.

String-Lily

The blooms were short-lived, but very delicate and pretty. I can’t say my husband doesn’t bring me flowers! The kind he brings are much more interesting and thoughtful than those bought in a store.

String-Lily-Bloomed

Not only that, but he can smoke a mean pork tenderloin! Yum!

AJ-Cuts-Pork-Tenderloin

Yesterday was a special treat. We stopped in at John Roger’s to pick up some bamboo. John is a local horticultural guru and, as I’ve said before, one of the most knowledgeable and unassuming guys you could ever hope to meet.

Bamboo-John

Even though he was on his way to run errands he took the time to give us another tour of his property to show us some of the things he has growing, as well as some nice mounds of mulch and compost. Had you told me, a year ago, that I’d get a thrill from compost I would have looked at you askance!

Nor did I even know of heirloom and heritage varieties, about which I am now quite excited. John Rogers is a true steward of the land and cultivator of native and unique plant varieties.

As we headed to the compost heap we stopped to admire his massive watermelon and squash vines. He promptly plucked this little jewel and bequeathed it upon me. What’s the big deal? This is a renowned, historic gem of the squash persuasion: A Seminole Pumpkin Squash (Cucurbita moschata), to be exact.

At the recent Funky Chicken Farm seed swap, John Rogers encouraged me to get some Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds. I had never heard of this variety, but have since learned that it is a true heirloom, indeed developed by the Seminole Indians. They planted these hardy, natives at the base of palm trees, and allowed the vines to grow up the trunk and fronds. Considering how robust the plants seem to be, I imagine that this was quite a sight! Wish I had brought my camera to John’s place!

Seminole-Pumpkin-Squash

I cooked the squash in the smoker, using my father’s recipe for acorn squash: A chunk of butter, a sprinkling of brown (raw) sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. It looked beautiful, and tasted much like sweet potatoes. AJ, didn’t take to it, since he is not much for sweet food. Strange for the guy who can devour ice cream and candy bars like they are going out of style, and who is currently drinking a Pina Colada! Oh well.

I’ve got some seeds and will be planting Seminole Pumpkin Squash this weekend.

Here they are in the smoker, which was still hot from the pork tenderloin.

Pump-Squash-Smoked

The original reason for going to John Roger’s (AKA Bamboo John) was to pick up a cutting of the lovely striped bamboo (Bambusa Vulgaris), which I managed to kill last time. I think we will get it right this go round , and hope to have a stand going soon. Thanks again, John!

Bambusa-Vulgaris

So far, a good two weeks. I will try to get the wrap-up posted on Sunday evening.

Have a Happy 4th of July!





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.






The Garden (Rated PG 13)

9 06 2009

How quickly we can go from drought to deluge. It has been raining almost every day; and the garden is showing both the positive and negative effects of this.

Let’s go ahead and cover the “challenges” first:

Gardening Challenges

Spots on Cherry Tomato leaves: I have no clue. Nitrogen issues, Blight, Over-watering? I haven’t had time to delve into it; but I did cut off most of the damage. The plant is still cranking out cherry tomatoes, so we’ll watch and wait.

Cherry-Tomato-Leaves

Cherry-Tomato-Leaves2

The stem has a white fuzzy growth, which screams “fungus” to me. Since these photos were taken, things appear to have improved. I’ll focus on this more when I get a chance.

Cherry-Tomato-Stem

Pale Celery. I’m pretty sure this has to do with the haphazard transplanting I did. I did fertilize last week and after last Sunday’s Atomic Grow application they greened up considerably.

Celery

Pale Red Pepper leaves. Possibly root-bound, over-watered or underfertilized. I’ll try to help this plant this week. It is still making peppers, so I think it will be OK.

Red-Pepper-Plant

The pickleworms are back, and are now attacking the broccoli. The advice that I have found is to either poison with pesticide or give up the idea of gardening in the summer. Well, I’m too stubborn for that. The unfortunate part is that by the time I find them, they have destroyed an entire stem. I have begun to alternate between pinching them to death, and leaving the leaf intact and dousing the entry hole with Atomic Grow™. Atomic Grow™ is not a pesticide, but it makes insects pretty miserable, so it’s worth a shot.

Caterpillar-in-Brocolli

Entrance hole with frass (poop).

Frass-Broccoli

It’s not all bad news. When I first discovered these little monsters, some were already dead and rotting inside their hidey holes. I hope they died from alcohol poisoning as an effect of the increased sugars the plant produces on Atomic Grow™. I sprayed everything today and will update when something happens.

Dead-Vine-Borer

Squash Bugs. Shown here on the cucumber plant. I suspect they are responsible for the sick watermelon vine that is not doing well at all. In honor of their name I have been busily squashing them. Feel free to drop by and stomp to your heart’s content. We’ve got plenty to go around!

Stink-Bug

Harlequin Bug. Isn’t she Pretty? Pretty evil! See that shriveled up broccoli leaf? Thanks a lot you little six-legged piece of abstract art with sucking mouth parts! She is now a “Mashed Bug”, too.

Harlequin-Bug

Are you impressed that I knew it was a female? It wasn’t hard, since she left her Beetlejuice-looking eggs under another leaf. I did a lot of squashing that day.

Harlequin-Bug-Eggs

One more downer and then I’ll move on to the good stuff. The three baby cucumbers I got excited about all shriveled up like this. Yes, that really sucks. However, I did some research tonight and learned that female cucumber flowers do this when not properly pollinated. Even though it looks like a cucumber, it is still waiting to snuggle with a bee as long as the flower is there. I figure that since these babies were buried under the big, lush leaves they didn’t get to meet up with the pollinators. I have since learned how to pollinate with an artist’s brush whenever I find one of these little gals. Speaking of sex…don’t go away. There is some sex at the end of this post.

Cucumber-Casualty

Good news and bad news: The bananas are still doing their thing; but there are only going to be six. All of the following flowers have dropped off. AJ has done some research and learned that the bananas are formed from female flowers, Usually there are multiple hands and then many rows of sterile flowers that drop off along the stem. I’m pretty sure I jinxed them by expecting a huge bunch of bananas. We figure this puny output has to do with lack of fertilizer and/or water. AJ is on the job and we will be working to ensure larger families in the future.

Bananas

Gardening Victories

The muskmelons are doing great. Nothing would irk me more than to lose these to the squash vine borers (pickleworms). I learned online that covering the fruit can prevent the moths from laying eggs on them. Paper bags were mentioned, but seemed to be messy and to fall apart when wet. Not a good option for rainy Florida.

Muskmelon

Then I found a blog by someone using pantyhose to protect her melons. Best use of pantyhose ever! I have covered a couple of the largest muskmelons and will track their progress in relation to the uncovered ones. So far, so good.

Muskmelon-covered

Despite the pest problems, the broccoli is still going strong. I don’t know whether or not I will get any broccoli, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Broccoli

The baby heirloom tomatoes are getting big. I have got to get these things planted ASAP!

Heirloom

Pole beans are finally starting to climb. So far, these are the most perplexing of all my crops. They have taken off this week, so maybe there is still hope.

Pole-Bean

Here is a detail of The Oasis last night, showing the Poblanos, Tomatoes and Carrots.

Poblanos-Detail

This is the Poblano on the left before we went out of town. It grew quite a bit while we were gone.

Poblano

Despite the issues, the Cherry Tomatoes continue to proliferate.

Cherry-Tomatoes-Lower-Part

The regular tomatoes also continue to thrive. I counted over sixty on this trellis today.

Tomato-Fest

June 3rd’s Harvest

June-03-Harvest

The Oasis as it greeted us on Sunday.

Oasis-Wet

O2. Both beds are looking a bit overgrown, as the lettuce is going to seed and the tomatoes are completely out of control. I’m formulating the next phase, once the lettuce plants are removed. Be sure to read the Palmarosa post for some great news about seeds I was given by my cousin Alan.

O2

The mystery guests are growing up fast. One day soon, you’ll be looking back and reminiscing about how it seems like only yesterday that they looked just like bird poop. They will move past this awkward stage within a week or so.

Mystery-Guests

And last but not least…

“Birds do it, bees do it, lizards on the trees do it.” Or something like that.

Lizards-Do-It





Babies

31 05 2009

OK, maybe he’s really more of a teenager. But isn’t he adorable?!

This afternoon AJ came running in to tell me that he had cornered a baby opossum. I grabbed the camera, raced over to the cottage and saw this little guy. We started to rescue him but decided to let him go. After checking the internet I found out that opossums this size are just fine on their own. We brought him over to our place and let him go, so now we will have one more midnight visitor to the cat food dish.

Opossum-Jr.

Found this baby muskmelon hiding under the vines today. More like another teenager, really. I’m guessing 30 days ’til melon time.

Muskmelon

Here are the new guests to the garden. Anybody want to make a stab at an ID? Here’s a hint…that’s the mammoth dill. These little critters are one of my favorite photographic models, so you will get to watch them grow up; provided the invasive lizards don’t eat them up.

Eggs

Baby collard didn’t take well to the transplant. It was so happy in the nice Miracle Grow soil of the nursery; but I decided it was time to graduate to the garden. I think it will be fine and soon on its way to becoming a Collard Tree.

Baby-Collard

Perhaps I’m overdoing it on the bananas, but isn’t this thing gorgeous? I have been standing underneath it, mentally willing the bananas to ripen. AJ tells me that he expects it to be even bigger than previously stated. If it is one of his grandma’s trees then the clump of fruit could end up weighing 150+ pounds. We’ll see, soon enough, if that is an exaggeration.

Banana

I harvested a couple pounds of tomatoes this afternoon. Sorry, the photos were too blurry to post. Next, I sprayed everything with Atomic Grow™.

I was working towards rolling out some news about Atomic Grow™, and my part in the company; but I haven’t gotten my ducks in a row just yet. I’m sure that you can tell that I’m very thrilled with this product and am anxious to be a part of its ascent in the world of gardening!

And finally…If AJ would make himself a blog these things would get better coverage. Of course he went about fixing things again today. This project started out as a simple truck wash. His eagle eye caught the clouded headlights, so he dropped what he was doing and sanded and buffed the headlights and tail lights. They look great, don’t they? If you want to see more of this stuff leave a comment and tell him to get on that blog!

Headlight





Good food and Good Company

12 04 2009

I know I said I wouldn’t post today, but I can’t seem to help it.

I made Mulberry Vinaigrette with the fresh mulberries from Bamboo John.

Mulberries

Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Fresh Mulberry Vinaigrette

  • Balsamic Vinegar: 1/2 Cup
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: 1/2 Cup
  • Olive Oil: 3/4 Cup
  • Canola Oil 1/4 Cup
  • Fresh Mulberries: 2 Cups
  • Maple Syrup: One glug (to taste)
  • Powdered Mustard: 1Tbsp.
  • Sea Salt: 1 good grind.
  • Fresh Garden Herbs: 1 Sprig each of Basil, Sage, Oregano, Thyme and Dill

Combine all ingredients in blender and mix.  Viola’, Mulberry Vinaigrette!

Ingredients

Herbs

Ingredients in. Ready to blend.

Pre-Blended

Blended-vinaigrette

Finished Product. It turned out excellent!

Mulberry-Vinaigrette

AJ’s Redneck Smoked Chicken

Rub a whole roasting chicken with seasoning. AJ uses Lawry’s® Perfect Blend Seasoned Rub for Pork (I know…pork. But trust me, it’s good). Sounds normal, right? So why is it called “Redneck Smoked Chicken”? Notice the cans of Natural Light…

Chix-rubbed

Whoa! What is he doing to that chicken?! That’s not natural!

On-Beer

Stuffed with open cans of beer the chickens are sitting upright ready for the smoker. Slightly unsettling, if you ask me.

Chix

In it goes.

Chix-in

Chix-in-Smoker

Charcoal in the bottom of the smoker provides the heat and wood chips soaked in beer create the smoke. The more beer the better when you’re cooking redneck style. It goes without saying that the cook should also be primed. Close the smoker door and wait for the internal temperature to get to 165° and rising.

Finished product. Tender and juicy. Yum!

Finished-Chix

It was cool and gorgeous outside.  Our neighbor, Capt’n Kim Ferrell joined us for dinner. We enjoyed a wonderful meal of smoked chicken, black beans and rice and salad supplemented with fresh garden greens. Can’t wait until the entire salad comes from the garden.

Warm and personable, Capt’n Kim is always a welcome guest. He is a treasure hunter with leases on the local shipwrecks, as well as a talented jeweler who mounts shipwreck coins in beautiful gold settings. Kim deserves a post of his own and has promised to send me some information and photos about his adventures so that I may do this. I will also share a photograph of the gorgeous pendant he gave us for Christmas.

Captain Kim Ferrell

Capt.-Kim

Capt-Kim2

Well, that’s it for now. The soil for Oasis2 is now slated for Tuesday. See you then.





The Gravel Project: Part 3

29 03 2009

Friday was a looooong day. By sundown the project was completed and we were exhausted.

Here are some shots of our handiwork:

Gravel11
Gravel12

Here is a closeup of the succulent garden.

Gravel3

Gravel2

Here’s the driveway with the car parked in it.

Gravel4

The containers are the beginnings of “The Oasis 2” More pickle buckets and a polyethylene barrel cut into 1/3rds. It contained a soy based liquid used in spray foam insulation. The MSDS states that it is only dangerous when inhaled. The liquid has solidified and I believe the containers will be fine for garden beds.

AJ filled in the gap behind the banana trees on Saturday. It looks even better now.

Gravel6

Gravel5

Here is The Oasis from the other side. The edges look rough in the photo, but in real life it looks nice. I was thrilled to have enough gravel to expand beyond the banana trees and devil’s backbone. It really feels like a beachy desert island.

Gravel13

Gravel7

Oasis032909

Gravel1