Sunday, December 27, 2015

Plant Splurge #2: Deppea splendens

I took a trip back east to visit my family in September, and brought along with me - in a carry-on bag, mind you - this little Deppea splendens plant  from Annie's Annuals.  An extremely rare and sought after specimen, it is now believed to be extinct in the wild. So very sad.

I gave the little guy to my mom, whose thumb is so green she could probably make a broom stick sprout. Even the metal kind. She also needs another plant even less than I do. But she was happy, and certainly was able to make the little plant happy - it's already bloomed in its original 4" pot. Imagine what it will do once it gets repotted into something bigger.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Janet E. Hawkes

Saturday, December 12, 2015

When the Chips are Down, Try Carrots

Kale chips, mustard chips, turnip top chips, carrot chips, sweet potato chips - this year, we tried 'em all. And all of them were pretty darn good. But which vegetable stood out from the crowd? According to the song, it's the cheese that stands alone. But in my chip world, it's the carrots.

I grew carrots this year, but they were too puny to easily turn into chips. Tasty, but pretty punk. To do chips properly, it's best to have those thick and stocky ones: the ones that under most circumstance, you avoid.

Recipes abound on the web, but here is pretty close to what I remember actually doing:

Preheat oven to 425°

o   2-3 large, fat carrots, peeled
o   1-2 tsp. olive oil
o   salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
o   small pinch of cumin (optional)

Shave the carrots lengthwise in strips with vegetable peeler (I use an OXO Swivel Peeler; some recommend a Y-shaped peeler). Press fairly hard so that the strips of carrot are thicker than regular old peelings. It's a little awkward, but this is the hardest part, beyond sharing the chips with others.

Save the down-to-the-nub ends of the carrots for another cooking project.

Place the carrot strips in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper (and cumin). Gently toss with your hands until completely coated.

Put the carrot strips on an oiled baking sheet in a single layer. The strips can be touching, but not overlapping. They will shrink a lot, especially width-wise.

Bake for 12 minutes and then check. The carrots will probably need another 5 minutes in the oven, but you do not want them to get too brown. The edges of the chips should be a golden brown when they are ready to be removed.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Do not try to move the chips from the baking sheet until they are crisp - 5 minutes or so.  Transfer to a tall glass and serve.

This makes enough carrot chips to fill two baking sheets and feed about six polite people or 2 very hungry ones. I suppose you can store them in an airtight container, but I have never seen any left over.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

'Bout Time for that Ol' Turtle

Some things simply go more slowly than others. For example, turtles. For example, this concrete turtle that was given to me by my parents a while ago. Just how much is "a while"? Well, my father passed away in 2002, and it was long before that.

During that while, it would cross my mind that I should do something to dress up the little guy. But I never got around to it. So instead of having it hang around and remind me of my failings, I put it in the side yard - officially, my neighbors' side yard (you have to understand that their "side yard" is all of about 3' wide and butts up against our driveway. Our side yard is equally narrow.) and let the weeds hide it. Perhaps the turtle might even wander off?

Eventually, it became obvious that the turtle wasn't going anywhere, and the side yard, our side at least, needed a facelift. A drought-tolerant facelift. So why not include the turtle in the project, too? Give him a make-over for his little home?

A few bits of glass tile, some gem stones, a bowl of leftover grout and now this fellow with the shiny new mosaic shell is the guardian of the door to our house's crawl space. And my neighbors didn't even notice.

Dr. Science says:
Well, turtles are slow because they don’t have to be fast. They’re herbivores, so they don’t have to chase their food. They have nice, thick shells, which means that most predators simply don’t bother with them. So, they don’t have to chase food, and they don’t have to run away from predators, so there isn’t any reason for them to be anything except slow.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme: Parsley

Anise Swallowtail Caterpillar

Parsley. Admit it. A bit over-rated, or maybe just over-used. But also essential. Imagine the Falafel Plate at Bongo Burger without parsley (or without some endless football game, for that matter). Yeah, go with the parsley.

Growing parsley in the garden is pretty easy, if you can first get the seeds to germinate. In the small micro-climate of the three or four houses near mine, there is a parsley variety which we (my neighbor Sari and I) have named "Olivia's parsley".

Yes, quite a number of years ago Olivia Freitas (who is no longer with us) grew parsley, and with time, wind and luck, her parsley spread to many of the nearby yards. Since the plants haven't been cultivated in years, it has had to grow up on its own, oftentimes in deep shade and without much water. So, a drought and shade tolerant parsley? Could be useful, in an over-rated kinda way...

Last year, I saved some seeds from an Olivia parsley but didn't get around to planting them. I'm hoping that next year I will be able to grow them out and re-start the local landrace. Anyone interested?

You betcha. I believe that this particular fan up top is an Anise Swallowtail wannabe. And the ones below are its younger cousins*. I still find all these creepy-crawly things more than a bit yucky, but not everyone can be a cute baby.

*I'm sure you are better informed than I am, but I honestly had no idea that caterpillars, yes, even caterpillars, could change form and/or color so dramatically while still remaining larval. I'm not sure that it makes them less icky, but it does make them more interesting.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Plant Splurge #1: Asclepius physocarpa

There are certain plants that I see here and there, in real life or on the glossy pages of catalogues - and  I want them. Sometimes it works out, sometimes, not.

(Lust. Inexplicable to outsiders, but utterly consuming for the luster. And who knows about the lustee? Or is that even relevant, unless one really goes off the deep end...)

This year I indulged in a milkweed plant, Asclepias physocarpa, aka the "Family Jewels Tree" ("Bishop's Balls" in the U.K.). It's obvious how it got so named: those round, hairy seedpods which even sport that oh-so fashionable color, lime green.

But I am not the only one who is extremely interested in this plant. Members of the milkweed family serve as host plants for the struggling monarch butterflies.

So guess who just became hosts:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

As Always, Be Careful What You Ask For...

We knew that we wanted to do some hiking in the mountains. And we knew that we didn't want to go when it was icky-sticky hot and overly-crowded. So we waited until early October, that Indian summer time.

But we sure weren't expecting to be hiking in the snow. Trust me, it's one sure-fire way to learn whether your boots are waterproof (His, yes. Mine, not so much).

But L.A. had gotten rain (L.A.? Rain? They don't "get" rain), which meant snow on the trail to Bishop Pass. And although the hiking was slow, it still was a great time.

So if LA can get rain, don't you think it's time we got some?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Volunteers of Oakland #4

Pretty much these days, littering is uncool. Except for cigarette butts. Relatively neat and tidy people who would never leave trash behind simply do not recognize cigarette butts as trash. So they leave the damn butts all over the sidewalks and streets. And parks. And beaches. And everywhere else, for that matter.

(I remember on a recent visit to Rome, looking down at the gap between the platform and the train and noticing that the entire area was completely packed with cigarette butts, to the depth of, say, two feet. No smoking on the train, but on the platform, one last puff.)

So what, right? They're not that big, and many fewer people now smoke. Sadly though, cigarette butts - an estimated 120 billion of which are discarded in public places in the U.S. alone - contain a toxic stew of chemicals, plastics and carcinogens. In short, "Yuck." Bad for us, but even worse for birds and aquatic animals.

Enter my neighbor Poppy (7 years old) and her friends. It might be called activist art - but she simply said that she liked making them: two for our block, and a few more around the neighborhood.

And, hey, it seems to be working.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

When Friends Give You (#3)....

Old broken plates, cover a stepping stone.

I already used up a bunch of donated tiles for a similar project, but I had to fuss around a bit to make it feel right. This one pretty much put itself together in less than a day.

The one element in this square which was from my own stash is the white pieces with the blue rim. They came from my best guy, or rather, from the cafeteria at UC Santa Cruz in the 1970's....I have never asked for the details of that story.

And the second square? I still had a few shards of blue plates left and I should have been able to throw them out, right? But that would have been too easy. You see, during a recent garage clean-out, I rediscovered a stack of handmade star tiles (created a while ago in ceramics class). I can no longer remember why I thought I needed those lumpy star tiles in the first place, but clearly, they belong with the blue plates pieces...

Thank you Jean!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Little Surprises of Gardening

It's a turnip, right? Or maybe a rutabaga.

Regardless, it certainly isn't the pretty golden flowers I was expecting.

The seed packet claims to be Black-eyed Susans. Once I planted a dark romaine lettuce seeds from this same company and got a bright green leaf type, but that was alright. That time, at least it was still a lettuce. This time, though, they were waaay off.

Yes, I'll be having a little chat with customer service.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Little Surprises of Remodeling

Warning: Some of the images featured below may give you the creeps.
I've just been reading "The Coddling of the American Mind" in the Atlantic (recommended read) and don't want to get in trouble for grossing you out.

It's construction season in my neighborhood and the rodents have been shaken loose from their usual hidey-holes. They've been freed to boldly go explore the strange new worlds of the nearby neighbors.

Or not. Princess has been busy doing her part to reduce the rodent population, one small death at a time. She stays very local (probably less than one-half acre), but she is both persistent and fast. Actually, she's mostly just persistent.

It's not because we were out of town and she wanted to welcome us back that she's been after the rodents. Nah, it's what she does and who she is. The good news is that, while she is focusing on ridding the 'hood of rodents, she can't spend a lot of time hunting birds (more about that later).

Princess' Most Recent Rat
Alameda County Vector Control Services has ideas to help prevent rats (big mice) and mice (cute little rats) from infesting your home. Some of the ideas are obvious; other, such as screening off your crawl space with galvanized mesh, I wouldn't have dreamt up on my own, but can really make a difference. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Freebies from Annie's

Freckles (?) Pineapple Lily

Annie's Annuals allows those with a small bit of oomph and entrepreneurship to collect free, high-quality potting mix. Yes, free, except that you have to shovel it yourself (and unlike horse manure, this stuff is heavy) and you can only get to it on Wednesday mornings.

First come-first serve. And plan ahead - like late winter or so - if you don't want to be disappointed. 'Cause once the gardening season heats up, so does the competition. On a nice clear day in January, however, it's just you and the pile.

And a few plant labels, an occasional plastic pot, old root balls, and once in a while, a surprise (think Cracker Jack®, which apparently still exists after 120 years).

The last time I went shoveling, the mix included a mystery bulb. I threw it in the green bin and then felt badly. So I fished it out, tucked it in a pot and ignored it.

Pineapple lily. Definitely a pineapple lily, although, based on the photos, not one of those that Annie's grows. A wandering pineapple lily? If so, it now has a home in Oakland.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

When Friends Give You (#2)...

Finial for the top of the trellis

Copper tubing, make a trellis for those unruly vegetables.

Leftovers from an ancient plumbing project can be surprisingly useful. It took some fiddling around to make the pieces fit together, but I had enough extra joiners and fittings to waste.

No soldering, necessary. Waterproof epoxy (the kind intended for plumbing) should hold it all together. Trust me, I've done this before and it lasts for years.

Yeah, the trellis appears a bit wonky, but with the long side sitting a little deeper in the dirt, it will all level out. The third leg, offset at a 90 degree angle, helps with stability.

Thank you Dick Holmes!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My New Favorite Flower

Actually, there are two of them:  Papaver rupifragum (Spanish poppy) and Papaver atlanticum (Moroccan Poppy), Truth to tell, I can't really tell one apart from the other. One's supposed to be shorter, but when they're wearing heels, it's really hard to tell...

They have been blooming all summer on very little water. The blooms only last for the day, but then another flower or six unfurls for the next day's show. They will overwinter here, as well as in places as cold as central Montana (USDA zone 4). That's way better than I can do.

They seem to thrive in part-sun or more (I may test their shade tolerance next year). Also, bees, especially carpenter bees, love these babies. I grew these from seeds (pretty easy) and have been saving this year's seed crop. I plan to spread them around in early spring.

And who knows? They may have cross-bred after a romantic night out on the town (I tell ya, those heels can get a girl into trouble) so I'll never really know who's who.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Salt Potatoes

Early June Harvest
Purple Viking Potatoes

Last month I dug up the Purple Viking potatoes which I had planted in February. I hadn't planted many, so I didn't expect many. Only I got many - many little one, that is. Very unusual for Purple Vikings, which are known to produce "lunkers" (large, over-sized potatoes).

What to do? Reaching back into my upstate New York heritage, I came up with salt potatoes. It wasn't something that we were served regularly growing up, but it is one of those rare regional dishes from upstate New York.*

When asked about salt potatoes, my mom wrote:

"The first time I had salt potatoes was when we went camping at Grass Point along the St. Lawrence and Dad and I left you kids with Grandma for the day while we went to a pre-NY State Fair clambake for communication folks, reporters, etc. in 1962. There was clam chowder (delicious), clams on the half shell and bowls of tiny salty potatoes with melted butter poured over.

Elsie (Grandma) Deegan
1900 - 1998
At the time you couldn’t even buy raw salt potatoes in the store so no one could make their own…..unless you had a crop like mine!! And they were really good tasting.

[One of the few crops that my mom can't seem to grow is potatoes.]

Grandma told me that when she was young in Tarrytown, little potatoes were called pig potatoes and mostly fed to pigs. At her corner store, pig potatoes were 2 CENTS a pound and all the poor folks bought them and served them with the skins on. She said her family ate a lot of them for years."

*In my experience, should you say that you are from "upstate New York" people imagine Yonkers, or perhaps the Catskill Mountains (100+ miles from NYC). Alternatively, they lock onto Buffalo, at the very western tippy-tip of the state.  Well folks, it's about 350 miles from the eastern edge of the state - the Hudson River - to the western border at Lake Erie. At one point, that was the western frontier of this nation.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mosaic Project #2

The garage is unrecognizable, what with a new roof, new overhead door and new lights that actually turn on when you flip the switch.

And it got a total clean-out. The bulky pick-up guys came and took what the dog walkers and pedestrian commuters left behind. And all those old paint cans, dead batteries and dried out caulk tubes were delivered to the proper authorities. Now the garage is so clean, we're thinking that a real, life-size car might just fit inside. Unbelievable.

All this work has meant that a lot of partially completed projects were rediscovered, including this ceramic planter which I tiled a number - think of a very large number - of months ago. It has simply been waiting for someone to go get a new bag of grout.

However, one question remains: which lucky plant will get to call the blue pot "home"?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Get 'Em While You Can

Mountain View Cemetery, 2015

Gardeners in colder climates indulge in imaginary gardening in January when the seed catalogues show up in the mailbox. Me? I m a complete sucker for the glossy bulb offerings which appear in early summer. I'm not allowed to read them in bed because I drool all over the sheets.

For many years I planted a great big pot of tulips each fall for next spring's entertainment. And since "winter" here has very little meaning, once the blooms are over, pretty much the only thing to do is throw the tulips away and buy new next year.  Other bulbs - narcissus, daffodils, hyacinth, crocus, etc. all do a very good job of naturalizing. (The narcissus are great, but get a little confused and start blooming in October in my yard.)

This year I'm ordering my bulbs early from Fedco Bulbs. It won't stop me from continuing to look at the catalogues, but it will stop me from changing my mind each day about what to order. And although I'll be putting a small dent in the budget this month, by next year, I won't remember a thing. Just happy springtime.

Bulbs in a Pot, February, 2010

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Do It Yourself? Maybe...

Lesson Learned (again, maybe):

If you don't really like sprouts, growing them at home won't make them taste any better. Yeah, yeah, they might be healthier, because you are have better quality seeds, etc., but isn't that the problem? For me, they already taste too "healthy".

These were kale sprouts, and they only took four days of changing the water just twice a day, so really not a lot of work. But, well, at a certain point on day three, I though something had gone "off" in the kitchen garbage can. Only to lean in closer and realize that it was the sprouts. I guess it's true that growing up is a messy and stinky business.

I may try growing some arugula micro-green because I really love arugula and have a small mountain of seeds. Also, if planted in the garden, the little buggers always bolt before I get to enjoy them as salad.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Discover & Go Wins Again

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it was a sullen and overcast day, so to inject a little cheer, we went to the Academy of Sciences. And because we planned ahead (by one day only), we went for free. There we were graced with the company of two young friends - Aly and Avery - who also got in for free. Thank you Discover & Go - Oakland.

We sweated through the rain forest, lurked in the aquarium (I had never seen the boa constrictor before and have no plans to see this or any other one again), caught the tail end of the penguin feeding, and then moved on to the planetarium for the show, Habitat Earth (don't bother, it was kinda slow and preachy).

Great entertainment for a gray day.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Flower Floozies Strike Back

The wonderful gardeners at Annie's Annuals are getting armed with reason, and for a reason.

Recently their blog featured, "Home Gardeners are NOT the Problem", an article debunking some of the big, scary ideas going around about water and its lack.

Their conclusions: basically, if you don't have a large lawn in a hot summer area, then you are probably not the problem. That doesn't mean that we all still don't have to be careful about water usage. Yes, wasting is bad, especially now that EBMUD proposes to raise rates by at least 7 percent. And that's not counting the drought surcharge they are contemplating. (You see, if we use less water, they make less money... Someone is supposedly looking into this conflict of interest at the state level, but I'm not holding my breath.)

However, that didn't stop some passerby asking me yesterday if the water I was using to hand water my peas came from the bathtub (none of your business, buster. And by the way, how come you're driving around, alone, in a big-ass SUV?).

But the big water numbers are elsewhere. The true culprits are large agricultural interests that insist on growing water-intensive crops - almonds being the poster child for bad water management - in the very thirsty areas of the state. Obviously, almonds and desert are not a good match, especially when most of the almond crop leaves the state.

Pretty much everyone is in agreement that 75 - 80 percent of the state's water is used by agriculture. What is less well known is that agriculture and mining together constitute about 2 (yes, two-point-zero) percent of the economy, and employs 3 - 4 percent of the labor force. Now that's a lotta water going to a very small piece of the action.

For their part, agricultural interests argue that they cannot accept water rationing because how else would the rest of us get fed? Food - yes. Non-essential crops  - say for example, the alfalfa grown here, which is exported to China for beef, which is then shipped back here (I just don't want to pick on almonds again) - let me think about it.

However, our Governor is not letting us think about it. He is singling out urban and suburban water users for mandatory rationing. He may feel our pain, but he sure ain't sharing it around. So shower with a friend, get rid of your lawn (plant some tomatoes or beans instead), and let Jerry know that there is a "big picture" and a "little picture" and he's got 'em backwards.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Monastery Stones

Abbey of New Clairvaux Reconstructed Chapter House

As long as you're going to the Central Valley to see the wintering birds, you may as well keep on driving to the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina. There you can check out the reconstruction of the chapter house that William Randolf Hearst took away from the Santa María de Óliva Monastery in Spain. You may even taste the wine the monks produce.

The monks are of the Cistercian branch, which dates back to the 11th century. It was the Cistercians who originally built Santa María de Óliva, which still exists (mostly in ruins). It's about two hours away from Anchuela del Campo, a most lovely part of Spain.

It's an interesting story of how the chapter house (a chapter house essentially is a large meeting room) was purchased, dismantled and dragged over to San Francisco to molder away for years in Golden Gate Park. While in the park, the pile of stones was diminished not only by time, but also pilfered for other uses, such as: bumper stops for parking in the Park, retaining walls in the Strybing Arboretum (yes, I know it has a new name; I just don't agree), stepping stones at the Japanese Tea Garden and to decorate the Park and other less public garden spaces (ah, ahem) around the Bay. The stone pile also served as a site of worship for a while by Guru Baba Kali Das and his followers.

Ultimately, the monks were able to get their hands on the remaining stones and put them to good use. At this time, the medieval portions of the structure have been completed, but the purpose of the building has changed. No longer to serve as a meeting place, the chapter house will now form part of the new church for the Abbey. Donations gratefully accepted.

The reconstruction of the pointed arches for the chapter house was featured on Nova's Building the Great Cathedrals in 2011. When we visited, all was quiet and calm.

Except at the tasting room. It seems that it was pick-up day for wine club members, and local wine lovers were bustling through to gather up their boxes. We didn't walk away with a full box, but we did bring home something for later.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

New Neighbors? Probably Not for Now...

Bewick's Wren

The old chickadee, then titmouse, now vacant apartment had potential new tenants. Yes, the Bewick's wren was very busy on Friday, shoving sticks, twigs and grasses into the box, in hopes of enticing over his best girl. Or probably any girl, for that matter.

Only problem, which is a really big problem, is that we have to take down the box in order to get a new roof on the garage (yup, the birdhouse is really an apartment over the garage. Just like in Sabrina.). And the roofing job is supposed to be soon, very soon. Like in two weeks.

Once there is a nest, the little bird family cannot be moved. Not only because it would be wrong, but it is also in complete violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Thankfully, the Bewick's wren is not endangered, but still, it is not good to mess with the nest.

So sadly, bright and early Saturday morning, we snuck out and detached the birdhouse from the garage. The box got a new home on the quiet (Princess-free) side of the house, still on its post 10 feet in the air.

Mr. Wren has not yet resumed work in the new location, but I've heard him over there, scoping it out. Think of it, though - same great space with a fabulous new view. We all hope he likes it. And that she does, too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cat? What Cat? I Don't See Any Cat... #5

Loot from Annie's Annuals

Mom's come for a visit, which means two things:

We absolutely have to go out to Annie's Annuals at least one time to stock up on vegetative necessities. And,

Princess is too shy to hang out with strangers. (The entire human world is comprised of "strangers", with the exception of two people. And one of them she isn't so sure about, either. We take turns being that one.)

But she gets lonely and is always lurking nearby, ready to move in for some lovey-dovey, should that evil stranger appear out of range.

Princess' Shadow

Monday, March 23, 2015

IkeaHacker Kitchen Counter

So last winter when we were moving the painting studio back home, I came up with this idea for adding more counter space in the old studio's kitchen.

I thought it was a pretty good idea and so did IkeaHackers, which shares many interesting ways to repurpose Ikea products. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Updates: #6

The weather has been beautiful, so the work on removing the old Bay Bridge span has continued. And as self-appointed volunteer monitors, we've gotten out the bikes to oversee the demolition.

The cormorants are still kicking around, although now there is a lot less bridge to perch on. But it seems a bit disingenuous to blame the birds for cost overruns, when Caltrans is clearly responsible for the greatest share of that mess. Even when you include all that guano.

We also wasted a chunk of time trying to catch a glimpse the troll, but we simply couldn't find him. I sent a message to "Contact Us" at Caltrans, asking for at least a small hint, but no word back yet.

The now senior amaryllis finally put out seven flower stalks. Just in time for the St. Patrick's Day holiday?

Teaspoon provided for scale
But the blooms kept me company while I was knitting teenie, tiny hats for preemie babies at a local hospital. The project was sponsored by project: peace, a local organization which coordinates quarterly(ish) "help-out" days at local schools and non-profits.

We are still eating zucchini fresh off the vine, last year's vine that is ("climate chaos" as my sister named it), and even a few peppers, also from last season. The plants are pretty ratty looking, but we are eating well.

Especially peas - both snow and snap peas. Lots of them. So, the question is, "Can you actually have too many peas?" Yes, sometimes, so thank goodness for my pea-munching friends.