Tuesday, February 26, 2013

And now for something completely different...

No reason, other than I wanted to get these pictures posted and linkable!

Highway Wiener Nationals - 2007

Click to enlarge
Tazz "The Spazz" is in the #5 position (and took a commanding lead!)
Princess Annie is #6 (and I don't think she even budged!)


Tazz won her heat and took fourth, overall, out of (I'm guessing) several hundred dogs!

And what did we win (besides Bragging Rights)?

Burglars Beware - or - "Watch Your Ankles!"

Awesome times!

The following year, we didn't do so well.  Tazz made it to the finish line - and beyond!!!  Either her vision was starting to go and she just-plain didn't see me (that's a distinct possibility), or she was just so excited she ran right past me and into the crowd!

Sadly, after two back surgeries, Tazz's racing days are over.  And Annie and Dynah are just too lazy slow for racing!

And in related news:  If you're even remotely into Weenie Dogs, this movie is absolutely HYSTERICAL!

Wiener Takes All

Here is a trailer:

OTOH - If you aren't into Weenie Dogs, you'll probably shake your head and wonder what the hell is wrong with people! ;-)


Edit: Ooh, I Googled 2007 Wiener Nationals and - aside from getting the Wienerschnitzel Competition - I did find one more photos of my girls!

Tazz and Dynah, and an unidentified onlooker!
Image Credit: westbaybanjo on Flickr

Sunday, February 24, 2013

So how are those seedlings coming along?

I'm so glad you asked!

Two trays full!

I'd say it's going pretty well!

So at this point, I have added a hanging adjustable fluorescent light fixture like this one:
Image Credit: Amazon
This is the 2-foot model.  I think I may need to upgrade to the 4'!

And I also bought an inexpensive oscillating fan like thus:

Again, image credit to Amazon

Annnnnd...  I've got both rigged-up to an Aquarium Timer:

Yep, Amazon again!

Hell, I oughtta figure out how to become an Amazon Affiliate - given how many links I post back to them!  But no, I get no spliff for sharing.  I just really-really like Amazon (And I love-love-love Amazon Prime.  Free FAST shipping! :-)

So anyway...  I've got the light fixture rigged up so it's hanging just a few inches above the seedlings.  And both the lights and the fan are set to run from 6:00am to 6:00pm.  The lights will help the seedlings grow strong and not have to "stretch" for light. Yes, they are in the greenhouse - but the greenhouse is covered with 60% shade-cloth.  It is fairly bright on it's own - just not bright enough - and if I removed the shade cloth, it would positively roast in there on sunny days.  

The fan is aimed mostly at the seedlings, but it does oscillate.  Finny told me that the fan will also help the babies grow stronger stems, plus the constant air-flow *should* help with deterring critters (white flies, aphids) and keep the soil surface from getting fuzzy/moldy.  The flip-side to that is, I *have* to go check the babies every day because they do tend to dry out a lot faster.

Okay...  Notes/Observations on germination:  I'm not experiencing 100% germination - but I have to admit that some of my seeds were pretty old.  So, it looks like (once again!), no Luffas or Birdhouse Gourds.  Most of the tomato seeds were pretty fresh, though - and I am surprised (and disappointed) to see that none of my Burpee "Super-Sauce" tomatoes have sprouted yet (that's one of the FEW seed varieties that actually I purchased this year).  Luckily, my friend DV says she ordered an extra Super-Sauce Tomato Plant from Burpee, so I suspect we'll be doing some trading in the weeks to come!

So yeah.  Babies are coming along - and I think (hope) it's not too late for more seeds to decide to come to life!

And in other gardening news:  Yep, I'm still harvesting cool-season stuff!


Beds have been uncovered now (Yay!), but I still keep getting these @#$% "Extreme Cold Alert" emails from Weather Channel (which means I keep having to run out and re-cover the Plumerias!)

Annnnnd...  I've already started amending my beds with bagged steer manure and Bumper Crop soil amendments.

Wake-up! Wake-up! Wake-up!!!
Yep - definitely a hint of Spring in the air!!!

Finny-Farm Bed.  
At this time of year, it doesn't get full-sun (it's tucked between my studio and greenhouse).
My Brassicas are very happy!

Don't they look happy?!!

I haven't started my Test-And-Amend Ritual yet (Soon!  Very soon!), but I think we're on-track for an awesome Gardening Season!

Oh, and in other Gardening News: I have a Cordyline Addiction!

It started out with Cordyline fruticosa - which is a tropical variety (currently residing in my greenhouse)

"Wahhh!  I wanna live IN the house!"

This is what it's supposed to look like:
And it will - once I find a suitable location for it!

And here are my latest additions to my Cordyline Addiction:
Clockwise from rear:
Large bronze Cordyline australis
Small black Cordyline "Renegade"
Small Cordyline "Electric Pink"

These three plants ARE suitable for our climate (unlike C. fruticosa who is truly tropical).  So they'll live on the patio year-round...

I've already potted-up the large bronze one, into a large (tree-sized) pot.  I plan to pot-up the rest of them in smaller ceramic pots and finding a nice place to group them together on the patio...

I ALSO decided that the outer perimeter of our yard needs some sprucing up.  We've got huge Italian Cypresses running along the fence-line and, over the years, I've tried to add different ground-cover type plants.  My favorite, so far, are the African Daisies (Osteospermum something-or-other).  The foliage fills-in nicely, but the flowers only bloom in early spring (Which is fine.  Daisies aren't exactly Tropical!).  

Over time, I've tried adding more plants to the perimeter (with varying degrees of success).  Unfortunately, the perimeter is a *very* long run, and our drip-system is pretty-well maxed-out.  But I've stuck different types of palm trees out there (slow-growers like Pygmy Date Palms), and back along the far-far-back fence, I planted Agapanthus - hoping they would multiply and fill-in all the bare-dirt along the berm.  No such luck!

Sooooo...  While we were visiting some of Hubs' relatives, last year, in the Inland Empire (think super-hot and droughty So-Cal conditions), I noticed that they were using smallish ferns as ground-cover around their pool.  It looked positively awesome, so I asked about them (since I always considered ferns to be Shade-Lovers).  They told me that they were Sword Ferns and they seemed to do quite well with minimal water and full-sun.

I figure - in spite of the fact that I WANT to believe that Spring has Sprung - there's gonna be quite a bit more rain in the weeks/months to come, and THIS is when I should be planting stuff - if I want it to stand any chance of survival! I am NOT dragging a hose OVER the pool and ALL AROUND the perimeter of our yard (to be honest, I don't know if our hose is even long enough to make it to the far back fence!).

So I went online and researched "Sun and drought tolerant ferns."  Found this site - which was awesome!  Yup.  Seems like Sword Fern is the way to go!  I checked Home Depot (they had ONE in stock!), as well as our local nursery (which would have been grossly overpriced - if they had 'em!).  I ended up surfing online and discovered that I could either purchase 15 bare-root ferns for appx $90.00...  Or if I went to their "wholesale" site (same site!), I could buy 100 bare-root ferns for less than $80.00!

Yes, it IS madness, but I bought 100 ferns!  And honestly, I could probably put them all to use (our yard is that big!).  But I am really hoping that they are SMALL plants, so I only have to dig 100 SMALL holes, right?!

Besides, whatever I don't plant, I am SURE I can pawn-off on friends and neighbors!

Okay then...  I think that post was PLENTY Rambly!

I've got CRABS! (Recipe: Crab & Shrimp Bisque - with BACON + Seafood Louie Salad)

I love living in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I especially love it when Dungeness Crab Season is upon us!

Dungeness Crab Season was particularly fun - back when I lived on a boat in South San Francisco.   I have many fond memories of having Crab Boils on the dock - which, naturally, resulted in full-blown dock parties! (Nevermind that we were huddled around the Cajun-Cooker, in gale-force-winds, with our teeth chattering!) (Yes, they are STILL fond memories!)  

We are talking about Mega-Fresh Crab.  There were some commercial fishing boats at the marina next door, and we'd buy our crabs FRESH off the boat!

Image Credit: Instructables
In fact, here is a link for cleaning/cooking dungeness crab

So yeah, I LOVE dungeness crab!  Don't love the messy/stinky prep-work- however - which is why this is kind of a rare treat around here.  Although...  If you ever have an opportunity to dine at Joe's Crab Shack (which we did - ironically - in land-locked Arizona!), be sure to steal the plastic crab-discombobulating tool.  It's a life-saver!

Yes, I stole it.  And I feel no shame! 

Side-Story:  Maryland Blue Crabs.  I have relatives in Maryland and while I was visiting one year, I bought a huge bag of fresh-cooked, still-steaming, Maryland Blue Crabs and brought 'em "home" to my cousin's.  They set-up the backyard picnic table with sheets of newspaper and several rolls of paper towels (and assorted hammers and forky/prier-outer-tools), and we had a delightful crab feast one evening.  But the thing about Blue Crabs is: They're the same amount of messy/stinky work - per-crab.  But Blue Crabs are much smaller - so it ends up feeling like 3x the work for one-third the quantity of meat!

Plus (IMHO) Maryland Blue Crabs just aren't as sweet or tasty as Dungeness (Sorry, Maryland!)

Yeah, so last week at the grocery store, cooked Dungeness Crab was on sale for $4.99/lb (Great Price), so I bought one!  I also picked-up a pound of salad shrimp and a loaf of sourdough bread...  Ohhhh there's gonna be a San Francisco Feast!!!

Originally, I was thinking I'd make a vat o' New England Clam Chowdah - but decided crab bisque would be better.  I couldn't find any recipes that exactly matched the ingredients I had on-hand, so I invented my very own recipe (Ooooooh!!!). 

Here goes!

QT's Crab & Shrimp Bisque - with BACON
Yield: Appx 6 generous servings

  • 4-6 slices of thick-cut bacon
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3-4 stalks of celery
  • 6-7 leaves of fresh chopped basil
  • 1-2 TBS unsalted butter and/or 1-2 TBS olive oil (if needed)
  • 3 cans (@ 6 oz which nets 4 oz drained) crabmeat*
  • 1 can diced tomatoes**
  • 1 @ 8 oz bottle of clam juice
  • 2 cups organic vegetable juice (like V8 - only without the high fructose corn syrup!)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1-2 cups half-and-half
  • Old Bay Seasoning (← mandatory ingredient!)
  • Salt and (red) pepper, to taste...
  • 1-2 tbs flour + water (optional - to thicken the soup)
  • Handful of fresh crab and/or salad-shrimp (optional)
  1. Fry up the bacon 'til crispy.  Remove bacon and tamp it with a paper towel.  Keep the bacon grease in the pan.
    Depending upon how fatty your bacon is, you might need to drain some off.  Spreckles is VERY lean, so I actually had to add olive oil and butter toward the end of cooking!
  2. Finely chop your onion, garlic, celery and basil.  Toss it in your big pot with the bacon grease.  Add butter or olive (if needed).
  3. Saute on medium-low 'til the veggies are limp and translucent.
  4. Add clam juice, canned tomatoes, crabmeat and vegetable juice.  Bring to a light boil, then reduce heat.
  5. Add sour cream and half and half.  Stir until heated through.
  6. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes (do not boil - you don't want to scorch the cream).
  7. Grab your immersion blender and blend the soup 'til nearly smooth (it'll still be a wee bit lumpy - and that's okay).
  8. Finely chop your bacon and toss it into the soup.  Add more fresh lumpy crabmeat and/or salad shrimp.
  9. Give it a sample and add salt/pepper and Old Bay Seasoning to taste.
  10. If it's too runny for your tastes, mix a TBS of flour with water and stir it into the soup, to thicken.
*Yes, I know the bisque base has (GASP) canned crab - but I wanted to use the majority of the fresh crab in our salads.  I did dump a generous handful of fresh crab in, at the end

**I would have preferred to use a quart of frozen-squozen tomatoes - but I ran out and had to use canned instead!

Image Credit: Old Bay
Love-Love-Love this stuff!

Okay, I'm gonna skip the whole "Cleaning/Prepping the Crab" tutorial (Messy work - and I didn't want Crab Gooze on my camera, k?!).  Go back to the Instructables Site if you need help!

Bisque on the stove...
This was before the immersion blender whirred all the chunky bits into oblivion!

Bisque in the bowl
"Get into mah belleh!"

Along with the bisque, I figured we needed a bona fide San Francisco Treat for dinner, so I also whipped together a most delightful Crab + Shrimp Louie.  Nothing particularly "original" here, but I figured I'd list the ingredients just the same...

Ohhh yeah!  Good stuff!

Crab & Shrimp Louie
Yields: 2 very generous salads (I couldn't finish mine!)

  • Meat from one freshly cooked/cleaned Dungeness Crab (minus the handful that ended up in the bisque)
  • 1 lb salad shrimp.  These are the teeny, previously-frozen, de-veined/de-tailed shrimps.  Not the big finger-sized prawns. (Again, this is minus the handful that ended up in the bisque) (and you could probably get away with buying only half-a-pound for 2 salads - to be honest!)
  • 1 bag of salad greens (Ohhhh, such a CHEATER!  But I supplemented with fresh red lettuce greens and spinach from my garden, k?!)
  • Couple of smallish, sweet salad tomatoes (I used Campari tomatoes - which are actually 'pretty okay' for store-bought!)
  • Half of a smallish red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • Half of a thinly sliced cucumber
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
  • Tiny can of sliced black olives (I only used about half - on two salads)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 lemon
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • Thousand Island Dressing
  • Croutons (optional)
  1. Rinse your salad greens and pile 'em up on a plate.
  2. Arrange your other veggies (eggs, lemon) around the perimeter of the plate
  3. Rinse (and dry) your shrimp and crabmeat.  Pile 'em up on top of the lettuce and sprinkle with Old Bay Seasoning.
  4. Serve with Thousand Island Dressing and warm sourdough bread with butter.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Seed Starting!

So while everybody on the East Coast is busy digging themselves out from the latest Nor'Easter, we were cruising down the highway...

Listenin' to Buffett
Kindly make note of the outside temperature ;-)

A quick trip to the chiropractor to get knocked back into shape.  Then back home and run-out to the garden to see if I can't UN-do all the good the chiropractor just DID!

60* isn't exactly balmy - but it was adequate for garden-chores in shorts and a tank top (and a flannel overshirt!) - as long as I stayed in the greenhouse and/or kept moving!

You never tire of looking at my brassicas, do you?!
(Ohhh - you should be ashamed of yourself!)

Remember these?

Well, I kinda decided - today - that they weren't gonna plant themselves!

Of course, I couldn't possibly plant ALL of them.  So my "Seed Hoard" got edited down, significantly.  Nevertheless, I think I'm gonna end up with PLENTY of babies in a few weeks!

Gourds and Cukes and Squashes
("Oh, my!")

And Eggplants and Melons and Maters
(although not as many 'maters as you might expect!)

I setup two flats on two heat-mats with one thermostat..

Now, we wait and see how it goes!  I haven't rigged up any lights in there yet, but I'm sure I will.

I am definitely calling this "Progress" toward a Most Successful 2013 Gardening Season!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Recipe: Hand-held Scottish Meat Tarts To-Go!

Gotta type it out while it's still fresh in my mind! I'll add pics and commentary later...........

Memories of Morrison Meat Pies:

I have no clue why Morrison Meat Pies decided to take-up residence in my brain today, but they did.  And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  See, when I was a wee spud, we'd go visit my grandfather in West Jordan, Utah every year.  One of our traditions, whenever we'd visit  Grampa, was to nosh on these unique little meat pies from Morrison's.  I'd never had anything like them before - or since!

Several years ago, Morrison Meat Pies lodged itself in my brain - just before Christmas - and I decided to surprise my mom by ordering a whole case of these pies and having them delivered to her house.  I can *still* hear her squeal of delight when she received the shipment!

Anyway, I really like Morrison Meat Pies is what I'm saying.  And I decided I wanted "something similar" today.  A trip to Utah is not forthcoming, so I was forced to consult Google - in an attempt to find the recipe...

I found a couple of Scottish Meat Pie Recipe here and here.  I didn't really "follow" either of them, but they were a good launching point.

I don't have a proper Scottish Meat Pie Pastry Mould (wouldn't recognize one if I saw it!), but I figured I could improvise Cheater's Style with frigerated pie-crust...

QT's Handheld Scottish Meat Tarts

Yield: Appx 8 tarts and some leftover filling ;-)

  • Refrigerated Pie Crusts (2) for 9" pie
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves fresh minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped white mushrooms
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • olive oil
  • Your choice of seasonings (I used Lawry's steak seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, white pepper, and a splash of Worchestershire sauce)
  • Your choice of sauciness (I used a Swanson Flavor-Boost packet - beef flavor + an envelope of McCormick's Brown Gravy mixed with 1/2 cup of water).

  1. Heat a large saute pan with a couple TBS of olive oil.  Saute the onions, garlic and potatoes over medium heat 'til translucent and limp.  
  2. Add the ground beef (break it up into teeny mincy-bits - not "chunky") and cook 'til browned.  
  3. Add mushrooms and cook some more.  
  4. Deglaze the pan with red wine, add seasonings and saucy stuff.  Reduce heat to super-low, cover and simmer while you prep the crusts.
  5. Preheat oven to 375*F.  Unroll your (thawed) refrigerator crust.  Cut it into quarters and scoop 1-2 TBS of filling in the center, then roll the edges together (your "tart" should end-up roughly triangular).
  6. Seal with a smidge of water and press together with a fork.  Poke a vent hole in the tops of your tarts, then place on a greased baking pan.  
  7. Bake at 375*for appx 35-45 minutes 'til golden brown.  Optional - you can mix an egg with a little water and brush it onto the pie before cooking so you'll have a nice shiny glaze.

To be perfectly honest, these bear almost no resemblance to the REAL Morrison Meat Pies of my childhood.  But it was the best I could do - given the materials at hand!  It was still a mighty tasty lunchtime snack!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Garden + Greenhouse Update

Several years ago, hubs bought me a greenhouse for my birthday.  This was shortly after we'd built the pool, and I was insanely trying to re-create a Tropical Resort in our yard  - using plants that were CLEARLY not suited for our climate!  So yeah, the greenhouse was a very handy addition!

I received (and shared) a lot of guidance with the community at Gardenweb, and I also *attempted* to document the construction and "customizations" on my personal website.  Grant you, it's kind of disjointed - but it's still useful info - so I've left the pages up (even though I never update them!).

Greenhouse Saga Pages (if you're even remotely interested):

We bought a Greenhouse
Greenhouse Saga Continues
Solar Fan

There's more info out there, but that oughtta get you started if you are contemplating a similar purchase...

Hobby Greenhouses are actually a lot of work (surprisingly!).  Keeping it warm in winter, actually, wasn't all that difficult (Expensive - yes!  Difficult - not so much).  Keeping it cool on sunny days is a bigger challenge.  Note: I did not say "cool in summer."  Summer-use (for me anyway) is pretty-much out of the question.  I do have shade-cloth on it - which helps.  But it still gets ridiculously hot out there - and veggies seem to be much happier out in natural sunlight anyway! Wintertime: I typically line the ceiling and south(ish)-facing wall with big sheets of bubble-wrap.  I've also got a thermostat rigged-up with electric heaters (one oil-filled and one "barn" heater).  The thermostat is rigged to kick-on when the temps dip below 40* - which is just enough to keep stuff alive thru winter.

Over the years, I have severely cut-back on the number of marginal plants I am attempting to keep in the backyard.  I do still have my two original plumerias - which are now full-blown TREES and no longer fit through the doorway!  I had also kept Ti trees, Crotons, and a Bearss Lime - but they'd get sooooo infested with whiteflies and aphids it was hardly worth the effort (and don't get me started on my mealy/tasteless hydroponic winter-tomato-growing experiment!).

Now I've - more-or-less - reached the point where if it's marginal and I really-really want it, I'll treat it as an annual.  I'm totally "done" with trying to push my luck with tropical landscape plants!

But that doesn't change the fact that I've still got a greenhouse - and I really should USE it, right?  (BTW - there are a couple of baby plumerias and a Ti tree out there right now).  So this year, I plan to turn my greenhouse into a veggie-seed-starting-factory.  And Finny of Indie-Farms gave me some good ideas to get started...

First off, an afternoon of Seed-Sorting:

Followed by several evenings perusing Garden Pr0n:


Then...  Oh, I gotta CLEAN-OUT the greenhouse?!!  (Heh!  No "Before" pics, k?!)

Space!  The Final Frontier!!!

I'm not using my heaters at the moment, so I've tucked them into the corner behind the Ti tree.  And that weird buckety-lookin' thing is an outdoor hose-reel/garden sink that I intend to install outside...

Hey!  It's starting to look *almost* organized!

Got a couple of baby Plumerias on the shelf in front of the fan.  No, they don't look real healthy (although they do look better than the Plumies that lived under a bed-sheet all winter!).  I've also got heat-mats ready-to-roll - under the flats.  Haven't started any seeds yet - but will, very soon!

HydroFarm Mega Garden and Light Fixture

I haven't decided whether I'll fire-up the Mega-Garden or not (and no, it's NOT rigged-up to go - I'm basically using it to store seed-starting stuff).  Chances are, by the time I get around to it, it'll be too hot in there, but we shall see!

The plan was to rig-it-up and use it thru winter for growing lettuces but - obv - that didn't happen!

Lastly, lest you think I've been neglecting my Cool Season Veggies, let me provide this luscious update!

Raised Patio Planter filled with Salad Greens. Yummm!

And some Happy Brassicas:

So yeah, I'd have to say that 2013's Garden is off to a pretty good start, so far!


View my page on Meet the Phlockers