A Few Shots


It has truly been a while since I’ve posted on this blog. A lot falls by the way side when you have a baby. Photography has been one of the last things on my list of to dos. But luckily, I decided to take my Nikon D300 with me when we went camping a few weeks back. Lett’s Lake, in Mendocino National Forest, is truly beautiful and I feel like the photos pretty much took themselves. I had some fun switching some images to black and white where I felt the colour was unnecessary. I’m not a landscape photographer; Ansel Adams pretty much did that better than anyone. No, I like looking for form, textures and sometimes the colour. However, there are a few landscape shots just because the landscape was calling out to be recorded. I do not profess to be any good at it. Below are my best shots, landscape photos included. Hope you enjoy.

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Update on the Accidental Garden aka Hanging Gardens


So, as I’ve mentioned before, we didn’t put much thought into our garden this year being that we thought we were buying a house and moving out. Regardless of our neglect, the garden thrives on. And to his credit, my hubby waters the place every morning before he goes to work. In regards to actually planting anything, those that were are long gone:

Seedless Bok Choi

This is the Bok Choi I planted in early spring hoping to have it ready before the heat…unfortunately my timing was again off, and it bolted. I kept it in the bed, hoping that they would have some seeds to harvest…but alack and to my horrified dismay: seed pods with no seeds in them! Can anyone say Monsanto? I blame them for everything!

 

But on to cheerier, hardier things:

Mystery Squash

Early summer my hubby discovered a squash plant of unknown origin growing in a corner of one of our raised beds. Actually, he found many, but pulled all but one. This move is something he regretted, because as the plant grew, it formed lovely flowers, but no fruit.

With our non-expert, non-researched, unfounded opinions, we concluded that the plant would be a dud because there were no other plants around it to aid fertilization. So my hubby, unsure of what to do with the many gangly arms the plant was putting out, decided to strap them along the top of our fence. If they weren’t going to bear fruit, they were at least going to green up the place and we were going to enjoy their blooms. Well, sure enough, suddenly the splendid thing started to bear fruit…and it turns out to be a most amazing squash (exact type not yet identified) that I had discovered I loved last year at the farmer’s market!

The Fruit of our Non-Labor

Well, if we wanted to stop it from bearing fruit we couldn’t. The thing is a monster growing machine of the most impressive kind. Our impromptu “Hanging Garden” is such a success it even reaches into our neighbors yard where it also hangs it’s fruit tantalizingly. We are not opposed to sharing, so when I finally met our neighbor the other day, I encouraged her to please pluck and use the squash encroaching on her side of the fence.  Not just that side of the fence, but the back-end too:

Over the fence facing a back field
Hanging Bounty

The trick is to know when to pick them. One must wait until they are a deep red-orange for optimal tastiness, but weight is also a factor and I’m not sure if the stems can sustain such a load for too long. If anyone can hazard a guess as to the type of squash it is, please let me know!

I ventured out into the back field to take these shots, knowing full well I’d pay for it. You see, the back field is empty save for two things: moles and goat head weeds. Both have their disadvantages for gardens…and walking. We seem to have the mole problem taken care of this year, the goat heads are another thing. My hubby has been waging war with them since we moved here. If you’re not familiar with them, feel free to wikipedia the awful things. They grow, well…like weeds, and produce the hardest, spikiest seed that when in contact with anything rubber and full of air, aka bike tires, will pop them like no ones business. If one is unfortunate enough to track several of those into the house, and say those awful things actually relinquish their spiky hold on the soles of your shoes, then watch out! My bare foot has come in contact more than once with those nasty buggers hiding in the carpet tufts and has never failed in eliciting a scream of pain followed by a stream of expletives.

When visiting the field, one has to resigns oneself to the fact that there will be a lot of goat head removal before going even near the garden or the house or even drive-way (where our bikes reside). Check out the bottom of my flip-flops from my short photo-op adventure:

Goat Heads make spongy work of my poor flip-flops

 

More than once, a spike has managed to make its way all the way through the sole to my tender tootsies. Nasty stuff.

Moving on from nastiness, I leave you with a few images of the glorious growth in our Accidental Garden:

Morning Glories

Black tomatoes

(okay, we did plant the tomatoes, but also unplanned ‘cuz my boss begged me to take a few off his hands (he had over 60 tomato plants donated to the club and couldn’t fit them all)…so kind of accidental if you think about it…)

 

S

 

 

 

 

 

Le Jardin c’est Magnifique!


No credit to myself, the garden is looking pretty swell.

It’s my hubby who goes out every morning and waters the place. He also fought a valiant battle with earwigs and won. It took a bit to come up with a strategy, but once implemented the earwig populations was decimated. Our beer traps were not working so well- it caught snails and slugs but they weren’t the main issue. No, my hubby launched his attack at night, headlamp beaming on the hopelessly exposed earwigs who had unwittingly emerged from their day time hiding places to manger (pronounced “monjay” en Francais) on our romaine. The strategy? Flick as many possible into a bowl of soapy water. The survivors who missed the dip: death by rock.  I myself was not out there. I was lying in bed, trying to sleep over the din of rock hitting its target- Crack! Crack! Crack! It must have been satisfying because he was out there for quite some time. He proudly showed me the shriveled and mashed carcasses the next morning.

I won’t show you shots of the massacre lest it unsettle you. But here’s a lovely escargot, another garden terror. Our method of snail removal is to toss them over our fence into the back field. This guy is blissfully unaware of his upcoming aerial flight.

Our spring onions have been way over grown since fall. We decided to keep them in to see what would happen. After all, isn’t this just one grand experiment?

Last month they started flowering, and now check out the seeds:

Unsure of how to harvest, but unwilling to resort to google, I simply picked up a bowl and started massaging the heads until the seeds fell, en mass, into the dish.

My sister had taught me a nifty trick with morning-glory seeds: to separate seeds from the husks, simply blow. Seeds are heavier and will remain in the dish. So I figured, maybe it’s the same deal with these seeds. Thankfully, I was right and didn’t end up with an empty dish.

So now we’ve got seeds galore. Not sure what to do with them as it’s a little late, perhaps, to be sprouting them for this year. But I feel like such a pioneer when I gather seeds instead of buying them at the store. I feel like, “wow, I am da shit, I keep a self-sustaining garden”. The next step would be to actually label the seeds I harvest as it makes for some awful guess-work when the next season comes around. So, yeah, I’m a pioneer but not a very organized one…

The elephant garlic that started to magically grow this year, having skipped the previous year when it was actually planted, had started to grow flowers on top. We caved and googled ” when to harvest elephant garlic” and learned that we were really late. For some reason we thought we had to wait until the stalk shriveled and dried. Not so, you’re supposed to wait until the bottom leaves brown but the rest is still green. Then stop watering for a few days to allow it to begin to dry and then pull it from the ground. So we scampered out to the garden ( as if a few extra seconds would make us any less late in harvesting the things) and we gingerly pulled them out and found:

Note the little garlics hanging off the roots. No idea what that is exactly- must be its way of propagating itself. I imagine if left in the soil we’d have a whole planter box full of elephant garlic come next spring.

They cleaned up nice. Hopefully they will “set”, that is, dry nicely. Maybe we don’t even have to really worry about that since we only have two and I plan on consuming those bad guys quite soon.

Our green beans are growing..or should I say green bean singular. I think I will need to buy a miniature frying pan, because at this rate, that’s what I’ll be serving up, one green bean at a time. I can’t imagine that we will ever have a handful all at once…but you never know.

I leave you with a few more shots of the garden and its bounty!

S

A Few Photos


Gack.

I lack inspiration at the moment. My work schedule has shifted…I feel shifted…it’s going to take me some time to figure out how to reorganize my creative life.

In the meantime, since I missed taking part in the local photography club slide show ( a bi-annual community event)…just totally gapped, dropped the ball, forgot it was taking place… I am posting the photos I was going to show at the event here instead.

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Grilled Oysters and Salmon, Oh My! And Baby Birdies Make a Ruckus


I had an “Ah ha! Ho ho! Hee hee!” moment just last week as I cruised through the aisles of the local grocery, desperate for  a quick meal but not ready to totally compromise on quality.  Standing at the meat counter I was eyeing the salmon, debating between the chilean farmed fish for 8.99 per lb and the wild caught at 19.99 per lb. Reason won out and I decided on the affordable since fish is always a hit or miss with the hubby, and then what caught my eye was a nice pile of these suckers at 89 cents each. The guys at the counter are always awesome and ended up throwing in a few extra.

Back at the ranch I had my hubby start-up the grill whilst I prepped the salmon, skin on of course!

Salmon:

On tin foil drizzle liberal amount of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Lay salmon skin side down.

add salt and pepper on top (to taste)

add slices of lemon on top. Fold tin foil mostly closed.

Once the grill was ready, the salmon went on. Couldn’t tell you exactly how long since we usually determine its done-ness by poking at it. Roughly 10 minutes.

Then on went the oysters which required only a minute or so.

This folks was literally the fastest meal we’d every prepared. And all our weariness from the day was usurped by our excitement over  this special treat.

Once the oysters come off the grill, all you need are lime wedges and Tapatio sauce and you are good to go. Be sure, as you crack it open with a sturdy knife, to not spill the delicious juices – you’ll not only burn the crap out of your hands but you’ll also miss out on the added tastiness of the brine.

please try to ignore the purple on my thumb; as an art teacher to kids, I bring my work home with me on my clothes and hands!

Now, my hubby is not a fan of fishy stuff, but he loves this. Surprising indeed! And I have encountered all manner of gloppy, slimy, uncooked, fishy horrors during my stint in Korea, but this is nothing like that. It is pure yumminess all the way and you should try it!

Here’s how the salmon turned out:

And because the tin foil was not all the way closed, steam was allowed to escape and the skin was able to get crispy:

Laying the skin down on oil with salt is key to crispness!

And, because I don’t like to do without greens, here’s the simplest greens prep ever:

Steam a nice bunch of collards, turnip, spinach or mustard greens ( I cheat and buy a cleaned and cut bag with a mix of all of those greens at Trader Joe’s). If you use any of those greens it will take only 5 minutes since they cook up super fast. If you use Kale, expect about 20 minutes. Remember that it shrinks down like crazy, so don’t be afraid to steam what looks like a gargantuan amount.

Remove from water, drizzle a teaspoon of light soy sauce and a half teaspoon of sesame oil on top. Gently mix. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top:

Highly recommended: canned beer. It serves two purposes: 1. a yummy pairing with delicious oysters and 2. as a beer-can trap for awful slugs that keep eating our garden veggies.

Die slugs, die!

It really works! Cut the can in half, fill with about an inch of the beer you can’t finish or has gotten too warm to be refreshing anymore.

Okay, okay we’ve talked about slug death, now on to life! Baby bird life!

The joy of the grill is not just the food but the entertainment we get from the birds that visit our little yard. Right now we have a bunch of hungry blue bird babies and two very tired parents who are continually feeding them. It’s truly remarkable how non-stop it is. Approximately every minute one of the parents lands with some grub to put in their gaping mouths. The babies are making quite a racket with their chirping.

It’s a cut-throat brutal world for the birds. There’s always a threat that another bigger bird will come and drag the babies out for a wee snack. Mom and dad are very watchful and are always suspicious of us. We are always hyper aware of the chirping and when we don’t hear it we fear the worst. But so far, so good.

One wonders how the fattened up babies are going to squeeze out of that hole!

It’s nice to know everyone is well fed.

So try out the oyster thing, it will be well worth it and it’s about the easiest thing you could prepare for a meal.

S

Attempting to be a Successful Succulenteur and Other Garden Hits and Misses


Many posts ago I started on the path of succulent propagation.  My biggest experiment was using the “let it sit” method with a few leaves I’d gathered that had fallen from a succulent plant at the garden center – NOT stealing as they would have been considered cast offs and no doubt swept up and tossed.

So, to refresh, the method is to let them lie on a bed of Perlite in filtered light until they push out roots and then begin to form their own little plant. A while ago they put out a few tiny roots, but check it out now! The little plant is starting to form at the base ( you’ll probably need to click on the photo to enlarge it so you can really look closely):

 

Also, the heads of my Hens and Chicks have robust roots and are more than ready to be planted…if only I had a place to put them…

 

And, as I may have mentioned before, the art of becoming a succulenteur is really about experimentation. I just made a new observation about one of my succulents. It could almost seem to be a deliberate experiment with two test groups, but in reality it is all just coincidence that I had the same succulent type planted in two very different locations. One is outside in full sun, the other in filtered light. Check out the difference between the two!

 

The first one is in full light, the second in filtered. Note how in full light and heat they have balled up and tightened. In the filtered light they have opened up and stretched that neat webbing to its max. Both are doing well, but they adjust to their conditions in order to do so. Also, the one in full light popped out a lot of babies ( off shoots) in early spring due to lots of consistent rain…unlike the ones in filtered light which rely on my non-consistent watering patterns!

 

On the garden front…well, the Bok Choi bolted. This is the third attempt and the third failure. We’ve had really odd changes of temperature. I’m pretty sure the week of scorching heat is what caused them to bolt. But if it weren’t for the heat, I’m sure the pests would have done them in:

Note all the munched leaves.

 

Our little planter with chard turned into a potty for some nocturnal animal. All the sprouts were dug out and I believe if you look close enough you can even see a turd in the bowl. Boo!

Okay, since we’re on the track of failures at the moment, I may as well tell yo that some of my succulents started looking rather weird in the way they were forming their leaves. Also, I noted aphid-like critters on some of them. It seemed to be spreading, so I uprooted the ones that looked diseased.

 

Also, because of the funky weather, my living rock succulent’s flowers shriveled up and died without actually blossoming. I thought the whole plant would die, but it seems to be doing okay if you disregard the desiccated flowers at its center.

 

Onwards to brighter things! The Romain is doing fantastic. We had our first garden salad of the year a few days ago. The roses are in bloom, my Lambs Ear are taking over the entire patch and the bees are loving the flowers that just started blossoming from them. My Lavendula Dilly Dilly ( yes, the actual name of the lavender I planted, of course I chose it for its name!) is getting ready to bloom as well.

 

 

 

 

Our Purple Iris has run its course

 

 

But replacing it is a new kind:

 

And my established Hens and Chicks are also blooming:

 

And finally, after three years here, a lovely California Poppy has decided to join our accidental garden!

 

Annnnd we have a blue bird family in our little bird house. Every time we step into the garden you can hear the little babies chirping from inside, saying “feed me, feed me, feed me!” Our presence in the garden worries the parents who stand around with worms and insects in their beaks flitting to the roof of the house then away again unwilling to reveal to us where their precious babies are. And in accordance the babies fall silent too; until my hubby and I freeze in our actions to the point of shaking with the extended exertion of it until finally the mommy or daddy decide we’re no longer a threat and finally deliver the food to the anxious and voracious babies.

Mommy and…

Daddy!

 

Also, now that it’s getting hot, we are visited by our friendly neighborhood lizards who love our concrete step leading into the garden.

 

All in all, we are rather happy with our little backyard. We haven’t invested as much time in it as the previous year, but it is still a delight. Everything seems so alive and so active.

 

 

So, despite some failures in the gardening department, on the whole I think it is much more of a success. I’ll leave it at that!

 

 

S

On Roughing It at Big Basin National Park


It’s been quite a while, folks, since I last posted something. I was away on a 4 day, 3 night hiking/camping trip with my husband, his sister and her husband ( who only made it the last day as he was recovering from an infection from cat scratches and bites- yikes!) and two other friends.

How to make succinct what was truly epic. I am still trying to readjust to a real bed, a shower and a stove top on-which one can finesse the temperature with high, medium or low and everything in between.

I think I have about a billion photos. One of the perks of being the photographer is that you “have to stop” to take pictures, making me look less like a wimp and more like an artist. But truly, I was compelled to take photos because everything was gorgeous.

We hiked up from headquarters to a mountain ridge, camped there the first night and then took two days hiking to the ocean, and the last day hiking back. We experienced micro climates: warm and dry on the ridge, cold and damp near the ocean. We experienced moments of ” I don’t think I’m going to make it” and moments of ” I am rocking this so very hard-core!”

My one issue was a bum knee that decided to start twinging on the very first day. Lots of weight from our packs and a few badly placed foot plants and I was thinking I’d have to call it quits. It’s amazing how quickly one can go from feeling really fit and in the zone, to decrepid and like an old hobbled granny needing a walker. On the ups I could just hoof it like a pro, on the downs I had to slow down and limp the thing. But on day two I was loaned a hiking stick which made all the difference. As the days wore on, the packs got a little lighter and my knee a little stronger. By the end I felt like I could have gone at least another day…if not for our absolute longing for a shower to feel clean again!

Dehydrated food was our main fare. I was entirely shocked by how yummy some of that stuff is. The only time is was not thrilling was when too much water was added making for a sloppy mess. I dunno, could be that we would have eaten anything given our exhaustion levels at the end of each day.

Our little beer can stove came in handy. My hubby loves it so much he ended up boiling water for everyone in the group more than once. It’s not as efficient as some store-bought stoves, but man does it get the job done in a jiffy!

Here’s me sitting it out while everyone else does the 1 mile hike down to the creek to filter some much needed water:

We needed to fill our water containers about twice a day. Luckily there was many a stream along our hiking route.

This is one of  many wild irises growing everywhere. Mostly white and a few purple ones.

And there were even trilliums!

Not quite like the ones in Ontario, Canada where I grew up. The petals are much smaller, but still the signature three leaf, three petal plant.

Check out this watering hole where we rinsed off and got more potable water (upstream of where we cleaned ourselves, of course!). Freezing but glorious!

Banana slug love. Eeew. I live in fear of actually slipping on one of these guys. Ugh.

The falls on our second to last day. At times we felt like we were in the Jurassic period and that a pterodactyl or some such ancient beast would appear to eat us whole.

Amazing Red Woods.

Below is our incredible camp site on the last night. It was like a little faerie glen, surrounded by luscious trees like a protective wall with a little bit of sky peaking through the middle:

As if getting to the last camp site wasn’t enough, a few of us opted to hike the 1.4 miles to the ocean.

Voila!

I was pretty stoked. And do you know what’s by the ocean?

Rocks.

You can see in the above photo that I have already acquired one rock and that was within mere seconds of stepping onto the beach. I’m a pro.

And I am perhaps the only back packer who has ever hiked rocks back out with them. Yes folks, that is exactly what I did. Usually the goal is to consume weight over the course of days and end up with a lighter pack by the last day. Uh uh. Not me. I added rocks to my pack.

I couldn’t help it. It’s a compulsion.

My hubby watched me silently as my gaze wandered from the beautiful ocean waves and sky, to the rocks at my feet. He didn’t even say anything. Okay, maybe he may have uttered, “really?” But then he humoured me and left it at that.

People, I used utmost restraint. That beach was a gold mine of amazing rocks.

I could have stayed there for hours. But that would have been decidedly anti social.

So, I tore myself away after a measly half hour or so.

I got home with this loot:

What made this trip so satisfying was the feeling of achievement upon reaching camp after hours of hiking and getting to throw down that heavy-ass pack. Exhaustion makes eating and sleeping that much more appreciated. And perhaps, it can also explain this conversation between my husband and myself as we linked arms and each bent one knee behind us to stretch ours sore calves:

Hubby: “We’re like a two-legged horse”

Me: “…..”

Hubby: “…only with a lot of differences.”

At which time we cracked up and couldn’t stop laughing for about five minutes as we tried to figure out in what configuration a two-legged horse might remain mobile. This illustrates the state of our brains after a 4 hour hike.

All said and done. This roughing it thing was amazing. I am rearing’ to go again. Next time around, I will know how to pack more efficiently, will know what to bring and what not to bring… and I’ll definitely be leaving  room for a few rocks too.

S