Tuesday, December 27, 2005

In Winter, I Cook

When the last of the garden has died and the snow begins to cover the ground, I turn to the kitchen and bake like I'm sending every last Girl Scout to Europe.

One winter I found a great deal on graham cracker crusts at Sam's Club and bought like 100 of them, give or take. I was making a few cheesecakes a week for the rest of the winter. What I couldn't eat I brought to work and pawned off on my coworkers. They all thought that I was being especially nice to them, like I really liked them or something. No, actually, I was compulsed to bake them even if I didn't want to eat them, and I just couldn't see them go to waste.

I get that baking obsession every year the temperature drops. I think it is an instinctual thing. I actually think my body is preparing for hibernation.

This year is no different. I have been baking dozens of cookies. I'm making cookies even though there are still plenty left over from the last baking session. I have two dozen cookies sitting on the table right now, and I still made mango cobbler tonight for a snack. And now that I have the clay pot cooker, well, I have two chickens in the fridge right now cooked and needing to be eaten.

I think I have a problem. What I need is to go find me a nice bunch of homeless people that I can drop off food for.

So, as you have guessed, my blog will be morphing into a cooking blog for the winter.

Now I will leave you with my latest baking compulsion - dog biscuits.

This is my own recipe. I usually look at a bunch of different recipes trying to decide which one I will make, and in the end I just wing it.

1/4 cup bulghur wheat
2 1/2 cups flour (or more as needed)
2 eggs
1/3-2/3 cup rolled oats
1/8 cup flax seed
1/8 cup vegetable protein
1/8 cup wheat germ
1/2-3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Mix all this together. It should resemble bread dough. Add more flour if it is too sticky. Roll out onto floured area and cut the dough into desired sizes and shapes. I had bone shaped cookie cutters, but your dog really isn't going to care what they look like. You could just cut them into strips.

They should be baked in a 325 degree oven for about 40-60 minutes. They will be dry and hard when done. Cool and store in a non-airtight container.

My dogs highly approved!! Four paws!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Kitchen Must Haves

(I originally did this post on my main blog Syllogism, so if you visit me there, you probably already read it!)

I heard about clay pot ovens about four years ago on NPR's "Splendid Table". She always talks stuff up on that show so much, I once had an over whelming urge to rush out and spend $30 for an ounce of vanilla beans. Luckily my sensibility prevailed, but I do still wonder what all the hype is.


I looked for clay pot ovens in department stores and specialty shops and discovered that they are both very hard to find and very expensive if you are lucky enough to locate one. Not wanting to spend $50 on something I wasn't even sure would outlast the fad stage of kitchen gadgetry, I left them for another day - the day that I make my millions.

There is a second hand shop in our town that I absolutely LOVE!! It is one of my favorite places to buy clothes and they always seem to have the household stuff that I have trouble finding other places. And the clay pot oven was no exception. They had three of them! I bought one today for $10. Isn't it great looking? SSB loves the Aztec style symbols on the pot, I love the utilitarian shape - the bottom nests perfectly in the lid for easy storage.

I immediately washed it out (you can't use detergent; you must use either salt or baking soda to wash it). While it was soaking in water (you need to soak it in water for 10-15 minutes before putting the ingredients so it will keep your food moist while it cooks) I chopped up a sweet onion, a few potatoes, and a few stalks of celery. I also ground some rosemary and thyme in my mortar and pestle (another kitchen must have!). Once the pot had soaked up enough water, I threw some apple cider drink mix in the bottom, piled in a cut whole chicken, sprinkled it with sea salt and the ground spice, then dumped in the chopped veggies with some baby carrots. On goes the lid and into a cold oven. Turned on the oven for 450 degrees (100 degrees hotter than you would usually cook the food at) then I left to run some errands. And I almost made it back in time!

So yeah, there was a little burning involved because I stayed out too long. BUT it was still AWESOME! The chicken was so tender that it just fell off the bone. And it was still pretty moist considering that it had overcooked. There was no added oils to cook the chicken so it is healthier. Plus the way that the chicken is cooked enhances the vitamin and mineral content in the chicken giving it the beneficial properties found in chicken soup.

Doesn't it look delicious even if it is a little, er, toasty?

IT WAS! The apple cider mix was a great inspired touch, too!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Inside the Shed

Here is the main floor all tidy with plenty of room for more stuff. This is the first winter that we could actually walk into the shed! Usually we have to climb over stuff. (As an aside, a ground hog has dug a home under the floor boards of this shed. It comes back every summer. I love having it around because it really likes to eat the weeds in my garden and it scares away the neighborhood cats. And a few neighbors, as well!)

Here you can see the loft area. Notice the particle board? This roof was literally caving in. In fact right above the access hole, there had been a HUGE hole in the roof; so we had to re-roof. They put the loft access hole in just the right spot. The windows are right there, so having the hole there lets in a lot of light to the whole shed. This shed doesn't have electricity hookup - so we need the natural light.

And here is the loft. We had stored some extra lumber and our sleds up here, but there was so much space, I had to take advantage of it. I just wonder why I had waited so long! Notice the rustic lumber. This shed was built when they were still using square nails! Tear it down? No Way! It's an antique!!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Whew! I Actually Did Some Gardening Today!

It finally was warm AND I had time! Well, it also helped that I downed a pot of coffee. Yeah, being wired on caffeine can really help you get things done.

I cleaned up some of the sunflower plants that had been knocked down. I like to leave the sunflowers up during the winter for the birds, plus they look real nice in the snow. I just took down the really messy looking ones.

I also cleaned up all the gourd vines. I had not even realized how far those vines had gotten. I still have to get out there and pick up all the gourds that were left behind. There has to be about fifty pounds of the buggers.

I put a few insulating cones on some of the plants that I am a little concerned about, like my hibiscus and the Astilboides tabularis. I still have to cover my roses, but amazingly enough, they are still quite green and thriving. My white rose still has a couple of flowers on it! It seems a shame to cut them back when they seem to be enjoying themselves so much.

I also finally got my shed organized so that all the stuff that I have to pack away for the winter will actually fit in there. I have a loft in the shed that I have never taken full advantage of, and today I was able to pack it nearly full leaving the main floor very spacious. But even with all the stuff in the loft, I still have room for all the camping stuff that I still have to pack away.

When we got the house, my neighbors and our insurance company tried to convince us to tear the shed down. I loved the rustic look of the little shed and I knew that we could use all the extra storage that we could get. Besides, every gardener needs a garden shed. They did have a point in wanting it gone. The roof was rotten and caving in and the whole thing was leaning out into the alley. But we took care of all that. We reinforced the frame and re-roofed the whole thing. It is now a sturdy little work horse for my garden. Isn't it cute? (Oh, BTW, this is a picture from earlier in the season. I forgot to take pictures today.)

Saturday, October 29, 2005


That gazebo that you see in the picture below has been needing concrete pads under the legs since we put it up for graduation in the spring. Well, we finally got it done today since it was such a nice afternoon. For concrete, you should have a hammer drill. It goes in like butter! Luckily I bought one a few years ago for another project I was working on. It was $25 to rent it and about $100 to buy it. I wasn't sure how long I'd need it so it just seemed like a reasonable thing to just go ahead and buy the drill. I was so glad that I did. It took us about an hour to get the whole thing done.

We have been putting that off for so long and it ended up being so easy that I feel silly now...as I usually do after getting something done that I have been avoiding for too long. Especially when it ends up being not such a big deal after all.

Oh, well. Now I'm off to avoid the rest of my garden chores!!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Fall Garden

Even though it means that I am nearing the end of my gardening season. I have a lot of chores to do. As usual, I probably will put off many clean-up jobs until next spring. Did I mention that I am a lazy gardener?

I like to leave some plants up for winter interest: Autumn Joy sedum, garlic chives, echinacea, Goldsturm blackeyed susans, various grasses, and even the tall garden asters. The birds have a great time picking at them during the winter months and they look so pretty with the snow covering them.

This is the first year since I have live in this house that I haven't planted any bulbs. I thought that I would feel lost, but I don't even really feel a desire to plant them. What is wrong with me? I have this feeling that I will have an overwhelming urge to plant a couple hundred at the end of October- like when all the stores try to get rid of the bulbs they have left and I just can't pass up such fantastic deals!! Then I'll be out there in the cold scrambling to get them in the ground. I'm sure some of you know what I am talking about.

I bought some isulated covers for a few plants: my two rose bushes (this time, I will NOT kill them!!), the Plum Crazy hibiscus, and the experimental Astilboides tabularis. I have been debating covering my rhododendron since it is the first year and I have had bad luck keeping them alive. Any of you cold-weather gardeners have any suggestions?

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Glory of Bagging Mowers

This spring I got a new mower since SSB insisted that the old one was broke. I didn't argue too much since I had been dying to get a bagging mower to replace that mulching piece of...Well, let's just say that I really don't like having to clean up after a mower!

This picture shows exactly why I was so hot to get a bagger- the green, grassy area used to be just as leaf covered as the other areas, until I mowed that is! NO MORE RAKING!!! I thought that it couldn't get any better than just not having to rake up the grass after mowing, but the added bonus of no leaf raking has me forever sold on bagging mowers!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Beware the Gift of Fruit!

I had a friend over in July for a sewing get-together. We had snacks of chevre and Triscuits as well as some apples and caramel. She had brought, as her contribution to the goodies, a couple of pears. We ate one, and I kept the other in the fruit bowl to use up later.

Well, it wasn't two days later my house became infested with fruit flies! There were dozens of them flying by the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, and attacking my other fruit. I threw the pear away and proceeded to kill every one of the little buggers that I could.

Fruit flies are so tiny that the very act of trying to swat them blows them out of reach of your weapon of choice. I'm pretty accurate at clapping them to death, and I can even manage a good one-handed catch-n-squash every now and then. But it is now October, and I am STILL battling an army of them!

My dogs think that I'm trying to correct them for naughty things as I clap away, yelling and cussing. They are very concerned and nervous. As I'm typing this in the living room, I have had at least three of them fly right up to my face. This is ridiculous!

Help! I promise to never keep gift fruit again, but what can I do to get rid of these pesky little bastards?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Fabulous Freaks

This echinacea started itself this year. I almost pulled it up because it was in a place that I didn't want it and I had so many other echinacea already growing. Once again, something stopped me. I am glad that I left it because I almost bought an echinachea that had this horizontal petal feature, and now I don't have to! The flowers keep their petals horizontal to the very end too. It is even better than the ones that I almost bought since the flowers are over twice the size of normal echinachea as well. They are HUGE!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Evening Hummingbird?

Several years ago as we were approaching the house coming back from dinner, there was something hovering around the flowers in the front of the house. It was late dusk. We thought at first that it was a hummingbird because it was the same size, moved just like one, and was feeding on the flowers. But it was practically night. If the porch light had not been on, we probably would have never seen it. But we still would have heard it because it sounded just like a hummingbird too.

I tried to get a closer look. It did not seem to be too concerned with me as I got closer. It continued to rapidly flutter around feeding on the impatiens that I had planted in the front flower beds.
It wasn't a hummingbird after all. It was a moth! I had never seen anything like it. SSB and JD had crept up behind me to get a look at this strange creature. It didn't seem too concerned about them either.

I was listening to public radio this morning and learned the name of this particular wonder: the white lined sphinx moth. It is common in my area.

These are pictures I pulled off the internet. They show the hovering manuevers. In the second you can even see the rotating wings that help the moth maintain it's position in front of the flower.
I was amazed at the mobility this moth had. It flew FAST!! And these pictures show how really beautiful this moth is too. The insect expert that was talking about them said that they are most active in late summer to early fall. They are found in Central America and the West Indies into most of the US and southern Canada. They are also found in Eurasia and Africa. So the next time you are out at dusk and you see something flitting around your garden, you just might have a white lined sphinx moth visitor.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

End of Summer Blowout

It was a good thing that I took that picture of my sunflowers when I did! We had a bad storm rip through here last night and this is what that plant looks like today. Oh well, they were beautiful while they lasted!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Here are some of the last of my sunflowers. I think that these by far are the best.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Cats at Large

Ever since I moved into this house I have had a problem with cats. The first year there were so many cats that you could barely drive down the street. They would actually lay in the street. They wouldn't move. They'd just look at you like, "Yeah? What are you going to do about it?" There were times I fantasized about just running them over. Sigh! I could NEVER do it though. It's just not in me. Besides, it's not the cats' fault. It's the owners fault.

I do not know where this whole myth got started about cats shriveling up and dying a horrible death if they are not allowed to roam free through the countryside. My dog would love nothing more than for me to let him loose on society too. Does that mean I should be allowed to do it? I suppose that dogs became more contained as societies became more and more congested due to the fact that they were more dangerous to people. But cats are dangerous in their own right. They can spread diseases, attack animals that are contained- such as dogs and other cats, and they kill billions of birds and other small animals a year. Even if the cat is well fed. Even if the cat is sweet and playful. Cats kill. They have evolved into what some may argue is one of nature's perfect killing machines.

Those birds that were in my last post are just some of the animals at risk to cats at large. I have a friend that I lecture all the time about her cat on the loose. She will tell me sad stories about how he killed a chipmunk or a cardinal (apparently two of his favorite prey items). She will also tell me how her neighbor complains about her cat being in her yard. I tell her that she will get no sympathy from me. I remind her that he should not even be running around. There is a leash ordinace in this city- and that includes CATS!

So, this morning, my son comes running into the house yelling about a cat in my garden. There have been two male cats coming to my yard on a regular basis to hunt. There were three. The third was REALLY annoying because he would howl, for hours! I'm not sure what happened to him. I haven't seen him in awhile. I think his owners moved.

These cats were responsible for two bunny deaths in our yard. You know those cute little bunnies that I posted about. They are also responsible for spraying my house (yeah, YUCK! My house smells like cat piss, and now MY cat is trying to mark over the smell. Thanks, ya jerks!), digging in my garden, shitting in my garden (that's just such a lovely little surprise when you are weeding), and worse yet- they have even killed a few birds.

SSB leaps into action. He ran outside to try and catch it. It was the grey-striped cat. Our neighbor drove his car over (???, uh, weird to us too) and started asking us all sorts of silly questions about the cat. Then he told us who he thought the cat belong too. Hey, thanks! That's actually helpful!

Well, we lost that cat. Just as we were trying to put him in the cat carrier- he got away. Darn!

But, the day was not lost. Within 10 minutes it's buddy- a big black cat came into our yard. This one is especially annoying because he refuses to be chased off. He'll run off, but then come back as soon as you turn to walk away. I had to spray him with the hose several times one day just to get him to leave. He REALLY NEEDED to spray all my bushes apparently. Well, not TODAY SUCKA!! We got him. SSB sustained several nasty scratches and punctures in the process, but he's in the cat carrier right now munching on some cat food.

I called the police to let them know what was going on. I gave them the address that the neighbor gave me. I let them know that I wasn't sure that this really was the owner of the cat that got away, though. They are filing a complaint, and I'm bringing the cat in to the Humane Society tomorrow. Don't fear! It's a no-kill shelter.

I know that this is not the end to my cat problems. I implore all of you out there that let your cats run free and you don't have a barn or grain shed that they are in charge of- keep them contained! For the love of your neighbors and more importantly, for the love of those cute little songbirds!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Morning Garden Visitors

Here are a couple of garden visitors that decided to come check me out this morning. I almost got a picture of a curious chickadee, but couldn't get the camera to focus in time. Darn!

I have lots of finches and cardinals that visit my garden every morning. They like to eat the sunflower seeds on the plants as well as the ones that I put in the feeder every morning. Maybe they recognize me as a food source. Maybe they are facinated with my technology. Maybe they just think that I'm trying to take their food. Whatever it was, I had birds following me all while I was out this morning.

Except the usually aggressively bold blue jays. They were no where to be found or heard this morning. Hmmm...I wonder what is up with that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Little Retreat

This is the gazebo that we put up this spring. It was so hard to find just the right one. I already had the area laid out in a circle, so I needed one that was circular. I didn't want to block out the sun, so I wanted one that was sparse. I wanted something cheap but sturdy. And I was really interested in something that looked like wrought iron. I love curves and floral-like patterns (duh, huh?). This gazebo was it! I got it from Target. It was easy to put together. It would be easy to take apart if I wanted to put it away for the winter- I'm still deciding. I might just hit it really hard with WD-40 before the snow flies and then get out there whenever it warms up to do the same. I did put an extra coat of enamel on this to protect it a little better, and so far it has been working just fine! We have had some VERY BAD wind storms (we are in the plains area, and we get winds that knock over trees) but this has withstood no problem.

I was so happy to see this become the little getaway area that I was hoping that it would be. I started the morning glory sometime around the first of July. I will definitely use these next year, but I will start them a lot earlier. I can go out here in the morning and have some coffee or tea. Only ocassionally do I need to clean the chairs of bird droppings. I love the birds, but can't they find other things to crap on?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Gourds Galore

Do you think that I should cut these vines back? My husband keeps talking about it, and it probably is a very good idea considering that these vines are determined to take over the entire westside of the flower garden, but I just can't bring myself to do it.

I think today is the day though. This thing is just getting out of control. Maybe I'll send him in to do the dirty deed. He will be merciless. Look out gourds!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

There's Still Life Out There

This is the first year that I have grown dahlias. I like them enough, but for the work that is required, I don't know if they are worth it. This is a Thomas Edison. This is the first flower from the three of these that I planted that didn't come out deformed in some way. I really like the color and the solidity of the plant and flower. I'll dig these up and try it again, but I don't hold out much hope for success next year.
These rudbeckia I started from seed this year. Mid-late June as a matter of fact. I didn't even get these out of the pots that I started them in. I was really surprised to see these bloom this year, but oh so glad that they did! I love these so much! I hope that they fair well through the winter. If not, I would still plant them again next year. They were easy to start from seed and bloomed just fine the same year.
Yea! More echinacea! As you can see, they are just starting to fade out. There is a little browning along the edges, but they are still beautiful. The goldfinches are loving these. I have about ten to fifteen visiting every morning. There are also two to four cardinals and a few sparrows that visit too. I can hear the blue jays in the morning with their "squeaky pump" song, but I don't see them visit the garden. I try to make sure that I have water in the bath for the birds. There are usually several birds trying to squeeze in a bath every morning too. I guess birds are a lot like us in that way.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Ligularia Abounds

For quite a few years I tried to grow ligularia and every year I killed it. Finally two years ago, I managed to get it to live by planting in the shade and giving it a LOT of watering all summer long.

Well, this variety I plopped in the ground last year and never paid any more attention to it (I went overseas, so I really wasn't around to do anything with it). This year, I almost pulled it up as a weed because I had forgotten that I had planted it at all. Luckily, I noticed that there were three of these weeds in some sort of order so I figured I'd just wait to see what they would do.

I really wish I could find the tag for these because they do so well without all the extra care that my other ligularia have required. Ifany of you have any ideas, please let me know.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Sea of Echincea

Here are some pictures from my garden. As you can see my echinacea is still going strong. The butterflies just love them! I have more butterflies in my garden this year than any other year. You might be able to see a few in this picture.
Here is a wider shot of this large bed of echinacea. I like the cottagy look that it gives my house. I definitely was going for an older look for this very old house (it was built in 1877- that is really old for Wisconsin!).

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Oh My Gourd!

This is one gourd plant taking over a whole bed of my garden! My son got gourds to decorate for Halloween a few years back. Ever since then, gourds have been popping up all over my garden. Sometimes I let them grow. When I decided to let this one grow, I guess I miscalculated a little on how big it would get.

It has plenty of gourds! I think about every two feet of this vine has a gourd on it. We will have plenty for Halloween this year!

I put one of these gourds in the fire bowl the other night. My husband, afraid that the heat from the fire would make the gourd explode, pulled it out and threw it on the ground near the bowl. The dog fussed and fussed until we threw the burnt gourd over to him. HE ATE THE WHOLE THING!! He acted like it was the best thing he ever ate. He's SOOO WEIRD!!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

August Overhead

The last day of August. The summer went so fast. I can hardly believe it. Here is a shot of my garden in all it's jungly glory. I like that it is overgrown in some spots because it screens the garden sitting areas from the road and alley. You can actually go out and sit in the garden without feeling like you are on stage.

As you can see, the sunfowers have taken over. I moved a lot of them while they were still little, but couldn't bring myself to take out the rest that were growing where they probably shouldn't be. They are so beautiful and attract tons of birds. Cardinals and goldfinches especially. When they fall over from the weight of the seed heads, I remove the plant and place the seed heads out where the birds can get at them. I have a grapevine wreath hanging on the side of the shed and I often tuck the smaller heads into that.

This picture is just after a major bout of weeding, but there is still lots more to do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tomato & Zucchini Lentil Soup

Here is yet another way to get some use out of all that zucchini. I'm guessing you also have a load of tomatoes at your house by now, too. This recipe will take care of some of those as well.

Boil 4-6 cups of salted water in a pan. Throw in four or five handfuls of lentils. Remove the pan from the heat and let set.

Heat some olive oil in a pan on medium heat. Chop some garlic and onion and throw into the oil. Make sure that the oil isn't so hot that the garlic browns. Saute these while you cut up about three tomatoes. Toss these into the pan. Turn up the heat slightly. Add a tablespoon or more of basil, along with a little bit of thyme.

Chop up some more tomatoes, about three or four more. Throw those into the pan with the other tomatoes. Chop up a small zucchini, about 1-1/2 inch in diameter, into one inch chunks. Sprinkle in some salt and oregano. Pour the lentils in, water and all. Leave this to cook on it's own.

Take the lentil pan and boil 6-8 cups of salted, oiled water. Throw in the pasta of your choice. I chose egg noodles, about 4-5 handfuls. Stir them to make sure they don't stick to each other.

Once the noodles are just about fully cooked, remove from heat and drain. Add these to the tomato mix. The noodles will tend to soak up a lot of the water that is in the soup, so if you want a more liquid soup, you might have to add water.

I served this with garlic bread. You can top the soup with parmesan, if you like. If you don't like lentils, you can always add another kind of legume or just leave them out all together.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Zucchini Pancakes

This is a good recipe for those zucchini that have gotten a little too big to just slice up and throw into a sauce, fry up or grill. I get those all the time. I either forget to check if there are any that need to be harvested, or they hide and I don't see them until they are taking over the yard.

Get one of those monsters, cut the ends off. Slice it in half and then slice the halves long way. Scoop the seeds out. Grate the zucchini.

In a large bowl mix 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Add 2 cups buttermilk ~OR~ if you use powder buttermilk, like I do, add 8 tablespoons of the dry buttermilk into this mix, then add 1-1/2 to 2 cups water (add less at first, you can always add more later).

Mix in 2-3 eggs. Add 3-4 tablespoons oil or melted butter. Mix in the grated zucchini. The mix should be just thick enough that you could ladle. If it is too thick you can add a little more water or buttermilk. If it is too runny, you can add a little more flour.

Chop some pecans or walnuts and mix in. Sprinkle a couple teaspoons of cinnamon on the batter and mix in.

Heat a griddle or frying pan to medium high. I use a cast iron pan. Pancakes just come out better on cast iron. You will want to make sure that you keep any pan you use oiled. You will probably have to oil between cakes. I just spray with Pam after every other cake.

Ladle the batter onto the griddle/pan. When the edges are dried and it is possible to flip the cake, do it. This is the fun and frustrating part. You can check if the cake is able to be turned by trying to get a spatula under it. If the cake seems too loose to lift in full, leave it a little longer. If your cakes are starting to burn before you can turn them, reduce the heat a little. You will only have to cook the second side about half the time as the first.

Serve these with butter. Syrup probably isn't necessary, but my husband and son like them with maple syrup, so maybe you will too.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Easy Veggie Lasagna

Lasagna was always one of the three dishes that my mother made that were not only edible, but were the best I ever tasted. I hardly ever make it because it seems so difficult. As I was thinking of possible zucchini recipes though, I thought that lasagna would be a perfect try.

As I boiled 10 lasagna noodles in oiled and salted water, I mixed 12 ounces of cottage cheese, 7 ounces ricotta, a handful of parmesan, and a handful of romano in a large bowl. Add 3-5 ounces of spinach. I used frozen (squeeze it dry) but I think that I would use fresh next time since I wasn't impressed with the flavor of the frozen spinach. Mix in two eggs and set this aside. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.

Heat a pan with some olive oil, one or two tablespoons. Chop up a couple cloves of garlic. Add to the hot pan- you do not want the pan so hot that the garlic turns brown, just enough to cook it. Dice six or so tomatoes. Add those to the pan. Add three or four tablespoons of Italian seasoning and a good sprinkling of garlic salt (or other salt. Sea salt? You know how much I like sea salt, mmmm...).

As the sauce cooks down, slice up a medium size zucchini into 1/8-1/4 inch slices. If you like mushrooms you can slice some (I used portabella since I had some leftover). Remove the noodles from the heat even if they are not cooked all the way (in fact you probably only want them cooked halfway). Rinse them under cold water and separate.

When the sauce is thick, spread some of it in an oiled cake or lasagna pan. Put in a layer of noodles, then a layer of cheese mix, then noodles, then a layer of the raw zucchini slices and the mushrooms (if you are using them) topped with tomato sauce, another layer of noodles, the rest of the cheese mix, a layer of noodles, and top with the remainder of the tomato sauce. Top the whole thing with grated mozarella.

Bake in the oven for about an hour. My husband is not a big vegetable fan, but he liked this. He even ate leftovers- that's rare. I made mine half with mushrooms and half without (my huband doesn't like mushrooms). My son ate until the mushroom side was completely gone.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Rosemary Basil Chicken with Spaghetti

Here is another of my recipes. I actually just made it up, like off the top of my head, about an hour ago. We just got back from the grocery store and needed something for dinner fast before SSB had to go to work. We had just bought a big bag of frozen boneless skinless chicken breast from Sam's Club Tuesday so I grabbed a couple breasts- CHICKEN BREASTS, (geez! you juveniles ;) and defrosted them. If I am going to chop up the chicken, like I was intending to do with this dish, I only defrost them enough to take the edge off. I still want them frozen to make the cutting up easy. It's more like chopping celery than like chopping over-ripe tomatoes.

While that was defrosting (about two minutes on defrost in the microwave), I started a pan of water for the pasta. I chose spaghetti because we had just bought some. You could use any plain pasta. I always put salt and oil in the water. They help heat the water faster, season the pasta, and they help keep the noodles from sticking to each other.

I heated up another pan, my cast iron fry pan, of course. Once it was hot, I put in about two tablesoons of extra virgin olive oil (cause you only live once) . While that was heating up I chopped up the stilll mostly frozen chicken into one inch cubes. You can chop them up however you like. I made sure that the pan was good and hot before throwing in the chicken. This sears the outside to keep the juices inside, plus it makes it taste better. Start stirring right away to make sure that no side gets over-cooked and all sides get seared fairly evenly.

Once the chicken cubes are fully seared, turn down the heat to about medium. Make sure that there is still moisture in the pan to keep the chicken from getting dry. Add a little water if you have to. Mince two cloves of garlic and add to the chicken. Grind up half a tablespoon of rosemary and throw that in. Add about a tablespoon of basil- or more if you like. Add a couple of big pinches of sea salt (or regular salt, or garlic salt, whatever). I like sea salt because it gives the food a nice flavor. Regular table salt is too harsh for my tastes. I would highly recommend getting sea salt. Don't go to a hoity-toity shop for it though. Go to an Asian market. You can get a couple pounds of the stuff for about $1, at least that's what I pay for mine.

The pasta water should be ready by now. Add the pasta, stir, reduce the heat slightly, and cover. I like to stir the pasta every five minutes to make sure that I don't get the evil pasta clump! Seriously, who wants to try and eat that?

Dice up some of the tomatoes out of your garden into thick chunks. Throw them into the chicken pan. I never peel tomatoes. Peeled tomatoes are for wusses. The tomato peels add a nice bright red garnish to the dish. Cook the mix down until the tomatoes make a psuedo sauce. Add a little black pepper if you like. I did.

The pasta should be done, or at least when it is done, drain and add to chicken mix. OR you can do it the lazy Sylvana way- just tong the pasta out of the pan you cooked it in right into the chicken mix pan. What's a little pasta water among friends, eh? Stir the whole thing together. Add a couple handfuls of feta cheese (good stuff, that feta). And serve.

My picture may not look very impressive. I feel that I didn't add enough tomatoes. I used three- medium sized.. Next time, I might use five, or less pasta. Although, my son said that it was the PERFECT sauce to pasta ratio. And my husband said it was fabulous. I thought it was pretty good myself, so maybe I wouldn't change a thing.

BTW- I know that this doesn't contain any zucchini, but I didn't want to go overboard with a new idea. I think though, after tasting it, you could add some chopped zucchini in this. I would add it maybe at the end of searing the chicken to sear it as well, but not over-cook it. You could also add it with the tomatoes if you like it firm, but somehow, I just don't think it would be as satisfying.

Still in the Blahs

I am still suffering from the garden blahs, even though my garden is looking pretty good right now- especially after I mowed and weeded some. It is raining really good today, so tomorrow will be a great day to do some more weeding. I try to do my weeding after a rain because it loosens the soil and makes the weeds come up WAY EASIER!

My echinacea and rudbeckia are still blooming strongly. The candy lilies and liatris are waning. The sunflowers have heads at various stages and my garden is FULL of goldfinches! My neighbors are so jealous.

I have yet to find Mr. Ed lilies anywhere, and I am getting quite frustrated about it. I'll have to check back through my emails and send another note to the company that said that they would have them this fall. I think they may be LIARS!! I wonder if I could order them from New Zealand, or if that would never pass customs. It probably would be way more expensive than I would be willing to pay for them anyway.

I am working on some new zucchini recipes for you. I plan on having two up this weekend. I made some veggie lasagna the other day that even my husband liked! That is really something since he is not a big cooked veggie fan. He even ate- LEFTOVERS!! He RARELY eats leftovers. So I guess that lasagna must have been really good. Or he has done something terribly wrong and is trying to distract me from finding out. Hmmm...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Wonderful, Prolific Zucchini

Image from martin.eclecticblogs.ca

Jac was asking me what a zucchini plant looks like, so I decided to post a picture of one for all those that may be unfamiliar with this particular vegetable. One plant is generally enough to feed a couple of people for quite a few months. As you can see, this plant clearly has at least 6 fruits already growing. And it will keep producing until frost.

Zucchini can be eaten raw, although most people prefer it cooked. You can bake them, fry them, roast them, grill them, boil them, make breads and cakes with them. They are great stuffed with whatever you like to eat. They are fabulous added to tomato dishes. I make pancakes with them. You can dry them and make flour with them. They are so versatile, even the flowers are edible. If I find any recipes for those, I will certainly post them.

They do best in temperate climates. So I guess my feed the world campaign might not work out after all. They do keep for about a month after cutting them from the vine, unless they are very small. The smaller ones are best for cooking whole, since the seed are small. The larger ones are best used for stuffing, recipes requiring grated zucchini, or for making flour.

We gardeners in the temperate regions of the world are most familiar with the running joke of the astounding proliferation of this plant. I know so many people that think the only thing they are good for is bread. That is why I will be posting zucchini recipes. Maybe you'll get some fresh ideas and you'll never have a problem knowing what to do with all that damn zucchini!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Zucchini, Zucchini, Everywhere!

If you are like most gardeners, you probably spell it wrong (I know I do!) and you have had to move out of your house to accommodate all the zucchinis that your garden has produced. Seriously, I only plant two plants and I still have so much frickin zucchini I could probably feed a third world nation. You know, that's not such a bad idea. Why don't these countries grow zucchini?

Short of shipping the excess to food pantries or developing countries, what ARE you going to do with it all?

Well, there's more to zucchini cuisine than bread. I have quite a few recipes for zucchini that I simply LOVE! And of course, I am always looking out for new ones to try. So last night, when I bought the most amazing recipe book EVER!!! I decided I just had to try this easy Thyme and Zucchini Fritter recipe.

Of course, I almost always just use a recipe as a guideline, so the following is how I made them and will not exactly correspond with the recipe in the book.

In a medium sized bowl beat together two eggs into a scant cup of flour. When this is mixed thoroughly, sprinkle baking powder over the top of the batter, just enough to dust it. Mix this in as well. Mix in enough milk so that the batter will just barely run from your mixing utensil. This is about 1/4-1/3 cup. Mix in about 2-3 teaspoons of dried thyme. You can also use fresh if you were lucky enough to remember to grow it this year. Salt and pepper to your taste.

Get one of those green bad-boys from your garden. Wash it if you want. I don't. I like to innoculate my immune system on a regular basis to prepare for bio-warfare. Cut the ends off, and start grating. I think I used about two cups. They suggested to grate it over a paper towel to remove some of the moisture. That's a really good idea, especially since you will be frying these. I use Viva. It's the best towel on the market! Mix the grated zucchini into the batter.

You need a frying pan and some oil. I use a cast iron skillet. I love the way that cast iron cooks food. It just adds something extra to the food that I can't explain. It makes pancakes and hashbrowns perfectly. And it comes in handy as a weapon if your dog is broke.

I splurge on extra virgin olive oil. You only live once! Use a couple of tablespoons.

Heat the pan first on medium heat. I learned years ago that the key to non-stick (save for those cancer causing teflon thingies) is cold oil on a hot pan. I don't really know if this is true, but what the hell. Do it anyway.

Once the oil is heated enough, scoop some of the batter into the pan and spread out slightly. You can put a couple of these in the pan at a time. I got three in at a time. Fry each side until they are golden brown and there is no more raw batter coming out the sides.

I served these warm with real mayonaise. I did try them with Miracle Whip too, and that was good as well. I would have made my own garlic mayonaise, but I was way too eager to try these while they were still warm and I hadn't thought to make it ahead of time.

The verdict? Nummy! I would definitely make these again.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Dear Ms Smarty Pants

It is that time of year. The time of year that I was promised would produce my favorite lily in the whole wide world- Mr. Ed. You remember -The mashed potato lilies. Whenever I see them they remind me of one of my favorite food, a heaping serving of steaming, buttered & peppered mashed potatoes!! Oh, YUM!!

I went to the catalog that had sent me the email about having these lilies in the fall. No luck. I'm getting impatient. I Googled it and saw that Thompson & Morgan had them. Well, ALL RIGHT! So I click on it. The page comes up and sure enough, the name is Mr. Ed, but that ain't no Mr. Ed in the picture. UGH!!!

I decided that they should know about their mistake so that another obsessive Mr. Ed hunter isn't as disappointed as I was. I sent them the following email:

I just wanted to contact you about the picture that you have in your online catalog listed as Mr. Ed lilies. Mr. Ed lilies are pure white with a little peppering of speckles. The ones you have here are most likely the pink version- Mr. Sam. Thank you, Sylvana Gardener

And they emailed me back:

Dear Ms Gardener

Thank you for your enquiry.

Thank you also for your observation, it would appear we have incorrectly referenced our lily collection. We would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention, and we will be taking the apporpriate action to correct this error.

Kind regards
Janet Challis

Technical Customer Care Advisor,Thompson & Morgan

Yeah, I am enjoying patting myself on the back right now; but that doesn't get me any closer to getting those Mr. Ed lilies. Humph! I may lose a few battles, but I will win the war!

Friday, August 12, 2005

"Candy, Candy, Candy! I Can't Let You Go!"

I started these from seed when I first started my main garden in 1998. These are candy lilies. So far this year all the ones that have come up are this same pink variety, but they do come in other colors like yellow and orange. I think I have a gardien angel (get it?) because these pink flowers fit right in with all the other pink flowers that I grow. I love them.

The foliage on these plants is great. It looks just like iris. This helps add a little extra interest in your garden.

They were very easy to grow from seed and have self sowed themselves easily, but definitely not invasively. Some years they just break even. This year they had resowed exactly the amount that they had last year, but the whole lot of them moved over about three feet and they are doing tremendously better! I can't believe three feet would make such a difference. And more intriguing, how did they move themselves?

But really, I try not to over think those things. I'm afraid that I might break the magic.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

End of Summer Slump

Yeah, I have fallen victim to the August gardening slump. I have not done any gardening since the grandparents visited. I haven't even mowed the lawn in over a week! It could have been the really hot weather. It could have been the stress of trying to find a new job for when my position is terminated at the end of this month. It could be that we had a lot of family visits to take care of this month. Or it could be that I just have those end of summer blahs.

Eh. Whatever it is, the weather isn't helping much now either. I tried to go out to get some garden/yard chores done yesterday. As usual, as soon as I got all the equipment out and started the job, the black storm clouds came galloping in to piss on my parade! Dammit!

Well, maybe today. It is looking really nice. But today and the rest of the week I am working full days, so it isn't looking too good either. I do also have quite a bit of paperwork to catch up on. Ugh! I feel so, so...overwhelmed!

I just need to take a deep breath and put it in perspective. Make a list and start getting the things done. If I can just start doing something then there will be less and less to do, and eventually, it won't look so bad anymore.

Right. All right then. What needs to be done? Weeding.
***hyper ventilating!!!!!***

OK. That was a bad thing to start with. Let's try again.

Mow the borders so that if I have to, I can let my son do the rest.
*wait for panic---none*. Whew! Now that wasn't so hard!

I could also finish fertilizing since it is supposed to storm the next three days and I never finished the last time. Yeah, I could do that.

I need to stain the legs of the bar that I just built. But you know, that's not killing anyone right now. It can wait.

Fantastic! Procrastina-- uh, I mean, prioritizing is a great way to break down some of that To Do Mountain. I like to have a written list, that way I can look back at all that I have accomplished. I also like to write myself "way to go!" notes to help keep my momentum going. And if I do exceptionally well, I will treat myself to something nice- usually food related-- and then, usually chocolate related. YUMMY!!

Chocolate Mountain, here I come!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

I try to make sure that I always have something blooming in my garden. I have a bunch of flowers that are just starting to pick up steam. As you can see the few echinacea I planted a few years back have successfully taken over this corner of my garden. Of course, it was my plan all long. There are a few other plants seen here, well weeds really that I thought looked good, so I let them grow. I'm a pretty easy going gardener. I have read in a few garden books that letting some weeds grow actually can help your garden since beneficials may use them in their life cycle. Plus, some garden pests actually prefer the weeds. I don't know about these weeds though. They were just pretty.
This is a decendant from some gaillardia that I started from seed about seven years ago. I have never seen gaillardia with this color pattern so I have marked the flower heads and I'm going to collect the seeds to see if I can get them to come out like this again. If they come out true, I might try to market them. I love this color combo. I was thinking about calling them Bahama Mamas after that yummy drink! What do you think? Would you buy them? I'm not stuck on that name, although I could use one of those drinks right now! Mmmm...
Here is a shot of my black-eyed susans that have finally decided to bloom. They are late. Everyone else around here have had their's blooming for over two weeks now! I like this combo with the gayfeather. I have another rudbeckia that is more the color of mac-n-cheese (which by the way is one of my favorite colors) but the pictures turned out sort of fuzzy. Oh what the hell, I'll post them anyway.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

I Love Small Crazies

Jenn's comment in my last post just got me all giddy about my dog, so here is is. He is a Jack Russell Terrier/Whippet mix with some other thing thrown in which no one can figure out- cattle dog? Did you know that Whippets are actually a greyhound JR-Terrier combo? So maybe our dog is really just a Whippet/Cattle Dog mix. Who knows! We also don't know how old he is. He was a pound dog. But I do know that he ain't no Schipperke! (that's what they had him listed as at the pound.)
The pose you are seeing here is his usual "I'm a good dog and no threat to you" pose. He is a very sweet, nervous dog. He used to pee nearly every time that we touched him for a couple of years after bringing him home. He was also afraid of aluminum cans. He had bad owners before us. I think they were drinkers and that's why he didn't like cans. They had moved out in the middle of February leaving him behind tied up outside to a dog house! The neighbors finally called the Humane Sociaty after he had been out there for THREE DAYS! poor doggy! Once, after we brought him home, he got loose in winter and took off happily running down the street. He got one house over before he realized how cold it was and promptly ran inside the house when someone opened the door to get the mail. She said that he just stood there whimpering and alternately lifting his feet. How did he survive THREE DAYS?

Here is our proud dog protecting his turf. What was that? A mean, nasty motorcycle coming to threaten my authority? He barks at anything with wheels. He also goes nuts over dogs. He wasn't dog-socialized and sees any dog as big or bigger than him as a threat. He loves our cat though and treats him like the boss that he is. He will try to get close to the cat and the cat will punch him (and that cat can punch hard! I've been bruised by him before). The dog starts wagging his tail and runs to get his ball. Oh yea! The cat wants to play! he's thinking. He will actually bring the ball up and give it to the cat, to which the cat looks completely disgusted at the fact that the dog does not realized he's actually being dissed. What an Idiot! the cat announces with an indignant look and a toss of his tail as he walks out of the room.

He tries very hard to be like us and help out. He really likes to help me garden. When he sees me digging in the garden he starts digging too; otherwise he never digs in the yard. When I water, he follows me around. He's even gotten to know where I go to garden. He was folowing me while I was watering one day, I looked at him and said, "I'm going to the front yard now." I did not motion or look in that direction or anything. His face lights up and he takes off running for the front yard. He has a pointing pose he does when he has spotted something interesting and immediately went into it upon reaching the front yard. When I reached him I saw that he was pointing at the new garden that I had started in the boulevard. How did he know that was what I was going to work on? What a smart doggy.

We put Invisible Fencing two years ago and what a difference it has made in him! He doesn't submissively pee on a regular basis anymore. We can actually leave him outside longer because he barks less. And he is far more able to handle guests. Although he is still useful when we get solicitors. They get to be in quite a hurry when a dog pees on their leg!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Now You See Em, Now You Don't!

A while back I was talking about using tomato cages to contain plants. They are cheap and easy to store (although I leave mine out all year round- it helps me know where my plants are, plus I don't have to worry about getting them into the garden on time the following year). The problem as you can see is that they aren't very attractive and they are very noticeable. So what I do is paint them black.

Here you can see that they are far less noticeable and they actually don't even look that bad. Oh, and you can see my cute, crazy terrier in the background. AWE! Ain't he adorable?!

This is a really good cheap way to contain plants that do not get too heavy. I use these around all my delphiniums and around my hardy hibiscus. If your plants do get too heavy, you can always prop these up with some heavy duty garden stakes.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Holy Hibiscus!

Here is the flower from the main plant of the Plum Crazy hardy hibiscus that I saved awhile back. The very first bloom (you can see it darkened and withered in the right lower corner of this picture) came out the first morning SSBs grandparents from Arkansas came to visit. I told them that it bloomed just for them.

The blooms last just a day, but they are well worth having these beautiful giants in the garden. This flower is almost as big as my head.
Here is a wider shot of the plant. I'm hoping that there are plenty of extra shoots. I want tons of these flowers next year!

I am thinking of trying to protect them over the winter with some mulch. They don't come up until really late in the season, so I think that would be a very good idea. I have them in a well drained area as well. I'm hoping that will help keep them from getting too wet in the spring.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Main Garden

For those of you wondering what my garden looks like now, here it is in all it's jungly glory. It actually does look a lot better from a distance than up close.

I have even cleared all those weeds out of the paths now. That was hard work since the paths are sort of compact. After every rain I would go out and dig up a few weeds untill they were gone.

You can see the big hole in the back of my garden that I am trying to fill in to screen the view of my neighbors yard and the alley. I like to have that clear in the winter though because then we have a nice view of the downtown holiday lights. OooAhhh! So I have been growing sunflowers there as a summer screen. They did not get very tall this year. I think I transplanted then a little too late. So next year I am going to try transplanting them as soon as I find them growing around my garden. I now have a nice terraced planting area for them back there.

My sedums are sort of overwhelming the front bed nearest the patio. I have purchased allium to replace them. They will grow in neat bunching mounds and give somewhat the same effect only shorter. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all those sedum! They make a fine hedge. I must have an area that needs a hedge somewhere.

My black-eyed susan's in that same bed have finally decided to bloom. I bought a 4" pot of them about four years ago and they have been spreading nicely. They do not spread far from the main plant, so they aren't really invasive when they spread, unlike my gallairdia! Geez! That stuff is everywhere, even in my grass!

There is a tall, airy looking shrub near the alley that has pink plumes of flowers right now. That is my tamarix. I love it, but hate where I planted it. It hangs over onto the pathway and just sort of looks out of place there. Many people ask me about it though. It is very unusual looking and they like the pink smoke flowers.

I have relatives coming from out of town this Monday, and I want to make sure that my garden is up to speed. They really like gardens, so I hope that they like mine. It is a work in progress with its own messy but wonderful personality.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I planted sunflowers the first year that I started my garden at this house and I have never had to plant them since. The birds do a wonderful job of spreading the seeds all over my garden. In the spring I just move them where I really want them to grow. Most of my sunflowers are plain yellow variety (most likely from the black oil seed that I feed the birds. But there are also plenty from that original variety which was a multi-tone flower.

Sunflowers have always been one of my favorite flowers. I use sunflowers in my garden to create a screen to block out the view of the street and the alley, as well as giving our gazebo a bit of privacy. They also provide a little shade for some of my plants that do not prefer full, all-day sun. And they are fantastic natural bird feeders. I usually leave the plants in place all winter so that the chickadees and nuthatches can pick at them. I have never tried to collect the seeds for myself since the birds will eat them while they are still green and usually have the flower heads all picked apart by time the seeds ripen enough for me.

I don't see a lot of gardeners grow sunflowers. I'm not sure if it is because they don't like them or they think they are too tall for their gardens. Maybe they think that they have to have full sun. I have sunflowers of all heights and I even have a few growing in mostly shade! I didn't plant them in the shade, they just started growing there. I am going to try to collect the seeds from these to get a shade tolerant variety that maybe other people could grow in their garden.