Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Since I was feeling so clever after amending my neglected compost bin, I decided to tackle the worm bin because it has been hanging around the house 6 years, and during that time, I haven't harvested the casings once. My regular routine was to use the compost tea as a fertilizer for houseplants and the garden, but recently the worm bin's spigot has clogged, so I couldn't even do that. 

I was ignoring the worm bin because I am easily grossed out, and because our bin is plastic, it retains a lot of moisture, which results in worm casing sludge. Being easily grossed out is not a good trait for a gardener. I swear, in the past two months I have had to slaughter so many slugs, snails, leaf miner larvae, and caterpillars that you'd think I'd just chill out and become one with the nature, but my acclimation to all things slimy and disgusting is slow. The boy almost fell over backwards off the garden's retaining wall because I startled him when I began yelling and flapping my hands when I went to grab a bean and instead came into contact with a baby snail. Why do I flap my hands? Do I think I can fly away? Thankfully, I have not encountered any Zombie Bees, because I think I would totally lose it if that happened.

Before lifting each tier of the worm bin, I steeled myself. Tier 1: so far, so good. Tier 2: a little slug action that had to be dealt with, but still good. Tier 3: Ack! (Hand flapping!) Ack! Ack! Ack! Two salamanders (newts? I've been told before what these things are, but I push it out of my brain each time) looked up at me and tried to slip into the sludge. I had to walk away from the bin to stop myself from screaming, and I gave myself a little pep talk. Ok, I can do this. All I need to do is to shovel the sludge into another container to dry it out. These things are more scared of me than I am of them, and it is illogical for me to freak out. This is such a first world problem, suck it up! Breathe!

I shoveled the sludge onto a cardboard box, restored the worm bin with the creepy things securely in place, and the sludge is now drying in the sunniest part of the yard. Surprisingly, the sludge does not smell like it looks. It smells like wet earth, and nothing more. I should probably let the boy know that I've done this so he doesn't step in it on his way into the house since it's not in an obvious place, especially if one is walking up the side of the house to throw away a full dog poop bag at night.

I have to remind myself that I'm doing this for the radishes and the carrots, because I want to grow my own food, and because I'm curious how much work it takes to grow said food. In conjunction with growing veggies, I've joined the Full Belly Farm CSA, the only CSA I've found that can work into our schedule.

I'll offer up the next two photos as palate cleanser for those of you who just endured pictures of worm poop and newts or salamanders and continued to read on. Above is a pissed off Fifty, pissed for obvious reasons, and below is a nectarine cake (inspired by the Tipsy Baker) that looked much better than it tasted due to my substitution of whole wheat flour in place of white flour and over baking it. I've had one slice, and I would've tossed it, but the boy is tackling that thing one slice at a time since he insists that its edible. I think he's trying to use positive reinforcement in order to convince me to bake cake more often.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

How to Get Rid of a Yellow Jacket Nest

Two Thursdays ago, I was roasting coffee in the backyard. My coffee roasting routine consists of putting the beans onto the rotisserie, and then tidying up all the chaos in the backyard until the beans are done. Experience has taught me that if I return inside the house while the beans are roasting, something will go wrong like the rotisserie will stall leaving me with burned beans on the bottom and green beans on the top. While abating the chaos, I angered some yellow jackets who nested near the rock wall. Then, a series of unfortunate events occurred: angry wasps flew into my hair and got stuck on my scalp due to my ponytail; I tried to run from them, but since they were all stuck in my hair this was futile and resulted in riling up the wasps even more; and then I got stung at least twice. I had to channel some inner zen to undo my ponytail to release the wasps and stop the stinging. Yeah, that wasn't my best moment.

My poor dogs were in the backyard with me, and all my waving around made them think we were playing a game of chase, so they were running around with me, and unfortunately were also attacked by the ruthless yellow jackets.

This. Was. War.

When I told the boy about my nasty encounter, he was ready to fight. However, he also was determined to do it himself because I made the mistake of telling him that a friend called an exterminator and it costs her around $100 and only took 10 minutes. In my mind, I was thinking, $100, what a bargain! In his mind, he was thinking, $100 for 10 minutes, what a rip-off! 

Eradicate the Yellow Jackets 1.0 consisted of a trip to the hardware store to acquire the cheapest wasp trap, a $7 fake flower that attaches to the top of a 2-liter soda bottle. The wasps walk in, attracted to the soda, and they never walk out. After setting the trap at dusk, we waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, we went to sleep, thinking that we'd wake up to find half the nest drowned in the Mexican Sangria soda. Apparently, yellow jackets hate sangria soda, although they were definitely interested because they buzzed around the bottle during the day, terrifying our already-stung dogs who refused to go into the backyard to do their business due to the evil wasps.

Again, I wanted to call up an exterminator. Again, the boy thought he could fix the problem himself, so Eradicate the Yellow Jackets 2.0 started and he set about making a homemade anti-wasp suit out of a mosquito net, a mechanics jumpsuit, and 2 rubber bands. Although I warned him that I wouldn't let him back into the house if he had a hoard of angry wasps at his back (I had just listened to Sigourney Weaver talking about her character Ellen Ripley), he was still irritated that I left him outside until he was wasp free. Or maybe he was irritated that I took a video of him as he was making an adjustment to the wasp trap?

2 days pass, and still no wasps are in the stupid trap. Not only that, but the amount of wasps going in and out of their nests is increasing. Our whole backyard was abuzz! So, again, I wanted to call an exterminator. Again, the boy thought he could fix the problem himself.

You may recall from previous posts that he has been actively brewing beer since January. Our living room, in fact, is full of beer brewing equipment like this giant 11-gallon pot with a ball valve at the end. The boy's next idea was to wait until the wasps were sleeping, set this pot full of boiling water onto a step stool, aim the valve at the wasp nest entrance, open the valve, and then run like hell back into the house.  So, at midnight on a Saturday, Eradicate the Yellow Jackets 3.0 commenced. I went to bed in protest because I thought it was an elaborate way for the boy to get burned and stung.

No more wasp nest!

But you know what? Eradicate the Yellow Jackets 3.0, a.k.a. Yellow Jacket Sting, was a success! Apparently, it took 2 pots of boiling water, a shovel to mix the hot mud into the nest, and a strong stomach to look at the squirming wasp larvae.  The dogs can now safely do their business in the backyard in peace.

The boy was most proud that this was a chemical free way to take care of the wasps, although I'm not sure I'd recommend this solution to anyone else.

The next day, we took a field trip to the Petaluma Seed Bank (purple fava beans and German radishes!), Hallie's Diner (poached eggs had a hard boiled yolk, but the cornmeal pancakes were the best I've had), and the Lagunitas Brewing Company (meh). We also stopped at a hardware store to look at compost bins, but since they were over $100.... Well, you know where this is going.

The compost bin on the left is made from old IKEA patio furniture, and the compost bin on the right is from the boy's stick collection and some wire.

We have to add some netting to the twiggy compost bin because the leaves won't stay put. Also, rodents like the kitchen scraps, and the last thing I want to do is have a rodent nest in my compost bin. I already filled the IKEA compost bin with some leaves from our backyard layered with the gross compost soup I had brewing for over a year in a garbage can. We called that can's contents poop soup since I did a poor job managing that bin. Now, however, it just smells like dirt. I'll let it sit for a year to do its thing.

Is there a moral to these stories? If there is, it would have to incorporate persistence and, ahem, being cheap. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

As the Garden Grows

The radishes are ready, but not much else. We have pea and bean shoots galore, but no signs of blossoms yet. I told the boy that if we really want a reliable crop of greens, we should just plant 20 different types of radishes since they seem foolproof.

Not only are radish roots delicious sliced thin and spread atop a baguette slathered with sweet butter, but the greens make a mean pesto. Using this recipe, I made a pesto that went into an orzo, roasted tomato, and roasted gypsy pepper salad. Subsequent radish greens are going to get an Indian saag treatment.

For our winter garden, I want to start planting spinach, although I'm a little worried that the leaf miners that are attaching my beet greens are going to go nuts over the spinach. Oh well, only one way to find out.

Remember the miso pickle experiment? No? Well I didn't remember it either until I was trying to make space in our refrigerator. These have been doing the pickling/fermenting thing since August 2010, and I was going to throw them out until I read that several miso pickles sit for years. So, I rinsed one off and ate it. 20 minutes later, I still didn't feel ill, so I ate another one. And another one. And a few more. They are so good, albeit really salty. I'm going to serve the rest of them with some egg noodles or soba to dilute the saltiness. Next time, I think I can indulge in them after a few months, like my original intention.
No, this does not belong in a wide mouth Gatorade bottle
Another forgotten kitchen experiment, one I was less concerned about killing us, was this lemon zest infused vodka. My fear with this concoction was that since I never strained out the lemon zest after a few months, I was going to end up with lemon extract. Luckily, my laziness and forgetfulness paid off and this stuff is lovely! It's a good thing, too, since I have 4-bottles worth of lemon vodka. Between the vodka and all the homemade beer, we're doing our best to not only make pickles, but to pickle ourselves. (Mom, I jest!)

I got confirmation from our chicken lady that we have overwhelmed her with spent grains, so she is crying uncle. Today's task is to list our grains on Freecycle in the hopes that someone will take them off of our hands. I hate to put all that stuff in the garbage since it can get a second life, but because spent grains sour quickly and need to be chilled, they end up filling our freezer in a hurry. When it is summer and I don't have room for my ice cream maker, things get ugly around here.

For all of those people who mistakenly thought subscribing to my blog would lead to many pictures of cats and instead have to skim posts about food, I'm sorry. But, I'll throw you a bone: here's Greaseball and Fifty acting like they love each other. What you don't see are the hissing fights that ensue when Fifty, troll of the 2nd cat tree shelf, won't let Greaseball pass her shelf to get the 3rd food shelf. It's not pretty.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Linkity Friday

When will the mustache craze end?
Since I've been back from the Czech Republic and Belgium, the ho-hum of my daily routine has been shaken up. Summer days that actually feel like summer (you'd understand if you lived in the coastal fog) have helped, too. Dining al fresco, trying new restaurants, cooking with new foods, and brewing new beers has been standard here. Today's post will be a summary of things I think you'd like to discover, too!

The Freakonomics podcast aired three food-centric episodes that questioned if locovorism is as green as we assume and if the industrialization of food is such an evil thing. Clearly, I have my own opinions on the matter, but it was interesting to here the opposing argument. As much as I love Alice Waters, I cringed every time she spoke. Thank goodness for Michael Pollan.
Oakland and Berkeley have so many good places to eat! I've been picking a new place for us to dine a couple times a week, and I've been so pleased! Who says you have to cross a bridge for a good meal? (Michael Bauer from the Chron is so over.) Here are some places I've tried and loved.
  • Homeroom: over 10 types of mac and cheese, peanut butter pie, and local beer served in canning jars. 
  • Kiraku: a Japanese izakaya that serves inventive dishes like pesto udon, sesame shochu, and a mean bowl of ramen to wash down all that fat and liquor.
  • Comal: if the tripe is on the specials board, order it and wash it down with a spicy cocktail or a glass of homemade horchata. The back bar is the place to sit.
  • Ahn Hong: ok, I know it is obnoxious to say things like, "this was recommended to me by two Vietnamese ladies," but... This was recommended to me by two Vietnamese ladies when I asked them their favorite place for 7 courses of beef. While I cannot vouch for the 7 course of beef (yet), I can tell you that they have a tasty selection of roll-your-own spring rolls and a good selection of beers on tap.
  • Boot and Shoe Service: why eat eggs for brunch when you can instead have a braised pork shoulder with fried polenta and a good cocktail to boot?
Recently, I've subscribed to a handful of East Bay food blogs to get the scoop on what's happening in my backyard. Here are the best ones:
  • What the Fork: Luke Tsai, the food critic at East Bay Express, is hands down my favorite food critic. He doesn't make me want to gag, like Michael Bauer. Plus, Tsai finds little hole in the wall places, like a Thai restaurant in Alameda that also has a miniature car track. Yeah, these are the place I want to eat at, too.
  • East Bay Dish: Christine Mitchell's interviews are casual and insightful, and she definitely knows what's going on around town. 
  • Diablo Dish: although the focus is more on the more eastern East Bay, there are still food news gems in here, like interviews with local chefs.
The boy always liked beer pre-brewing days, but now he has beer Aspergers. If anyone's interested, I can find out the podcasts he listens to that intensify said Aspergers, but now I can at least share the places we've visited all in the name of beer.
  • Anderson Valley Brewing: $5 gets you a beer tour by one of the knowledgeable employees, and that $5 can be later used for anything in the gift shop or some beer at the tasting room. Their tasting room, more like a regular bar, has some barrel aged goodies and some sours that are totally worth the trip. You can also play disc golf here for a small fee, but it was really hot the day we went.
  • Russian River Brewing Co.: Although it is a total mob scene here, the sour beers are worth it. It's almost a badge of honor to say how long you were ignored at the bar before getting your drink.
Got any more places for me try, food podcasts to listen to, food blogs to read, or good brewery tours? Let me know in the comments section. Also, if any of you have chickens and live near Berkeley, PM me. I have so many spent grains that I am overwhelming our regular chicken lady.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Endings and Beginnings

Finally, FINALLY, I finished the boy's Hempathy sweater! I started it in May 2010 with some sale yarn from Stash, the now deceased LYS that I miss so very much. I think the sweater was finished a few months later, but the sleeves were kimono-like. Not only were the sleeves enormous, but they stopped short of his wrists, so they were double stupid. I forbid him from wearing it, even though he swore that he didn't mind the ridiculous ginormity of the sleeves, because I had visions of him pointing to those sleeves explaining to coworkers and friends that his wife was forcing him to wear this hand knit sweater, and of people giving him a sympathetic look in return and telling him that he is a good man. No way was I going to be that knitting cliche!

I stuffed the sweater into a cloth grocery bag, and then shoved it into a cabinet, and it didn't see the light of day until I unearthed it a few months ago. I was shamed that something that took me so much time and so much yarn was not getting any air time, so I ripped back both sleeves, took some more of the boy's arm measurements (which proved difficult because it was hard for him to stop flexing and talking about his "smoking guns"), and knit some appropriate sweater sleeves. He now has a functional sweater that, if I may say so myself, looks jaunty and hip. Done, done, and done!

Last weekend, the beet greens were ripe for thinning. Since I have an affinity for trimming and picking, and since I have not been taking part in the nightly slug and snail hunting, it was my task. We ended up with probably 1/2 a pound of beet greens that were quickly washed, then wok-ified. I stir fried them with olive oil and garlic, dusted them with a bit of freshly ground salt and pepper, and then we inhaled them. The boy wondered why we were bothering with beets when the greens were delicious. I must remember to buy some more deep, leafy greens seeds specifically for cutting.

Since we seem to be the only gardeners who cannot get zucchini to come out of our ears, this made me feel like less of an urban farmer failure.  In fact, I think that our squashes are shrinking in size, which probably means I should cut them off to end their agony.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Quick Vegetable Barley Soup

Because I use this blog to keep notes to myself, I have to post this savory soup quickly before I forget the recipe. I cook grandma-style, meaning that a little bit of this and that goes into the pot, which is great for getting a meal ready, but not so great if I want to reproduce a memorable meal.

I know I've gone on and on about my pressure cooker, so I'll spare you. If you still do not have one of these time saving tools, what are you waiting for? The new pressure cookers don't sound like angry snakes, and the chances of them becoming kitchen bombs are nil if you're not in the habit of leaving your stove on high and walking away.

Anyway, back to the soup: I wanted to make a potato leek soup, but a quick look at my produce bin revealed carrots, mushrooms, corn on the cob, and a bunch of spinach. I also wanted this to be filling, so in went a handful of barley. To save time, first peel the carrots and potatoes, roughly chop the leek greens, and stem the mushrooms so you can get the vegetable stock prepared. Then, while the stock is cooking, chop the vegetables. From start to finish, this soup took me 35 minutes, but only 10 minutes of active time.

Vegetable Barley Soup

1 leek, separated into white parts thinly sliced and green parts roughly chopped
2 carrots, diced and peels reserved
5 brown mushrooms, diced and stems reserved
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
3 yukon gold potatoes, diced and peels reserved
Kernels from 1 ear of corn
1/2 cup pearl barley
1 bunch of spinach, chopped
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, grated

In the pressure cooker, add 8 cups of water and the leek greens, mushroom stems, carrot peels, and potato peels, and a pinch of salt. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring it to high pressure. Cook for 15 minutes. Release the pressure, and strain the stock. Set the stock aside.

Over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add olive oil. Sauté the leek whites, carrots, mushrooms, and pinch of salt for 4 minutes or until the mushrooms have released their liquid. Add potatoes, corn, and pearl barley, and reserved stock. Put the lid on the pressure cooker and bring it to high pressure. Cook for 20 minutes. Release the pressure, and stir in the spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in bowls and garnish with a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...