Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Man-Eating Snapdragons. In pink.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Sunny Secret Garden

Hey all.  Sorry I’ve been MIA!  Between the warm weather, sun, and my new nightly gym routine (getting ready for some serious backpacking this year!), I’ve been a bit distracted.  But, something cool happened today!

My yard is rather magical.  It’s wooded and deep and has a very hamlet-like feel to it.  But hamlet my neighborhood is not.  I have an unusually large chunk of property about 6 miles from the heart of the second largest city in Michigan, and the street I live on is one of two major thoroughfares to go from the northeast side of Grand Rapids to the northwest.  This far out it's not too heavily traveled, but rarely is it completely free of traffic.

But on my relatively small .7 acres, I had 3 black walnuts, 4 pine trees, 2 maples, and an apple tree that I was told was about “as old as they can possibly get".  These green beasts are giant - at least 5 stories high.  And while these amazing remnants of less populated times makes the area feel smaller and less urban, it has one singular problem.

There is no part of my yard untouched by shade at some point during the day.

To most people this probably wouldn’t be problematic.  But I love growing things.  I love digging my feet and fingers in the dirt and guiding seedlings from tiny bits of green into their eventual fullness as flowers, veggies, or whatever else they might become.  And most plants prefer at least 8 hours of sun.

So, late last week I decided to do something about it.

I called a tree service to cut down the dying apple (it had been struck by lightening last summer) and the youngest silver maple.  They were both in my back yard, which is the area that I use for my veggie garden.  By removing these two trees, I have more sun back here (yes, I’m writing while perched atop a fallen trunk) than anywhere else in my yard.  It’s not truly full sun, as it is still shaded at some point by various trees, but I’ll probably get a good 8 hours.

This is so exciting!  I think it’s going to get it fenced in to keep the animal out.  Then, I’m going to plant.  I’m thinking a lovely mix of flowers and veggies, annuals and perennials, to get a nice little secret garden.  Given the one true downside – that I can now see more of the houses around me – I’m thinking climbers and taller plants at the edges.  Maybe I’ll add a mini water feature, some garden furniture, and pathways. 

Here are some photos facing south from my house behind the woodshed.  My yard ends at the apple tree both to the back and the left.  (The play house is in my neighbor's yard.)  I put my boot on the trunk so you can get an idea of how large the trunks were.  The garden space is now 52x48 square feet!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Salad Burnet

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

In Memoriam

This is the one-year anniversary of my Dad's death. 

Jerry Lee Wright


May he rest in peace.

Yummy Treat Tuesday: Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Now this is my kind of comfort food.  When I was a kid, my mom made it all the time.  But, oddly, there aren’t a whole lot of recipes out there for this delish potato creation.  Actually, it’s probably because it takes so damn long.  But it’s so, so worth it! 

If, like me, you’re not much for the meat-eating but have kids who like ham, you can easily separate it out.  Otherwise, you can leave the meat out all together and the recipe won’t suffer.

NOTE: It’s take about 20 minutes to prepare this dish, and an addition 1.5 hours to cook.  Or, you can do what I do, and stick it in the crockpot on low for the day.

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

6 baking potatoes, peeled & sliced
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups cooked chopped ham (or one package Morrell ham)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1 onion

Preheat the oven to 350.

Peel and slice the potatoes.  You can use a food processor, but I think they're less starchy and gooey if you slice by hand.

First, the roux:

Melt the butter in a large & relatively deep saucepan over low heat.  Using a whisk, stir in the flour, salt and pepper.  Turn the heat up to medium-low, and cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two. 

Finish the sauce:

Turn the heat back to low, and slowly stir in the milk.  Turn the heat back up to medium-low, and let the sauce cook until thick and bubbly.

Stir in the ham and onion.  Slowly stir in 1/2 cup cheese.  Then, stir the sauce into the potatoes, and dump into a well-buttered pan.

Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.  Take the foil off, and bake for an additional hour.  (About 10 minutes before you take it out, sprinkle the last 1/2 cup cheese over the top.)

Let sit for at least 10 minutes before serving, and enjoy the yummy goodness!

What a Difference a Week Can Make

This is what we were up to a mere week ago.
Lots of ice.  Lots of snow. 

 Lots of clothing required.
 But there was reason to smile.  It was warming up!
The walnut trees were budding...
Velvety red blooms waiting to burst into glorious green.
And finally, a long handful of days above freezing, complete with sunshine.  Hello, wonderful mud!
Orange mint is coming out to play.
Day lilies are peeking through the half-frozen muck and clay.
The winter savory is revealing itself.
And it looks like my rhododendrons, which haven't bloomed since I planted them two summers ago, might even come out and play.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Seedling Sunday: Legginess

fenugreek, originally uploaded by SummerAlyssa.

Got leggy seeds? You know what I'm talking about. Finally, the seeds have sprouted, they're reaching for the light...

And reaching...

Um, are they gonna fall over?

As one who uses window sills rather than indoor lamps close to the pots, I have deal with legginess all the time. Keeping them strong isn't too hard. You just have to take the time.

1) Put a fan on them. See my fan in the background? Believe it or not, this wind simulation helps keep them strong.

2) Run your fingers over them. The slight adversity helps get them ready for the real world of pests, pets, and small children.

3) Make sure they have enough light. Sunny windowsills are good, but sometimes not good enough. If it's warm enough, set them outside for as along as possible to get some good one on one time with the sunshine.

4) When you transplant, bury enough of the stem to keep the stress on the seedling minimal.

Unless you have a nifty fluorescent set-up, you're gonna have leggy seedlings. But don't worry, it's getting nice out there! Only a few weeks left until we can start digging our toes in the dirt!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Chive Flower from June '09

Chive Flower, originally uploaded by SummerAlyssa.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Yummy Treat Tuesday: Cornmeal Pancakes

I'm not a big pancake fan, but these are simply fabulous!  A big hit with kids, too:)

Cornmeal Pancakes

Measure and place in a bowl:
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
    1-2 tablespoons honey (Can sub with sugar or syrup.)
Stir in slowly:
  • 1 cup boiling water
Cover these ingredients and let stand for 10 minutes.  (I usually use the plate I'm going to flip the cooked pancakes onto for a cover.) In a large bowl, use a microwave to melt:  
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 egg
Beat, then add to the cornmeal mixture.  At this point, I start heating a pan on low.   Mix together:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
Stir into the cormeal mixture with a few quick strokes.
  Using a dab of butter, grease the pan.  When it's hot enough to sizzle the butter without burning it (medium-low), pour 4" cakes.  When the bubbles in the batter start to not sink on themselves, flip and cook on the other side.
I top with honey, though you can use syrup if you prefer.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A New Structure

Because this is not a business blog, and I don't have any real notion of how to attract followers, I think the best way to make it work is to be a frequent updater.  Of course, I have no concrete notion of what it means to make it work, but whatever.  Minor detail.

Now, I mentioned in my first post that I briefly considered making it a 365 blog.  Yeah, right.  I'm glad I didn't try to get all commitment-happy there, 'cause I would have failed.  Utterly and completely.  I've had time on more than one occasion to post something here, but lacked inspiration.  Well, that's not quite right.  I lacked motivation. 

So, I'm going to try a new structure like so many other bloggers I know.  Only one of these themes requires significant writing, so I think I should be able to keep up. 

Tell me what you think:
  • Seedy Saturday: A post with hints and info on starting seeds, which ones when and where.
  • Yummy Treat Tuesday: A recipe.  Doesn't necessarily require stuff you grow, but probably will heavily feature garden veggies and herbs in the spring/summer/fall.
  • Wordless Wednesday: A photo, posted to flickr and here.  Will probably most often be a plant, but may feature the other creatures in my life that occasionally warrant a spotlight.
  • Plant File Friday: The heavy writing post.  The one where I talk about my experiences with a particular plant.