Monday, February 25, 2008

Things I Didn't Do This Weekend

1. Plant seeds for my spring garden. It's about that time; not sure yet what I'm going to plant).

2. Fertilize my plants. They need it--I know it's not strictly organic, but
a. I had rotten luck using fish guts last year, and we have a lot of raccoons rambling around our backyard, sometimes even in broad daylight;
b. the fertilizer is only going in containers, so I don't fear it washing away during rains and polluting waterways; and
c. they're slow-release pellets.

3. Get rid of the dead matter on my plants. I am expecting at least one more freeze, sometime this week. It'll probably be the last one. I don't know if I am ready for summer, but it's coming soon despite me.

4. Have a fire. I still have that big stack of wood from Emily's, and my friend Bob brought me some logs last week. He'd recently seen the ax another friend, Rob, gave me for Christmas. I've been really wanting to chop some wood, so the logs are welcome. I do need to further sharpen the ax before I use it, though.

It was one of those weekends where I was proud of myself for just sweeping the house.

I will start planning the spring garden soon. I'm going to try a different media mix this time, as I doubt the sustainability of peat. Not sure what I'll use...maybe plain old potting soil with perlite for draining. I also plan to drill more holes in my containers to further assist the drainage process. I think my current garden isn't thriving because the media is staying too wet.

Another Weekend

The weather has really been interesting lately. Friday the sky looked like this:

And Sunday was like this:

An 80-degree day. Go figure. I lay under the magnolia tree and took a nap. It was glorious.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Winter in Florida

It's been wacky weather around here this winter--more than usual, even. The temperature, barometric pressure, and sunshine have been fluctuating wildly almost every day.

The other day I was driving home when it looked like a violent storm was threatening. Someone is building these horrible condos near my workplace, and I despise them, but took a photo of them anyway because the light looked so beautiful reflecting off of their windows, combined with the dark sky to the south.

I continued on my usual path home, which means I skirt the entire "city," basically, passing all the greatest hits: industrial area, homeless shelter, etc. The sky loomed.

Then I turned the corner and got this.

What the heck?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Broccoli and Leek Pie

I invented a new recipe! This is a very exciting turn of events for me. I'm a pretty good cook, but can't just produce dishes out of thin air like some of my friends, e.g., Kim and Tia.

It all started with the mystery novels I've been obsessed with for the past month. I've been reading all of Elizabeth George's oeuvre for the second or third time. The stories take place in England, and a passing mention was made in one of the books to broccoli and leek pie. I thought, "Now, how would I go about making a broccoli and leek pie?" When I came up with something that seemed like it might work, I got started.

First I made a pie crust (the recipe for this one can be found in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, by Mollie Katzen). Then I began to assemble the filling:

2 sticks celery, minced
2 leeks, sliced
1 medium-sized baking potato, diced
1 head broccoli, chopped (should be 2-3 cups)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white wine/cooking wine/sherry
3-ish tablespoons minced red onion
1 cup cottage cheese
1 egg
1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil, or similar combination
1/2 - 1 cup grated Gruyere
1 - 2 tablespoons lemon juice
A few tablespoons minced parsley
Thyme, rosemary, tarragon, basil (about 1/2 teaspoon of each)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Make pie crust and refrigerate; preheat oven to 375.
2) Lightly steam broccoli and immediately drain; cook potato in boiling water in covered pot for 10 - 15 minutes, until pretty soft.
3) Melt butter and oil in large pan over medium heat and add leeks. Saute alone for a few minutes, then add red onion, lemon juice, celery, garlic, spices, parsley.
4) When everything's softening up, add wine. Cook uncovered over medium heat till the wine starts to evaporate, then turn up the heat to medium-high and cover until the leeks are soft.
5) Mix together cottage cheese, egg, and cheese in large bowl.
6) Add potatoes, broccoli, and leek mixture, stirring thoroughly. Then add to pie shell and bake for 30-45 minutes, until cheese is bubbly, crust is golden, and top of pie is beginning to brown.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Rain Barrel

My mom's birthday was last month, and my dad and I got her a rain barrel. But we didn't have time to convert it from plain barrel to rain barrel until this weekend. Rain barrels are a great way to save water and money. You just capture some of the rain that falls on your roof and use it to water your plants. One inch of rain on 1,000 square feet of roof can produce 620 gallons of water that you can use for free!

It was a beautiful day on Saturday. The redbud tree in my parents' front yard is starting to bloom. I can't believe it's spring already!

My mom loves orchids. I counted over 300 in and around her greenhouse a few months ago. She brings the ones that are blooming into the kitchen. They're really beautiful.

Now--to the rain barrel!

My dad and I got a large plastic barrel from the local feed-and-seed. It wasn't expensive, and it had held only food (Greek peppers from, oddly enough, Turkey). The latter is important because you wouldn't want to irrigate your plants with water that had been held in a container that once held chemicals of some kind.

This is before we made any modifications. It looks like the downspout is going into the top of the barrel but it's not--it's just resting on top. We placed the barrel in a corner right by the kitchen and utility room where a lot of rain comes off the roof, and it's on concrete blocks to keep it level. The front yard is basically just driveway, so rain quickly forms puddles. The rain barrel should help keep pools to a minimum.

Here's the top.

And this is the inside. It smelled strongly of, well, Greek peppers from Turkey. We didn't scrub it out, though, because, hey, Greek peppers from Turkey are vegetables, and this water would be used for vegetables, so no harm there, right? I hope that's right.

We followed the plans Alachua County's consumer horticulture agent, Wendy Wilber, had sent me. Wendy is very, very good at what she does. But my dad doesn't really "follow directions," so I think ours looks a little different from the barrels people build in her rain barrel workshop.

Regardless, my dad had seemingly acquired all the necessary parts. This is the part of the faucet that goes inside the barrel.

And this is the faucet connected to the inside part, a sort of test run for when we attached it to the barrel. The silver washer is supposed to keep the water from leaking out.

Pop drilled the hole for the faucet. We wanted it pretty close to the bottom of the barrel to make sure all the water was accessible, but far enough off the ground that a bucket could easily fit under it (for watering with).

He wants me to show the bit he had attached to the drill.

We attached the faucet. I leaned inside the barrel and screwed it in while he held the spigot steady on the outside.

We have a fine-mesh screen to keep mosquito larvae and detritus from entering the rain barrel.

The next step was to connect the downspout with the barrel. Pop sighted the hole rather casually. (He drew a rectangle slightly larger than the downspout with his keys or something in the moisture that had accumulated there.)

After drilling a hole in the square to get things started, he sawed the rest of the square out.

There were some technical difficulties...the saw got bent. The parental didn't like that and tried to bang it back into alignment.

Eventually the task was finished and we fitted the downspout into the perfect-sized hole.

Then we created an overflow valve. This is for when the rain barrel gets full. One heavy rain, and it could fill up pretty quickly. (We'll probably end up making more barrels for the rest of the house.) The overflow valve is on a different side than the faucet, so that one can place a bucket under there to catch any overflow if desired without getting in the way of the spigot.

And this is the final product! You can see the overflow valve on the upper left of the barrel (by the hand). Overall, it took less than a half-hour to do, cost under $30, and was a fairly simple and straightforward operation.

Plus, it made my mom happy.

Flowers from the Garden

I cut some of the flowers off my geranium and dianthus for my living room.

The vase is an old milk bottle I got from the flea market. It makes me think of Neely O'Hara stealing her neighbor's milk in Valley of the Dolls.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Green" Clean

Lately I've been thinking a lot about getting rid of all the chemicals in my house. I have this book called The Natural Formula Book for Home and Yard (by Dan Wallace) and I've been looking through it to see if I can find something interesting to try, like homemade laundry detergent or whatever. But every homemade home cleaning solution in this book, it seems, includes bleach. So I figured, ok, I guess bleach is "healthier" than I thought. I guess I'll just buy bleach and make my own 409 with fewer chemicals.

So I got one of those little sprayer bottles at the drugstore for like sixty-nine cents, added about an inch of bleach, and filled the rest with water. I sprayed that in my shower and Reader, I have to tell you: it cleaned itself! I didn't even have to scrub the mildew. That's my kind of cleanin'! And someone told me something about bleach breaking down in water so it's pretty low-impact...I'll have to look that up.

So I had just figured all that out when I read an interesting article in the New York Times the other day. It's about how major chemical companies finally realized the market potential for "greener" products. A little late, people. Come on.

Update: Apparently chlorine bleach is the kind of bleach used for cleaning, and its components can create organochlorines, which are suspected carcinogens, et al. I really need to do more research into this. I did find this interesting article about this question, and on this page, the section called "The Chlorine Issue" offers a helpful synopsis.

I figure I'm pretty green, house-wise:
1) I mostly rely on Simple Green to clean and own no commercial cleaning products;
2) I use eco-friendly dish soap;
3) I am very conservative with water;
4) I hardly use any paper towels, and then I put them in my compost heap; and
5) I have the smallest trash can available (20 gallons) and most weeks I don't even fill it halfway.

I guess the only two things I'd really like to change are my laundry detergent (I haven't really figured out which is the most sustainable, so I'm just using the usual), and the fact that I don't know how to get rid of mildew without non-chlorine bleach. I guess I am doing ok.

Happy Birthday, Tom!

It's Tom's birthday today. I almost made a funny comment here about his age, but I'm going to hold off, only because he's turning into a sensitive old man. Tomorrow it's open season, though!

Georgia and I made him a card.

I love my job. (Photo by Georgia.)

Oh No, You Didn't!

It's great that recycling has become so prevalent in the last ten or fifteen years, but the fact is that most of us don't know what, exactly, we're allowed to put in the orange and blue bins.

For a while I put my opened mail envelopes and torn-up [paid] bills in the orange paper recycling bin, then I didn't because I read somewhere--probably the recycling informational materials that I had to hunt down--that I couldn't, and then I must have forgotten about that because a few months ago I started back up with it again. The whole thing is made a lot more confusing by the fact that we are allowed to recycle office paper at work.

So when Kim told me we can now recycle office paper at home, I figured I would just think about my recent paper-recycling practices as being ahead of the curve, rather than "wrong."

Here's our orange (paper) recycling bin last night. The one major flaw in paper recycling is that it rains. Like it did yesterday, and the day before that, and several days last week...

Last week the recycling people wouldn't take our Big Blue because I had forgotten to sort out a few stray pieces of paper. Jeez! This week I didn't make the same mistake.

I don't mean to sound naive, but it really seems like being responsible should be a lot easier in the twenty-first century.

More about Food

As I've mentioned before, I love grocery shopping. Because of visiting family and a lack of cash flow, I didn't go grocery shopping for a couple of weeks. When I finally went, last Saturday, I went a little overboard.

I'm at the critical point between having a lot of food I need to cook and having too much cooked food. So I use some produce, but then I have nowhere to put the tupperware with the leftovers. It's a hard life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This past Sunday I went to a friend's brunch with my duplex-mate/friend, Lani. It was the most perfect day ever, pretty much. It was somewhere in the 60s or 70s, breezy, and sunny, sunny, sunny. We sat on the porch and drank mimosas and ate homemade food and played Apples to Apples. Lani and I wore white summery dresses to complement the weather, which is very unlike both of us. It was that spectacular.

I made tahini-zucchini bread. I think it was a little underbaked, but it seemed to be a hit. (It also had ginger in and sesame seeds on it, two things almost guaranteed to make something delicious. Then again, I sometimes eat tahini by the spoonful.) There was also oatmeal with walnuts, muffins, fruit salad, and delicious Morroccan mint tea. Life is good.

Cold Damage

The poor camellia tree. Right when it gets going with a full head of blooms, the temperature drops. Then all the gorgeous red flowers turn brown and fall off. Then it warms up again. And the camellias bloom...and it freezes...and the camellias turn brown and fall off.

I got tired of the seesaw weather, with its endless variations on hot-cold, hot-cold, so I gave up trying to cover all my plants each time. Whatever was in the large planters definitely suffered. I have been leaving the frost-damaged foliage intact, per IFAS recommendations, to protect whatever parts of the plants may still be alive from future cold snaps. But I have to admit it's driving me crazy. I can't stand staring at the dessicated ruins every day.

What's Growing around My House, Pt. 3

In one of my planters, I took out the bits of remaining plant matter that clearly isn't salvageable and put these new Easter lily bulbs in (Emily got them for us from work). We'll see if they adapt to my "low-key" gardening style!

Hanging strawberries: I don't know why I bother--the dang birds nibble little bits out of each strawberry before I get to it. But every now and again I get an unsullied one. They're not as sweet as last year.

Pulled a crop of radishes the other day. I cut both the radishes themselves and the greens up for a delicious salad I've been eating all week. They're spicier than store-bought radishes--tasty.

What's Growing around My House, Pt. 2

When I moved into my house a couple of months ago, I started a compost pile. Since then I keep waiting for something I discard to sprout, 'cuz when the compost sprouts, I get free plants.

It's easier--and cheaper--to try to grow new things this way, rather than go to the store and pick some plants out. At the old house, I got all kinds of seedlings, some more successful than others. But I've been sorely disappointed at the new house, as my compost has remained singularly barren.

So I watered the compost, and I added more leaves, and I stirred it up, and I waited patiently. Finally, the other day I went to dump my food scraps and voila! Some seedlings had emerged. But I didn't recognize what they were. My compost had never sprouted such plants before!

I carefully dug out one of the plants and looked at its origins. A kernel of corn! Exciting. One of these days I may pull up all of these seedlings and put them in pots. Until then, I just admire them as I dump my scraps.

One of my uncles gave me this ivy plant over the holidays. He had a bunch of them hanging from the pergola on his patio in Ft. Myers. There was some story about some teachers he bought them for...I don't know. Anyway, he had a bunch and offered me one. I loaded the thing--it has vines at least six feet long--into my hatchback and went to St. Pete for a few days. When I drove home, the cooking I had subjected it to in the hatch didn't seem to have affected it.

So naturally I concluded the thing it was invincible (I do test my plants awfully, I know), so I brought the ivy into my bedroom. I was super stoked because it's my first bedroom plant. Imagine--a plant in your bedroom! I never had imagined that, so when it finally occurred to me it blew my mind. I stared at it lovingly every day.

The only problem is that my bedroom is like a cave. It's some shade of dark 24/7 and always kind of cool. I put the plant up and forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Then I started noticing it was shedding a lot of brown leaves. I took it down and realized that the wall-facing side was dying. So I put it in the ICU, i.e., the backyard. I've been leaving it there to soak up some sun and rain, and hopefully it will pull through.

I do like having a bedroom plant. Maybe when I bring it back in, I'll rotate it more frequently so all the sides can suffer equally. "Nobody puts Baby in the corner!"

My Florida violets are thriving, although one much more visibly so than the other--don't ask me why, since they get the same amount of light and water. This native plant is sadly considered a weed in most people's landscapes. But I love it--my favorite plants seem to be considered weeds by most people--and am looking forward to the delicate blooms in later spring.


I got this wood over a month ago from Emily's farm, but nevertheless haven't had a fire since last year. Next cold snap--maybe tomorrow night!--I'll see if I can get a fire going without the help of the biker guy next door (who's been known to start a fire for us at 2 a.m. in a pinch).

My woodpile-covering--surprise!--has been pretty slack. I put the wood on a tarp to keep it off the wet leaf-humus layer under the magnolia tree, but it doesn't stretch all the way around the top of the pile.

Then, in my usual haphazard fashion, I got this piece of heavy-duty black plastic free from the local feed-and-seed--the guy who gave it to me actually said, "If it don't have four legs I don't know nothin' 'bout it"--but that keeps blowing off in rainstorms. So basically I'm hoping that the wood was already pre-dried enough to withstand the various soakings it's accumulated.

Otherwise, back to the biker. He seems to know what's what when it comes to fires.

What's Growing around My House, Pt. 1

It's been alternately cold and rainy, or both cold and rainy, a lot lately. I guess I can admit without shocking anyone too much that I have also been lazy. So I haven't done much new planting in the past month or so--but I do check on my plants every few days to see if they need water, if the weeds are taking over the pots, etc.

In December or January Tom gave us all beautiful bromeliads. I know Kim gave me some instructions about planting the one I got, but to get it off the floor of my bedroom I just plunked it down into one of my planters that was otherwise filled with the brown, frost-killed remains of ye olde plants. The bromeliad seems to be doing ok, even though I haven't protected it during the cold snaps we've since endured.

My cyclamen has been loving the weather recently. I've been surprised that this puppy has survived at least two Florida summers--by all rights it really should have died of heat stroke by now. But I've been pretty careful to keep it in the shade.

My winter annuals are geeked about the weather, too. I love these things--they require no maintenance whatsoever. I planted the plugs in pots willy-nilly two or three months ago, and they've been growing and growing and growing and blooming ever since. I park in my driveway right near where I have them, and so I stop and admire them every day. Granted, my design skills are non-existent, but I don't care. It's all about the color.

I gave one of my pots (missing from this photo) to my grandmother to keep her company when she was in the hospital recently and was surprised by how excited she got about the pansies. "They look like they have little faces, Sarah," she said. I think they brightened her day a little.

I'm Back!

I've been remiss. Kim lent me a small chip for the camera a couple of weeks ago, but I hadn't really used it. To make up for my long absence, I will be posting a flurry of posts to catch up on everything going on. It all goes back to my age-old conflict between inertia and chaos. Or whatever it is.

Before I get into all that, though, something fun. We went on a work trip a couple of weeks ago to Balm (do you know where that is? I still don't) and saw this along the way. It spoke to me, since I love being on boats so much. Also, it's just a funny name for a boat.