Giddy

Painted Mountain Sweet Corn

Admit it.  You’re jealous of my beautiful corn.  It’s ok.  I don’t blame you.  I would be jealous too.

For days now, I have been trying to sit down and write a post, lamenting summer’s near-nonexistence in this part of the country.  I was going to talk about daytime highs in the 60s and 70s, and crystal-clear mornings with that familiar, crisp, autumnal chill as lows dip into the 40s.  I was going to talk about how this is what I saw last Saturday at the downtown Portland farmers’ market:

And how many of its tree cousins all around Oregon and Washington have also put on similarly colorful frocks even though it is only August.

I was going to talk about how there is no hope.  That we skipped summer this year and all my efforts to grow early, big, strong, healthy tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers will have gone totally to waste.  How the tomatoes sit green on the huge, healthy vines for weeks without the slightest hint of color, how the eggplant flowers shrivel and drop over and over again, how my strawberries are tasteless and bland, my carrots are beautiful but lack sugar, and my tomatillo plant is covered in sadly empty green husks.  But I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t get myself to sit down and write all that.  It just seemed so sad and, frankly, uninteresting.  It’s not just here, you know.  My family in California has exactly the same woes, my garden-blogging friends from all over the Western states are singing the same song, and I hear the words, “early fall” tossed around like confetti every week at the farmers’ market.

Ah, but then there was today.  Today – the last day of a three-day “heatwave” here on the West Coast.  After a solid week of distinctly fall temperatures, we had 90 degrees on Monday, 99 (!) yesterday, and 93 today.  And after months of staring at my stubbornly green tomatoes, BEGGING them to ripen, and picking one, two, or three Sungold cherry tomatoes a day – not enough to do anything with them other than eat them immediately and then wish I had more – today, I was rewarded with this:

Pork Chop, Sweet Carneros Pinks, and Sungolds

<Lisa faints with happiness>

That big yellow tomato is a Pork Chop tomato from Brad Gates’ Wild Boar Farms.  I posted the first picture of that exact tomato on June 28th.  Every day since then, for the last 8 weeks and two days (but hey, who’s counting?), I have gone out and stared at this tomato.  And every day it stared back at me – green and smug, mocking my naive hopes for a ripe tomato in July (ha!).  With each passing day, the hulking plant grew up around my baby until I couldn’t see it anymore without holding back a mass of large vines and leaves with a long stick.  Green, green, green, green, and more green.  I started to allow my mind to wander into forbidden territory… maybe I should pick it green… fried green tomatoes, anyone?  I really gave up hope when, two weeks ago, we had 4 days in a row in the 90s and still not a single blush of color on a single tomato in my garden.  We only had 4 days total in the month of July that were in the 90s, so 4 days in a row in August was a huge deal, trust me.  A big deal with no results.  Just more green tomatoes.  By this past weekend, I had mentally moved on.  I got cold overnight in bed and added another blanket.  The next morning I shivered at my keyboard in my fleece, sweatpants, Uggs, and knitted fingerless gloves as I stared out the window, past the thermometer that said 49 degrees, at our birch tree, suddenly sprinkled with bright yellow leaves.  Fall was here.  I accepted it.

And the reality is that fall is here.  There’s no denying.  Today’s high of 95 will soon be forgotten with tomorrow’s high of 68.  But NONE of that can take away from my giddiness today; I was like a kid in a candy store.  It’s true – absence really does make the heart grow fonder.  Monday dawned cool but quickly heated to 90 degrees, and when I went out to do my normal, unenthusiastic glance at the garden, lo and behold there she was, shining like a beacon in the night – a hint of brilliant yellow on the crown of my evergreen beauty.  Hope springs eternal!  To add to the excitement, a couple of my Sweet Carneros Pinks were barely beginning to blush as well, AND I suddenly had several eggplants set on one of my plants.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  I immediately dashed inside and emailed Brian at work to tell him that he should get ready to pick some tomatoes in the next couple of days (remember, I do not touch tomato plants during this part of the season due to the distinct possibility of encountering my sworn enemy, the tomato hornworm), then I called my parents and a couple of friends to tell them the news.  You’d think I’d just won the Super Bowl or something.

part of today's haul

It was all I could do to resist picking them yesterday, knowing that 24 more hours would just make them that much better.  When Brian got home from work today, he hadn’t even shut the door behind him when I said, “ready to pick some TOMATOES?!?!?!”  He pointed out that it was only 4:00 and I worked until 5:00 and we wouldn’t eat them before 5 anyway.  So, I relented and sat through the last hour of my work day, bouncing in anticipation.  At 5:01 pm, we were out the door and in the garden.  In addition to what you see in the pictures, we actually picked an entire additional pint basket of Sungolds, which I accidentally gifted to my neighbors.  “Oh, Lisa, are those tomatoes?!  Our tomatoes are terrible this year.  We don’t have any yet.  How do you make them ready?”  I walked over to show them my tomatoes.  “Oh!  You have cherry tomatoes, too?!”  I lifted the pint basket toward her and said, “yes, would you like to try one?”  Her eyes got wide as she took the entire basket from my hand, “OH, THANK YOU, LISA!!  Thank you SO MUCH!!”  Hmmm.  Not exactly my intention.  Oh well.  They are honestly the world’s nicest people ever and they have given me tons of stuff from their garden over the years, so all is well.  Though I will admit to smacking myself in the head multiple times over the rest of the evening.  Why didn’t I just hand her ONE tomato?  Oy.

Anyway, the rest of the story is that this second, miniature heatwave seems to have kicked everything into gear… my carrots are finally sweet, I picked my first summer squash (bulbous light green thing in the picture on the right, looks like an onion, called a Trombetta squash), and my first ear of corn.  And can you imagine my delight when Brian pulled away the husk to reveal this:

(Brian shucks the corn for the same reason he picks the tomatoes.  Corn borers and corn earworms = Lisa’s worst nightmare)

Have you ever seen anything quite so beautiful in all your life???  Normally, beautiful, colorful corn such at this is dried and used only for decoration, or possibly flour.  But not my Painted Mountain corn.  It can be used at all stages, including fresh as a sweet corn.  It is not a sugar-enhanced hybrid, so the sweetness does not last.  You must pick it and eat it immediately or the sugars will convert to starches.  And so eat it we did, sauteed in a little butter with lime juice and cayenne pepper.  I win.

The #1 Reason to Have a Rooster

Because this is the coolest thing in the world:

Can you STAND how cute that is??  Can you believe that he really does that?!?  I have had a lot of animals in my life and I’ve never known a single one of them to share food.  I never tire of watching this.  Blows my mind every time.

OK, now everyone run out and get a rooster, ASAP!

And now for the outtakes that I filmed on my own:

The Best Garden Friends, EVER!

CAN YOU SEE WHAT MY FRIEND, THE WASP, IS EATING??!?!?!?!  Click the picture for a larger version.  Can you see it now?!?!

How about in this one?  It was tricky as all get out to get any decent pictures because I didn’t want to scare my waspy friend away from doing her valiant, noble, beautiful, wonderful, ordained-by-heaven, incredible, lovable, I-could-kiss-her-for-it-but-that-would-probably-hurt job.  SHE IS EATING A CATERPILLAR!!!!!!!!  YAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY WASPY!!!!!!

Ok.  I’m better now.  I just now popped out to the garden on my lunch break to stare at my tomatoes and will them into ripeness when I noticed this lovely lady with her own lunch on my cauliflower.  I made a mad dash back inside for my camera and made it back out in time to get a few shots, though there was only about half the worm left by then.  Deader ‘n a doornail.  Isn’t it beautiful?  In case you couldn’t tell, anything or anyone that helps me in my quest to rid the world… ok, at least my life… of caterpillars automatically gets 10 trillion bonus points on my love-o-meter.  I just hope she tells her friends about the lovely lunch buffet my brassicas can provide.

An Unexpected Garden Friend

Miss Tigerlily, garden friend extraordinaire!

Oh, sure… she may look like a harmless, sunbathing alien-dog there, but don’t let her calm exterior fool you.  She is a ruthless killer of young and old alike.  Let me explain…

This morning, I was in a fitful sleep and dreaming that I needed to throw up, but instead, I was gagging over and over again… kinda like… a dog.  Suddenly, I awoke, and I opened my eyes to find a small Tilly sitting calmly up against my bed, 1 foot from my face, wide awake and staring at me.  Hmm.  Strange.  She is a total princess and is usually sound asleep, curled tightly in her bed until close to noon, long after everyone else  has been up for hours.  Through bleary eyes, I said, “what’s wrong, Tilly, do you need to go outside?”  And I swung my legs out of the bed and stood up, only to be rewarded with the squish of a pinky toe in a pile of dog vomit.  So that’s where my dream came from.  I gingerly removed my toe and washed it in the sink, before taking the dogs downstairs to go outside.  Then I returned, armed and ready to clean it up.  Not that I enjoy it, but having owned animals of all types for my whole life, I am used to this sort of thing.  No biggie.

I went to grab the bulk of it and noticed a large-ish pink thing.  I looked closer, and lo and behold… it was a newborn mole.  I soon realized that there were at least three of them in there, completely whole and undigested, but I think there were more.  I didn’t exactly comb through the whole mess to get an accurate count.  Anyway, so my girl managed to find, dig up, and eat an entire mole family!  Now THAT is what I’m talking about!  Clearly her stomach didn’t agree with her plan to control the local rodent population, but that’s a minor detail.

She has always been a great little mole-hunter.  She can hear them underground and follows their tunnels around the yard, nose to the ground, dashing earnestly this way and that until she locates her quarry and then promptly begins barking at the dirt and digging frantically.  You wouldn’t think this would work very well, but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t manage to pop up with a face full of dirt and a full-grown mole in her mouth more often than not.  And yesterday she must have hit the jackpot when she didn’t just find a single mole, but an entire nest of babies instead!  Go, Tilly, it’s your birthday!!

One More Pretty Picture

bronze-colored Pacific Tree (Chorus) frog

I saw this guy right after I photographed the wasp, and I thought he was so pretty I had to share him with you.  Are you tired of my froggy pictures yet?  He is the typical bright green, but covered with a brilliant, metallic bronze wash.  Click the picture for a bigger version to see the metallic shine.  It’s pretty amazing.

Anyway, I love that I have a whole army of living, breathing pest-fighters living in my garden.  Whenever I see things like this, it always makes me think of how all the frogs and beneficial wasps and honeybees and mantises and everything else are killed by blanket applications of chemical pesticides and herbicides.    Nature has such a lovely system to keep things in balance, if you let it.

Having a mole-hunting dog doesn’t hurt either.

In the Words of Stevie Wonder: Isn’t She Lovely?!

Dragon's Tongue wax bean

Isn’t she wonderful? I do believe that is the prettiest vegetable I have ever grown.  Ever.  I want to marry this bean and have its babies.  The sad thing is that the stripes apparently disappear upon cooking.  In the words of Sarah: sad.  Still, I am in love.  Brian’d better watch out!

And yes, those of you with sharp eyes may have noticed that is tomato leaf that sneakily made its way into my photo.  I was trying to hide it from you because I’m ashamed, but that is a mystery volunteer tomato that I have no ability to murder.  My lack of plant-murdering skills is rivaled only by my lack of bunny-murdering skills.  Again – sad.

Moving on.

Other pretty things:

Chicken Soup

Chicken Soup, handsome rooster extraordinaire!

Soupy boy

Please don’t mind the scabs on his comb.  For evidence of cause of said scabs, please see previous post, or click here.  Getting kicked in the face does nothing for one’s complexion.  What’s a beautiful boy to do?

The Soup Man

Pretty froggy on my cabbage…

Hopefully eating all the caterpillars that are making such pretty lacy leaves.  I love them so.

As you may have noted, weeding is not my thing.  So sue me.

Pretty froggy on my Three Sisters’ pumpkin leaf:

Pretty froggy on my front walk:

I LOVE MY FROGGIES!!!!!

Pretty red dragonfly:

Pretty ladybugs, doing their pretty jobs in my pretty (ok, weedy) garden:

ladybug on dillweed

ladybug on French Gold pole bean plant

Pretty baby Potimarron French pumpkin.  Not sure if it’s pollinated or if it’s going to shrivel up and fall off like all the others so far (hand-pollination here I come!).  I’m pulling for knocked up.  We’ll see.

Pretty diseased French Gold bean leaves.  Not sure what’s causing it.  Closest description I can find seems to indicate mites.  I’m gonna go look for them this evening.  Hopefully that’s it because apparently you can knock them off with water, or at worst, insecticidal soap.

Pretty diseased apple leaves:

I have been trying to diagnose them.  I still can’t figure it out.  The leaves look a little like many different apple disease pictures that I can find.  All diseases seem to stem for the very long, wet, cold spring we had.  This is the same apple tree that looked so awesome and healthy and even had a baby apple or two on it earlier in the year.  Now I don’t know if it’s going to even live.  Blah.

Moving on to happier things…

Pretty green tomatoes!

Pompeii Roma

baby Pork Chop tomatoes

more mature Pork Chop tomato

Like the Sweet Carneros Pinks, the Pork Chops start to resemble their Green Zebra ancestors once they get close to maturity.  They’re hard to photograph because my two biggest ones are all hidden in the rampant foliage.

pretty strands of Sungolds

Pretty Rose Tomato

The Rose tomato is particularly exciting, not just because I love all things even remotely related to roses, but because I thought I planted these last year only to discover that I had two Costoluto Genoveses instead, and no Rose tomatoes.  I was a sad Lisa.  And then this year, the plant has been getting bigger and bigger with lots of flowers that just turn brown and fall off.  I thought it was going to be a dud.  No Rose tomatoes for me.  But then I found this lovely lady this morning and I now have a reason to live!

Pretty Marconi Red sweet pepper

Finally it was cloudy this morning and the pepper is a bit bigger and so finally I could photograph it.  Doesn’t it look like an elf shoe?  I have quite a few of these set on three plants, which is very exciting.  I picked them specifically because they are supposed to be nice and sweet and productive even in a cooler northern climate.  YAY PEPPERS!!!!!

pretty happy chickens

And last but not least, pretty fruit tart (photographed in crappy light):

old-fashioned blueberry tart

Fresh fruit tarts are such an awesome thing to do with all this beautiful summer fruit, and if you have chickens, it helps you eat through your egg surplus with six yolks in the pastry cream.  My tart dough doesn’t use an egg yolk, but many do, so you could actually use up seven eggs in this if you wanted :)


Fresh Blueberry Tart

adapted, ever-so-slightly, from Chez Panisse Deserts

Pastry:

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2-3 Tbs sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 10 Tbs butter (most chefs will tell you to use unsalted.  I use salted, so shoot me.  I could for a long time about the pros and cons.  use whatever you like.)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix flour, sugar, salt, and zest.  Cut butter into 1-Tbs slices, and work it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal with a few pea-sized pieces of butter left.  Room-temp butter is ok with this dough, unlike with Pate Brisee (pie crust, whatever you want to call it).  Just don’t work it too much or your crust will be tough.  Mix water and vanilla and work it gently and briefly into the dough until it starts to come together.  Gather it into a ball, wrap in plastic, and let rest for half an hour in the fridge.  Press rested dough into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, making sure to create and even thickness on the bottom and sides.  Wrap entire pan in foil, and put in freezer for 30 minutes to relax the dough and prevent shrinking.  While it is resting, preheat the oven to 375F.  Bake shell for about 30 minutes, or until light golden brown, removing the foil after about 10 minutes of baking.  No need to weight.  Let cool completely.

Lemon-Scented Pastry Cream:

  • 2 cups whole milk, preferably pastured organic*
  • zest of 1-2 lemons, meyer lemons if you have them
  • scant 1/3 cup flour
  • 6 Tbs sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • vanilla to taste

In a small saucepan, heat milk and lemon zest to just under boiling.  Do not boil!  Look for steam to come off the milk and it’s ready.  Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, whisk flour and sugar.  In a large bowl, beat egg yolks until thick and pale.  When milk is hot, mix into flour/sugar mixture, whisking vigorously as you add the milk to prevent lumps.  Cook milk mixture over medium heat, whisking the entire time until it has boiled for a minute or two.  Carefully ladle some of the hot milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, to warm them slowly and prevent curdling.  Then, pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan with the rest of the milk, whisking constantly, and continue cooking until thickened and whisk marks hold a slight shape.  Do not let it boil (ok, mine boiled a little and it was fine, but you’re not supposed to let it boil).

Remove from heat when thickened, whisk in butter, then pour through a fine strainer into a glass or ceramic bowl, cover with plastic wrap pressed to the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming, and place in the fridge to cool until you need it.  When your cream is cool and your tart shell is cool, peel back the plastic and whisk in the vanilla extract.  The whisking will smooth the cream.  Spread into cooled tart shell.

Blueberries:

  • 1 1/2 pints fresh blueberries, picked over
  • 3 Tbs quince or red currant jelly, or strained raspberry, blackberry, or blueberry jam, preferably homemade
  • splash kirschwasser (cherry brandy)

In a large saute pan, heat jam or jelly until it is liquid, then add berries and kirsch.  Cook over high heat very briefly, tossing to coat berries.  When they are warmed through and glossy, but before the juices start to run, immediately spoon the glazed berries evenly over the pastry cream with a slotted spoon.  Then get a regular spoon and eat any extra juices from the pan because they are incredible and you cannot possibly throw them away.

Tart can be served immediately, so that the berries are still warm.  However, it will set up and slice better if you chill it for a bit in the fridge first.  It’s up to you.

Bon Appetit!

In the Words of George Strait: Baby, Write This Down!

ripe sungold tomato!

Take a little note, to remind you in case you didn’t know… that I picked my first ripe tomato of 2010 on July 25th!!!  Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!  Or, um… at least mark the date on your calendars… whatever you prefer.  *ahem*  This day will go down in history as my greatest triumph in Pacific Northwest gardening to date.

capturing the historic moment on film - the pick.

on the way to my mouth...

My camera didn’t exactly want to focus on it in my hand and I was in too much of a hurry to eat it to fiddle around taking photos for very long – but you get the point.  It was lovely and beautiful and sun-warmed and bursting with sweet-tart juicy goodness and I got to eat it in JULY. <Lisa collapses in ecstasy>

I will be the first to admit that I have a tomato problem.  Being a lifelong home gardener (and being raised by the same), I wait with baited breath for the first tomatoes of the season, and can hardly stand the excitement when they first arrive.  They have been absent from my diet for so long and anything from the market has been just sad that the first few are relished like the rare delicacies they are.   Then I enjoy the heck out of the glut of tomatoes for a few weeks.  We get into canning season and the first round or two is satisfying – seeing the glistening red jars filled with tomatoes and sauces makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something.  Then I get to the point where I have giant piles of them on my counter, begging to be used, fruit flies hovering excitedly nearby.  Somewhere between the first time I think, “gee… I need to use those tomatoes before they go bad,” and, “wow another round of canning seems like a lot of work,” I hit the wall.  I never want to see another tomato again.

And yet – a few chilly months go by, and the last of the indoor-ripened tomatoes that I picked green before the first frost have come and gone in our dinners and sanwiches, I’ve held out on breaking into my home-canned stash until I can’t stand it anymore, and every single recipe in my cookbooks that calls for so much as a single fresh tomato sounds excruciatingly delicious.  I NEED to make those dishes, and I simply can’t.  No fresh tomatoes to be had.  All other recipes sound boring.  Tasteless.  What’s a girl to do?

Thus, the cycle begins again.  In those bleak winter months, a deep-seated need for fresh tomatoes starts to build inside of me, the autumn glut long forgotten.  By the time late spring rolls around, I’m nearly delirious with tomato lust.  I scour my beloved farmers’ markets for any sign of the jewel-toned fruits.  At the first sign of outdoor-grown, chemical-free local ones, I snatch them up.  My own plants at home are just starting to get going – harvest is still multiple weeks away.  The ones from the farmers’ market are ok, not great, but I eat them like candy anyway.  And each day, I go out and stare at the plants in my garden.  I look for flower buds, and then blossoms, and then pollinated blooms.  I am dismayed when flowers turn brown and drop from the plant, not yet ready to make fruit because the current combination of environmental conditions are not yet right.  I am giddy when I find the first teeny green fruits, nestled in the calyxes.  And then the waiting begins.  Like a stalker, every day I go out and stare at my tomato plants.  I watch the fruit grow and look for new fruit set.  I wait for any hint of color change.  It always takes longer than I expect – especially up here in the NW.

Finally, the day arrives when I have a ripe tomato to pick.  And I hesitate.  What if I pick it too soon?  Can’t be hasty.  Must choose exact moment of maximum flavor explosion.  Can’t wait too long.  Overripe is even more unacceptable.  I hem, I haw, I watch like a hawk for signs of tomato hornworms (believe me when I tell you that overrides any desire I have to pick my tomato… or even be within about a hundred yards of the plant).  And finally, I do it.  I reach into the plant, feel for the slight give of the fruit that indicates perfection, pluck it from the stem, admire it in my hand, turning it over in the sun…

And then I eat it.  And it’s over.  Just like that.

Totally worth it.

Moving on…

ripe sungolds - day 2

Yesterday I picked another one.

sungold harvest #2

And today I picked THREE!!! (photos not available)  I let Brian have one of the three today, his first of the season.  He should consider himself extremely lucky.  I’m not exactly good at sharing for reasons I have made clear (see above).

I also picked my first carrot yesterday!

It was officially the finest carrot I’ve ever grown.  First, it actually grew (see previous accounts of last year’s carrot woes to understand why this is exciting).  Plus, it grew straight and lovely and it was sweet and crunchy but tender and aromatic and WONDERFUL.  <sigh>  I’ve had bad luck with carrots over the years, from 6-legged monsters, to short, fat, woody nightmares, to tough, tasteless impostors masquerading as perfect, slender beauties.  I consider this another of my greatest triumphs.  I picked varieties this year that are specifically known to be dependable, straight, tender, and sweet.  I was not wooed by promises of rainbow colors or heirloom beauty.  I’ve been down that road before.  Bridges burned, and all that.

perfect carrot and perfect tomato make friends

Today I picked three more carrots, each one more perfect than the last.  Success!

garlic, drying in the shade

I’ve also started harvesting my garlic.

blue-podded blauwschokker

And my recovered shelling peas are rewarding me with mid-summer peas!

parade cucumber plant

My cucumber plants, like my melons, look beautiful and healthy and woefully-behind schedule due to the weird weather earlier this year, I guess.  It’s funny, in warmer, sunnier, drier California (conditions favored by both cucurbits and tomatoes), my mom is already picking bundles of cucumbers, but her tomatoes aren’t even close to ripening.  Go figure.

wild blackberries

Honeybees have seemed notably absent to me this year  (perhaps the global honeybee problem is finally hitting us up here), as have all pollinators in general.  Usually my plants are buzzing with honeybees and bumblebees.  This year, I saw my first and only bumblebee three days ago.  I have not seen one since.  And while the dandelions in our grass were swarming with honeybees earlier in the spring, I hardly ever see one nowadays.  In spite of their absence, however, it seems something has been busily pollinating the blackberries.  I am pleased to report that we will have a huge crop this year, as always.

do you see the honeybee?

The other day, I did see just a few honeybees (and no bumblebees) on the blackberries.  I didn’t have much of a chance to get good shots, though.  I am sad about the bees.

On a last, photo-free fruit-set note, I do have a few peppers set on my plants, but my camera flat-out refuses to photograph them.  It must not like peppers.

Garden Friends

Pacific Chorus frog

I am pleased to report that my favorite teeny-tiny garden frogs are back this year!  They were painfully absent last year and I worried about the global frog problem.  Like our friends, the honeybees, for many years now the planet has suffered huge losses of frogs from every corner of the globe.  They are considered indicator species, meaning that they are indicators of the overall health of an ecosystem, and since they are so sensitive to change, they will be the first to be affected by negative changes, forecasting bigger changes to come.  No one is quite sure what is causing the mutations, sterilizations, and deaths of so many frogs, but pesticide use and habitat loss are front-runners in the debate.

Anyway, I spotted a teeny friend, maybe 3/4-inch long, in my lettuce the other day.  He seems to live there now.  And then on Sunday, I found this guy nestled into one of my corn stalks.  I just hope he eats and and all caterpillars that were considering making their homes in said plant.  Good froggy.

ladybug friend

There also seems to be an abundance of lovely ladybugs this year (yay!), to go with the excess of aphids (boo).  Balance in all things, I suppose.

honeybee on coneflower

Do you see the bee?  She was not cooperating.  I took a jillion pictures but she kept moving and flying away when I got the camera close enough.  And since there was just one of her kind anywhere to be found, this was the best I could do.  Come back honeybees!

* note – yesterday there were two, huge Western Swallowtail butterflies that were IN LOVE with these same flowers.  They hung out on the plant for probably 2 hours, while I watched them from my desk window.  And I, like a dope, didn’t think to photograph them until they were gone.  They have not returned yet.

** double note – yes, butterflies are worrisomely similar to moths, and yes, I am just a bit uncomfortable around them.  But, I did mange to go outside, grip my own arm tightly enough to leave marks, and observe my friends on the flowers a bit, as they dipped over and over again into the wells of nectar with their incredibly long proboscides (yes that is the correct plural form – looked it up).  A stunning feat of bravery, if I do say so myself.

*** triple note – Brave becomes braver when you learn how I first happened upon said butterflies.  I was out watering my potted plants, and when I got to the nasturtium and parsley pot next to the echinacea plant, I was suddenly DIVE-BOMBED by a mad flurry of bobbing, weaving, flapping yellow and black.  The perpetrator proceeded to CHASE ME with repeated attacks until I was well away from HIS flowers, and then he re-alighted and resumed drinking his nectar with a self-congratulatory smugness.

Charlie suggested next time I stop the attacks by surrendering to the butterflies.  He kindly demonstrated:

"surrender like this, Lisa!"

Cheekons

The chickens are well.  I still have too many roosters.  They continue to be, um… roosterly.

The girls continue to lay.  They currently seem to mostly all be on the same laying schedule, and I walked into the coop the other day to find this.

six hens in six nests and a Pippin head

It was egg-laying rush hour.  Pippin wanted to know why I wasn’t taking a picture of her.

I thought it was an excellent question.  She is an interesting photo subject these days, because she has developed very distinct swoopy neck feather things.

Pippin chicken, swoopy neck feather-wearer extraordinaire!

A couple of the other EEs have hints of these, the others do not, but Pippin has outdone them all!  I don’t know what they’re called.  The poofy cheeks are muffs, and the throat poof is a beard… but the neck swoops?  No clue.  Maybe they’re somehow related to the tufts on true Araucanas?

A Homegrown Lunch: It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

There is nothing more thrilling or satisfying to me than when I manage to make a meal entirely of my own homegrown/homemade ingredients.  My impromptu lunch today was just such a meal and I was inspired to share.  This is just about the easiest, healthiest, and most delicious thing in the world to make and any of you can do it.  Lacking chickens or a garden, all of these ingredients are readily available at any good market, but my real hope is to inspire some of you to get out there and grow some food of your own!

Sauteed Bright Lights Chard with Bacon, Lemon, and an Egg

serves 1

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 2 cloves garlic. mined or crushed
  • 4 or 5 good-sized leaves of Bright Lights or rainbow chard (actually any kind will do… I just like the pretty colors!), leaves and stems roughly chopped
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • splash of chicken stock or water
  • 1 large, fresh, free-range egg
  • salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Cut bacon into lardons and cook in a large sautee pan over medium heat until slightly browned.  Drain off any extra fat, leaving a tablespoon or so in the pan.  Add garlic and sizzle briefly, then immediately turn heat down to medium-low and add chard, tossing to coat with bacon fat.  Sautee until chard starts to lose some of its moisture, then toss in a splash of chicken stock or water, season liberally with salt and pepper, and cover pan.  Allow chard to braise for a few minutes until it is tender but still bright green.  Do not overcook or chard will be slimy.  When it is almost done, uncover, stir in the lemon juice, taste and adjust for seasoning, then move the chard into the center of the pan and make a “nest” for the egg.  Carefully crack the egg into the center of the nest, sprinkle with some salt and pepper, and replace the lid.  Allow the egg to cook until desired doneness, which in my opinion should be a barely-set white and a totally liquid center, but to each his own.  Check the egg for doneness frequently by peering under the lid and perhaps gently prodding it with a spatula or your finger to feel the consistency.  Eggs can be overcooked in a flash, so keep a close watch.  When the egg is ready, uncover the pan and slide the whole thing onto your plate, keeping the nest and egg intact.  And, voila!  Lunch.

Serve with nice, crusty bread and lovely pastured butter, if you have it.  I didn’t today, so I went bread-less, and was a sadder person for it.

*note: everything about this recipe up to you… use more or less garlic, or substitute a little diced onion instead.  Vinegar can be used in place of the lemon juice, and you can poach your egg separately and place it on top of the plated chard if you wish, though that would require washing a second pan, which is just not going to happen at my house.

This is one of my favorite things to make right now because it is so fast, easy, and yummy.  Today I used my homemade bacon (I didn’t grow the pig, but it was local pastured pork!  someday I will grow my own pork, mark my words), garlic from my garden, chard from my garden, an egg from my chickens, and a meyer lemon from my parents’ tree (they brought me a bag of lemons when they came to visit for my birthday).  Everything tastes better when you grow it yourself, and it really is satisfying to truly feel like – “I made this!”  Have I inspired you yet?  Get out there and grow something!!