Friday, December 6, 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

A few weeks ago I bought a goldfish plant (columnea x banksii) - I think it was probably at Home Depot - and while repotting it this little branch broke off, so I stuck it in a tiny bottle of water. That's what I usually do when something like this happens, even if it's not the preferred method of propagation for a particular plant according to the gardening authorities. The worst that could happen is that I have a pretty mini-bouquet for a while, but if I get lucky, the cutting roots, as this one is doing (the roots - all 2 of them so far - are still very small and not visible in this photo, in which the plant appears larger than in real life). The added bonus - totally unexpected! - is the 3 blossoms! It's obvious where the plant gets its name. No sign of buds or blossoms on the parent plant, but it looks nice in its new pot, which will go well with the blossoms when they appear.
 The begonia below is about 5  months old and also came from branches broken off while the parent plant was being repotted. The lovely blossoms make me think I should move the mother plant into the kitchen too, since the light seems better for it there.

But in some ways, I'm most excited by this little plant that's growing out of the bottom of a head of celery. Here it is after about a week floating in water,
 and this morning, about 2 weeks later. It's definitely celery, even if it doesn't seem to want to stand up straight with the stalks tight together the way we find it in the store. Since the end of the original stalk is looking pretty funky by now, I suppose I should dust it with rooting hormone and put it into a proper pot with soil. It hasn't really produced any roots, but it may if I do that. I found the idea on another blog some time ago (and apologize for being unable to cite my source, an anxiety especially strong among current and former English teachers); that blogger said to pot it up in soil right away, which just wasn't convenient at the time.
So I guess my point is that it's fun to see things grow, fun to make something from what we'd normally throw in the garbage or at best the compost. And if you have kids or grandkids, or any kids, around, both you and they can have the pleasure of watching something grow and of learning together.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

An Ethical Dilemma

If you've read this blog much you know how I enjoy our little backyard wildlife preserve, including (and especially) the hummingbird feeder just outside the kitchen window. It seems to be migration time, and we were getting a lot more traffic there, so I put up a second feeder a few yards away about 10 days ago. Hummers don't like to share and all the buzzing and mid-air swordplay was distressing me. I just wanted them to chill out and eat!

But apparently hummingbirds weren't all that were passing through. The bees I'd been longing for (so I wouldn't have to hand pollinate my squash) suddenly showed up in great numbers - at the feeders. And they didn't want to share with the hummers. It was heartbreaking to watch the hummers hover over the feeders when they were unable to approach them.

I argued with myself for a couple of days over this moral dilemma: bees need food too, and surely they'd move on soon. (In years past we used to get a swarm in our big mesquite tree every April; they'd stay a couple of days, buzzing loudly and looking scary, and then disappear.) But these guys didn't move on. This photo shows what I wish could have happened, but it was a rare moment that I didn't see repeated.

Finally we took both feeders down. A couple of days ago I thought it would be safe to put them back, but the bee scouts were out and in less than an hour the feeders were buzzing. I didn't see any bees today, but think I'll wait a few days before putting the feeders up again.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Breakfast

I have no idea how Chinese this recipe for Beijing-Style Scrambled Eggs really is, but I was wandering through my recipe collection and realized I had everything this one called for, and Joe and I were hungry, so I whipped up a batch - super easy and quick and uses only one pan! Sounds like the perfect breakfast to me! These are the very simple ingredients:

2 medium tomatoes
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I skipped the oil and used a well-sprayed nonstick pan)
1 green onion, diced (mine was sliced)
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated
1 teaspoon sugar

Cook the tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove, drain, and peel the skin off. Cut in half and remove seeds, and chop coarsely. Set the tomato on a paper towel-lined dish to absorb liquid.
        In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add salt.
        In a skillet or wok, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over a high flame, making sure the pan is hot. Add the eggs, lower heat to medium-high and stir gently until thickened, but not overcooked. Remove from heat and place on a dish.
      Over high heat, add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil to the pan and stir-fry the green onion and ginger for a few seconds. Add the tomato and sugar. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the scrambled eggs to the skillet. Stir gently and cook until the liquid has cooked away and serve immediately.

1. I skipped the whole blanching and peeling of the tomatoes. I don't mind the skin; I'm sure it adds a little fiber. I used meaty Roma tomatoes which produce less juice than some varieties; next time I'll try something juicier. But it still tasted great.
2. I also skipped the oil entirely. A decent nonstick pan with a generous spray of Pam-type cooking spray worked just fine.
After the eggs were scrambled and removed to a plate,
 I just re-sprayed the pan for the ginger and scallions,  followed by the tomatoes.
 3. I didn't actually stir the eggs and tomatoes together when I put the eggs back in the pan; rather, I pushed the tomatoes to the sides, plopped the eggs back down in the middle to warm up again, then served it up.

I don't suppose the toast is very authentically Chinese. In fact, the whole thing seems more like a delicious Asian twist on huevos rancheros, and that's just fine with me. I'll be happy to make it and eat it again.
      The recipe didn't say how many it would serve. One or two, I guess. This morning it served two, along with some fruit (not shown). It was enough, but I can easily imagine someone hungrier than I was today eating it all. After all, many restaurant omelets use 3 eggs.

Cosmo, not surprisingly, slept through the whole production.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Clever Idea

Okay, I can't take credit for this brilliantly simple solution for when your microwave just isn't big enough to hold everything you want it to at once. Unfortunately, I've forgotten where I read this useful and practical tip, but I'm deeply grateful to whoever originally put it out there.

You probably don't even need to read further to understand what's going on here. The blue dishes won't fit on the turntable at the same time, so I turned another small dish upside down and put the second square dish on top of it; it projects over the first one by an inch or so but there's plenty of air space to allow the magical microwaves to do their job of warming up some leftover chicken pot pie. Et voilá! Joe and I could sit down a few minutes later to equally piping hot leftover lunches together.

You can use any kind of microwave-safe dish to elevate the second dish, as long as it's got a flat bottom that's big enough to provide a stable platform, so the upper dish won't fall off its perch while the turntable's going around.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Insects Galore!

 Once upon a time, insects were much, much bigger than they are today, significantly bigger than an almost-three-year-old.

That's just one of the things Rory and her mom and I learned yesterday at the Arizona Insect Festival at the University of Arizona. This free annual event is pitched primarily to preschool and elementary age kids and their grownups, though there were some older kids around, often manning the informational booths and doing a great job of it.
     I knew when I got there 45 minutes after it opened and had to park in what looked like the last available space at the top of the multi-story Second Street Garage that there was a great turnout. Lots of little people were trying to get up close to see the exhibits,

and yes, those giant stick-like things really are insects! They really could have used a larger venue, though I'm not sure what that would be.
     Volunteers offered several large critters for visitors to touch or hold, but Rory was skeptical until we got to this caterpillar.
By then we'd collected our 10 (actually 12 station stamps), enjoyed a cool photo op (well, Rita and I enjoyed it - Rory was a little more skeptical once she actually got to the head of the line),
and built a bug from clay and pipecleaners. It was time to escape the crowd (picking up her prize, a butterfly tattoo, along the way) and go find some ice cream.

Look for the Arizona Insect Festival to come around again next September. It's fun, it's educational, and it's free. Even the parking!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Good Herbs - Keep Them Fresh

When I pick herbs from my garden I sometimes take more than I need and put the excess into a tiny bouquet in a bud vase, like this thyme, and enjoy looking at it for a while before I use it within the next few days.
But sometimes, especially when I buy herbs at the store, the bunch or package is more than I need or can use right away.  Since my parsley plant went to seed and it's been too hot for cilantro, which is a winter crop in my desert garden, I've been buying those two herbs, and although they're not expensive, I don't like seeing them get icky and slimy before I've had a chance to use them up. Here's what I do to prolong their shelf life in my refrigerator.

First take the parsley or cilantro out of the bag and get rid of the twist tie or rubber band that holds the bunch together and often cuts into the stems.

Then wash it well and pick out any bad leaves or stalks. Set any good but short stalks to one side. I put the bad parts in the compost bucket and the short stems in a small (snack-size) zip-lock bag that goes in the refrigerator to be used first. Below you see (part of) the larger bunch (in this case cilantro) at the very top of the photo, the shorter stalks on the left, and on the right the bruised or yellowing bits I'm going to throw away.

Put the big bunch in a glass of water, making sure there are no leaves under the water where they will quickly rot, just as you would with a bouquet of flowers. If you chop a half-inch or so off the bottom of the stems they'll be able to take up water more efficiently and stay fresher, again, just like a floral bouquet.

Place a plastic bag over the whole thing, glass and bouquet, pull up the excess plastic so the bag fits tight around the glass and fasten the wad of plastic with a twist tie so it will stay that way. Then set the glass on a shelf in your refrigerator where the parsley or cilantro will stay fresh much longer than if you just left it in the bag it came in, with a twist tie or rubber band cutting off the individual stems' circulation. This way you can use what you need, as you need it, while the rest remains appetizing.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Changing Times

Joe went back to work on Tuesday and I didn't; up till then it had just felt like our usual summer break rather than the R word. And I still don't feel retired, since my vision of that was days alone to pursue my creative and domestic projects. I'm not complaining, just acknowledging that, as John Lennon said, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans," like when the wind blows down a tree and the only practical, reasonable thing to do is to cut and stack it for firewood (and a playground for cactus wrens).

A week ago yesterday my mother had what fortunately turned out to be a small stroke-type event, a TIA or transient ischemic attack, but unlike that tree, she got back up and is recovering well. She spent two days in the hospital and has been with us since then, though she'll be going home on Sunday. I'm so glad to be able to be here for her, and she's a wonderful, undemanding "guest." My problem is in my own head: I feel guilty about taking time for myself to write or paint or whatever, though she's perfectly able to entertain herself. In fact, she'll probably be relieved to be free of my anxious hovering.
       One thing we enjoy together is wildlife in the backyard. While I'm watering, she circles the patio with her walker, and we observe things like the Texas ranger blooming in response to recent rains (this picture is from yesterday and already the blossoms are fading and dropping),
the goldfinches at their new feeder full of nyjer seed,
and the doves vacuuming up whatever falls to the ground.
Nyjer seed is pretty expensive, but I finally broke down and bought a sock feeder to see if it would attract the goldfinches that have been absent since our sunflower crop failed this year - usually we have lots of sunflowers and thus lots of these beautiful birds. You can see that the sock feeder worked: here are two female lesser goldfinches and a house finch (top right) on it,
 and here are a female and a male, in his lovely black tuxedo.
 But put the sock feeder up against a good monsoon and the monsoon wins, especially when they come three days in a row. The birds kept coming, but the seed in the middle would have been sprouting or fermenting or something, so we visited Wild Birds Unlimited, and bought the pretty yellow feeder for about $20 - we talked about making one but I don't think we could have done it for any less - and now not only does less seed fall to the ground but what's in the feeder has some protection from the rain, not necessarily from real hard-pounding rain with tree-whipping wind, but all in all better than the sock. In fact, it just began to rain again as I wrote that last sentence!
     Another change the last couple of days is that finally - finally! - my pepper plants are actually producing something! Here's a jalapeño (can you see the face on it?),
and here's a Cubanelle, a variety I've never planted before but when I saw them at Home Depot I liked the name, so here we are -
this one (and more, I hope!) will get bigger and turn red. Heat- and spice-wise, it's apparently fairly mild; I've read they're sometimes used in place of poblanos.
    I received the seeds I ordered for the fall/winter garden but it's still too hot to plant them, so I must be patient. Any number of garden chores await some cooling weather, which we'll have a taste of next week, according to the most recent forecast, and I look forward to digging and planting and transplanting, mostly various herbs and cacti. Of course when it cools the tomatoes will start setting fruit again - this one must have had its hormones triggered in some recent brief cool interval.
Bigger than a dime and smaller than a nickel, I see it as a sign of hope and faith that summer will soon be giving way to what passes for fall here in the desert southwest. I even changed my hair color in anticipation of the changing season; it's very, very red and I haven't decided whether to call it merlot or chianti, but I know autumn leaves come in this color.

Monday, September 2, 2013

All Creatures Great and Small

This morning I participated in the Labor Day Dog Walk at the Pima Animal Care Center outside Tucson; they've been having these walks on recent holidays as a way to recruit new volunteers and also just to get more of the dogs out for some much-needed exercise and socialization (those who didn't want to or couldn't walk dogs could also spend some quality time cuddling cats).
Fred here was my companion for a pretty vigorous hour-plus walk. He gave me quite a workout and I'm sure we both benefited from it. He's a sweet dog who behaved himself pretty well, though I think if I'd been more of a runner he'd have been a little happier. Fred's an old-timer at PACC; he's been adopted a couple of times and brought back, as he needs a forever home with high walls and no small animals he might see as prey. We have two cats and therefore our home is not the place for him, but I do hope the right people find him, as I think he'd be a wonderful pet.
     Our walk took us once around Silverbell Lake
 and twice around the smaller lake to the west of it, where people run their remote-controlled boats (there was just one out there this morning, and Fred and I both found it fascinating as well as noisy and rather annoying - but at least those boats have their own place and don't disturb the folks fishing from the banks of Silverbell Lake itself).
 In a quiet corner of the smaller lake I saw this heron - an hour later he was still in the same spot.

 It's a lovely, peaceful place, even with so many people walking dogs there, and the dogs were all quite well-behaved - better, really, than some we meet on our neighborhood walks! Of course, we walkers were all careful to keep them a safe distance apart, but I didn't see any aggressive lunging or barking at all!

     I was only briefly surprised to see a large number of pit bulls - probably half at least half of the dogs out walking; they weren't causing any trouble. I know a lot of people are afraid of them, and that's probably why so many have been surrendered to shelters, but I can't help wondering if it's really fair to demonize an entire breed, when so much depends on the way the individual animal is raised and treated. Some years back I read that (at least for one particular year) cocker spaniels were responsible for more reported bites than any other breed of dog! The only dog that ever bit me was a particularly unpleasant toy poodle, though my mother nearly lost a finger to a rottweiler a few years ago. But that rottweiler belonged to someone who apparently thought an aggressive dog made his owner appear more macho.
      Anyway, there was nothing to disturb the beauty of the morning. This egret, like the heron above, had established his fishing territory in an out of the way corner - I love to watch them, so still, so patient, and then so quick to go in for the kill.
 I hope Fred enjoyed the morning as much as I did, and that he and the other animals won't have to wait too much longer before they're claimed by people who will give them plenty of love and care and long walks. Information on adoptable animals is available at
I was also reminded what a beautiful place Christopher Columbus Park is, with its lakes stocked with fish and its other wildlife - I even saw a pelican paddling around on the lake but didn't think to get a picture till it was out of sight. And since CCP is so close to home, just a couple of miles north on Silverbell, there's no reason not to go there more often.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

And Then the Garden . . . .

Whenever we go away I get inspired by the gardens, landscapes, and various other things, to the point where I can hardly wait to get home to try out some of those new ideas. Among my favorite places are botanical gardens of any kind - or just walking around neighborhoods in other places to see what people are doing with their yards. On our first full day in Carlsbad, Joe and I, along with Gregg and the kids, visited the San Diego Botanical Garden, and what a delight it was!

Dante really didn't want to leave his electronic devices in the car at first, but he quickly got into the spirit of the place. Among the first things we saw were these crazy trees - it was mid-afternoon and they looked like they'd begun the cocktail hour early:
I knew the corks in our wine bottles came from trees but had never seen one; the trunk on this one was at least 3 feet wide:
We found a lovely gazebo
orchids growing wild,
along with many different bromeliads
and a rainforest complete with waterfall:

In another area we found this shed covered with vines and strange blossoms as big as dinner plates.
The white thing is like a balloon containing nectar that insects feed on; one of the gardeners said she thought it was a variety of Dutchman's pipe, though I think those are usually smaller. When that chamber bursts open it's filled with a sooty substance that you can see on the ground around the garbage can (I really should have moved that before I took the picture!).

Of course there were other strange and wonderful flowers as well, like these:

and we learned where bananas come from,
and were reminded of the importance of balance in nature
when we got to the bamboo grove, where we saw this gigantic bamboo sculpture
and various varieties of that amazing plant, including gorgeous painted bamboo:
Geneva and Dante located a lily pond
and Geneva's sharp eyes spotted its tiny, jewel-like residents

Then we moved on a Mexican-themed area, complete with lovely dancers and a mariachi band, all life-sized and dressed in succulents, a delightful variation on the topiaries we see in so many other places.

and further along the path we were reminded again of the importance of nature in our lives:
At last we came to the children's garden, full of whimsical sculptures and a variety of activity areas:

including a wonderful and elaborate treehouse with several entrances and exits at different levels.
These bromeliads are growing on tree limbs high above the ground. In the lower left corner of the this photo you can see a xylophone made of flat stones, each of which has its own distinct rich and complex musical tone, so you can actually play "real" music on it. 
(Yes, I did climb up to the top, and so did Joe.)
That area below contained several other music makers, and nearby Dante beat everyone at tic-tac-toe played on a permanent board laid out in the sand, about four feet square, with X's and O's a foot wide and made of wood. But that's where my camera ran out of energy, just after I caught Dante relaxing in the giant's chair. We left shortly after that.

Surprisingly, in many less planned and developed areas, we found cacti and cholla just like the ones here at home. And of course, I came back excited to try out some new gardening ideas based on what we saw there. It's nice to go away, but it's also nice to come home, especially when there's some vacation time left in which to recover from the vacation!