Wednesday, June 29, 2016

July in the Garden

Summer is the time of year where I start making plans for next year's gardening. I get to see what's working and what's not. What needs to be moved or removed. What to add. What to never-grow-again. What to try over or even try for the first time.

Zucchini has become one of those things I don't think I will grow ever again. This year, I was determined to grow a crap-load of zucchini, but the bugs have won out - AGAIN. Even though I put up these very clever row covers, the squash bugs and eventually the squash vine borers found their way in.



The zuchs are very happy and healthy, but the row covers prevent really good pollination from happening. I tried hand pollinating, but between that and removing squash bug eggs, and otherwise babying these things, it's just not worth it. So far, I've gotten exactly 2 huge zuchs and I'm not sure if I'll have any more that are worth the effort. Supposedly, legend has it that just one zuch plant should be enough to feed a family of four - HMPH!

However, the summer squash in the background under the other cover are doing great! Somehow, they are more resistant to the squash bugs and SVBs. Still, I am spraying the vines with BT every 7 days in hopes of killing any hatching SVB larva.

Moving on...

The tomatoes have finally caught up and again I have too many tom plants (27 plants). These things are now taller than me since I took these photos. I have a ton of parsley, as I suspected, so I think I am going to dry a lot in my dehydrator for dried parsley.



Some exciting news....it finally looks like I "might" have figs from my fig plants this year! I bought these 2 fig plants at 6" tall three years ago and they are FINALLY growing little figlets. #figwatch

I almost gave up on them producing anything, but I've heard that it can take several years for them to grow figs. The fig plants are "Negronne" and "Olympian". At the end of the season, I am going to move them to bigger pots. If I had this to do over again, I would have bought mature plants from the get-go.



Outside the veggie garden, the perennial bed by the porch is in full bloom. It's still in evolution, so it's a bit messy IMO. I love the gladiolas, but they look out of place when they are growing willy-nilly here-and-there. I think I'm going to move them all together in clumps this fall.


From the other direction, you can see we have a huge, ugly eyesore. Hubby and I removed two large juniper bushes from this spot (I think junipers smell like cat pee!) and now we have to figure out what we want to replace them with.

For now, I have a "Little Kim" lilac planted there and have plans to put a really big planter with a Japanese Maple in it towards the front by the liriope. Hubby and I also have plans to rescreen the porch this fall/winter and add wood lattice under the porch to make it less of an eyesore.

I have a Baptista (false nettle) plant that I want to move behind the lilac and some smaller perennials to put in front of it.


Out back near the drain field, my hosta and shade garden is looking nice. I've had to grow everything out here in protective "chain mail" to keep the voles out, but something else has been out here causing havoc as well.

The other day, two of these plants were completely pulled up out of their holes by their "chain mail" root ball protectors. I know voles can't do this for bigger plants, so I'm suspecting either a raccoon, opossum, or skunk.

I've since purchased a 2 lb. bag of cayenne powder and circled each one of these plants like I was protecting them from some sort of voodoo curse. Hey, whatever it takes and it's working!


Lastly, I will leave you with a pretty close-up of a borage flower. Such detail! Happy summer to you all!


Monday, June 27, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday - Cats on Prozac

Or, "Why My Cat Hates Herb Alpert"...

We are in the process of weaning Miss Thang off her Prozac. She was initially only prescribed half of a 10 mg pill a day (5 mg), which is a really low dose to start out with, but it has made a world of difference IMO. As a reminder, we put her on it to help manage a redirected aggression episode between her and Chaz - I HIGHLY recommend this approach in combination with behavioral therapy to get things back to normal.


She's been on it for about 2 1/2 months now and it normally isn't meant to be used as a long-term medication for cats. Three-to-six months is about the average length of time. It definitely took a solid 2-3 weeks to get her titrated to the full dosage benefit and during that time she was a little spacey and more prone to sleeping. After that initial 2-3 weeks, she was pretty much back to normal, but subdued.

Behaviorally, the Prozac has helped her manage a tendency to "ramp up" her aggression if she becomes scared/startled. It has helped her to experience situations as NBD and this was a god-send when desensitizing her interactions with Chaz. We've noticed it primarily during situations where, as an alpha cat, she is prone to wanting to control or respond to the energy in the room.

For example, if hubby and I start having a loud conversation (i.e. an argument or laughing), she has a tendency to come into the room, walk up to us, and give one of us a slight nip. It's as if she is saying, "Hey you two, cut it out!" If we ramped up, she would too.

Another example is when my cell phone rings. If I would run to go get it before it went to voice mail, she would run after me and try to bite me or attack my legs. It got so bad that if my phone even rang and no one moved, she would still run into the room and have this look on her face like, "Who's ass do I need to kick?" Pavlov would be impressed.

It was actually funny, not funny, as we made a joke of it and said we have our cat trained to attack when she hears Herb Alpert's "Spanish Flea," since that is my ringtone. Even playing this video has me nervously looking over my shoulder...


Since being on the Prozac, she has mostly stopped doing these things, but we have noticed a little more playfulness and energy from her in the past 2 weeks of weaning her off. She's been a little more playful and slightly "bully-ish" with Chaz, but that was only from 1 or 2 random observations. We shall see how she "turns out" after fully weaning her off. Hubby thinks the Prozac will "reboot" her brain. :-)

As an aside, Prozac for cats is another tool to use for improper elimination in the house. If all other health and behavior issues are ruled out, then Prozac has shown to be a HUGE help for cats that pee or poo outside of their litter box. Fortunately, we've never had this problem.

All-in-all, I am VERY happy with how Prozac has helped my bully-alpha cat chill out and just be a cat. Totally would do again if needed to, but I think I need to change my ringtone. :-)

Friday, June 24, 2016

Neely's Honey Cornbread Muffins

I often fixate on a dish or recipe and search high-and-low until I find what I'm looking for. When hubby and I were first dating, I was on the hunt for the "perfect" buttermilk biscuit. Over the course of an entire year, I baked hundreds of biscuits using over a dozen recipes until I found "the one". I often laugh at this memory, as my then-boyfriend-now-husband was so polite and eager to try every one, and believe me, there were some really horrible hockey pucks made during that time.

Ah, the things we do when we are in love! :-)


The same could be said for cornbread. I've been on the hunt for years for the "perfect recipe". In my mind and preference, cornbread should be cakey, moist, and slightly sweet. I know this is a regional thing, as in many parts of the south and southwest, cornbread is dry, crumbly, and a little salty. Sweeter, cakey cornbread is more of a northeast thing. If I ever want to start a debate on my beloved Cooking Forum, all I have to do is ask which type of cornbread is better and why. :-)

Turns out, people are very territorial about their cornbread!


As far as recipes go, I thought I found "the one" a year-or-two ago and settled on it, but something about it wasn't quite right. I think it had too much baking soda in it and although the cornbread was great coming out of the oven, it lost its appeal as a leftover.

So, that's another thing: Cornbread should taste just as good a day or two later as it did when it was fresh.

And then, this week I found "the one". Moist, cakey, a little sweet, and just as perfect for breakfast a day or two later than right out of the oven. I've had this recipe for years, just waiting to be noticed. Now I can throw all those other recipes away!

Honey Cornbread Muffins
Recipe Source: Pat and Gina Neely

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/4 cup honey
Special equipment: paper muffin cups and a 12-cup muffin tin
Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Note: Although this recipe calls for it, do not use muffin tin liners. Some people say these muffins have a tendency to stick to the paper. These can be baked in a pan or in larger muffin tin (just oil the tins first) 

Into a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter, and honey. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed.

Place muffin paper liners in a 12-cup muffin tin. Evenly divide the cornbread mixture into the papers. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Turtle Time

Now that summer is here, the turtles have made another appearance on the property. I found this shy, but handsome young man near our wooded area a few weeks ago. I wish I could have gotten a picture of his face and front legs; he was so pretty!


It's easy to tell the difference between male and female box turtles in a few ways: the males have very bright, orange-ish spots on their legs and face, as well as red eyes. The females are more muted and brown/yellow, with brown eyes.

Female on top, male on bottom
Photo from www.austinturtlepage.com
If you flip them over, you will see that males also have an indentation or divot on their bottom shell. This helps them fit more easily against the top of the female turtle shell during mating. It's kinda hard to see here, but it's there:


This little guy also had quite an impressive notch taken out of the front of his shell - I wonder what happened to him at one point in his life? Small, identifying marks like this help me keep track of turtles that we find around here. So far, I don't think I've seen the same turtle twice. Cool beans!

Also, I have a new bumper sticker that I put on both of our vehicles...I think this says it all:


Friday, June 17, 2016

The Garden in June

It's occurred to me that since we moved here, I've never given a full tour of our property when I talk about the gardens or yard. We bought this house as a foreclosure 4 years ago (Eeek! That long already?) and it's definitely been a lot fun, hard work, and learning experiences.

The house sits on 4, heavily wooded acres, which is about half cleared for the house and yard. As foreclosed properties go, the house was a great financial investment, but unlike many foreclosures, it was in great shape. However, the outside was a hot mess and when we first moved in, we had to hire a bush-hogger to come in just to mow the back yard!

Over the years we've spent the most amount of improvement costs towards improving the property - mostly in tree removal and bringing the once, bush-hogged, weed and tick farm back to a lawn.

Okay, so let's start the tour!

First the front of the house. I love the stone work and the front porch. Since we moved in, we replaced the front walkway, repaired the lawn, removed trees, painted/stained the porch, and replaced the gutters.


Looking to the right of the garage, we have my sweet little garden shed. This wasn't here when we moved in either and we needed a place to park the mowers (plural) and garden/yard stuff. The veggie garden is on the other side of the fence. 

The woods behind the shed are our property too (2 acres). We keep it wooded because we do have a neighbor next to us and during the summer we don't want to see their property. 


Going through the garden gate to the backyard, this is what we see. The veggie garden is to the right where the mulch starts. 

It's fenced in, as I think the previous owners had a dog, which I'm sure was a dog's dream! This has turned out to be HUGELY in our favor, as every one of our neighbors also have dogs and the fence keeps them out. :-) Surprisingly, the deer don't come over the fence, even with the veggie garden.


Now, walking to the back of the property and looking towards the house. My new hosta garden is going in the shaded, mulched bed on the right with the trees. The veggie garden us up to the left (out of sight) by the fence.

I spend a lot of time sitting on that porch just watching the world go by and enjoying nature. 


From that spot turning toward the right, we have our drain field for our septic system. When we first moved in here, I wanted to put my veggie garden over here LOL! You should have seen the look on our septic system maintenance guy's face when I asked if I could do this. :-)  I was so naive; I had never lived in a house with a septic system. 

You can kind of see my other neighbor's house on the other side of the fence (on left). They have the exact same house as ours and we're the only 2 houses like this for miles. The rest of the properties around us are mostly older, country homes. The wooded area behind the fence to the right is our property too. 


Lastly, walking to the right, through the drain field and to the right of the hosta garden, we look back at the house. You can see the shed in the distance.

It just amazes me how good the grass looks. When we first saw this back yard, it was waist high and mostly weeds and bramble. Every year in the fall we've been giving it lime, fertilizer, and over seeding. We've aerated it and dethatched; we keep the grass tall - 3.5-4 inches - in the summer to help protect it from heat stress. In the spring, we hit it with another batch of fertilizer and crabgrass control. I spot treat for weeds when I see them.

I love to walk around out here barefoot. 


So that's it! We rarely deal with the wooded parts of the property unless there are trees to be taken care of. We've had over 50 trees removed and probably a dozen stumps ground since moving in. I think this is the first year where we won't have our tree company come out, unless there's an emergency (knock on A LOT of wood!).

But mostly, I am here, taking it all in, usually with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in my hand...


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Zucchini and Spinach Lasagna

I've been craving a pasta dish lately and didn't feel like doing something with a tomato sauce. Sure enough, this Zucchini and Spinach Lasagna hit the spot! I spotted this recipe in a Southern Living magazine a year or two ago and it's always a big hit.

Photo by Jennifer Davick
Zucchini should be coming in soon, and this year I am determined to not let the squash bugs and squash vine borers get the best of all my hard work. I'll show you later what I'm doing, but here's a preview of things to come:


Zucchini and Spinach Lasagna
Recipe Source: Southern Living

1 (8-oz) container whipped chive-and-onion cream cheese
1 (15 oz) container ricotta cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. salt
5 medium zucchini, thinly sliced (about 2 ½ lbs.)
2 T olive oil
1 (10 oz) fresh spinach (or thawed 10 oz. chopped, frozen)
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, pressed
*6 no-boil lasagna noodles
1 (7 oz) package shredded mozzarella cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese
Garnish: fresh basil leaves

*Note: Although this recipe calls for using no-boil lasagna, I chose to use regular noodles and boil mine prior, as the sauce does not have very much liquid and I didn't want the lasagna to dry out. 

Preheat oven to 425°(or 350° if pre-boiling noodles). Stir together first 4 ingredients in a bowl. Sautee zucchini in hot olive oil in a large skillet over med-high heat 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Add spinach; gently toss until wilted; add garlic and 1/2 tsp salt; cook 1 minute.

Spoon 1/3 of vegetables into a lightly greased 9-inch square baking dish; top with 2 noodles and 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. Repeat twice. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan.

Bake, covered with lightly greased aluminum foil at 425° for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly and noodles are tender. Uncover and bake 5-10 minutes longer or until top is golden. If baking with pre-boiled noodles, bake at 350° uncovered for 30-45 minutes, or until top is golden. Let stand 10 minutes; garnish if desired.

Freezing - This lasagna freezes amazingly well! Freeze unbaked with a double-layer of tin foil over the top. Bake frozen at 375° with the tin foil on for about 1.5 - 2 hours. The last 30-45 minutes remove the tin foil from the top and bake till golden and bubbly.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday - Prayers for Orlando

Today's Gratuitous Kitteh Monday is dedicated to all my friends and family in Orlando who are affected by yesterday's horrible brutality. You are all in my prayers.

"In the love of There as the love of Here.
Think of him still as the same. I say,
He is not dead - he is just away."

- James Whitcomb Riley


Thursday, June 09, 2016

California Pizza Kitchen's Orginal BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad

I love it when I'm browsing through some of my favorite blogs and come across an amazing recipe. I spied this recipe for California Kitchen's Original BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad as a link from Posie Gets Cozy - which is a gorgeous blog BTW - in which she got from Lauren's Latest.

When Alicia said she had been making this salad at least once a week for the past few weeks, I can see why. This salad blew my mind! It is probably the BEST chopped salad I've ever had, and I know chopped salads!

I even followed Alicia's link for the Chili-Lime Chicken recipe for the chicken and was blown away again. I substituted boneless pork chops for the chicken and I promise this dish will be on repeat all summer long.

LOL, there's actual salad under all this yumminess...I promise!


California Kitchen's Original BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad
Recipe Source: Lauren's Latest

4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
3 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup rinsed and drained black beans
1/4 cup drained sweet corn
1/4 cup grated monterey jack or mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup peeled and diced jicama
1/4-1/2 cup prepared ranch dressing, such as Hidden Valley
1 large tomato, diced
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1 leftover grilled chicken breast, chilled and diced (or pork)

1/4-1/2 cup prepared bbq sauce, such as KC Masterpiece Original

In a large bowl, combine lettuce with basil, cilantro, black beans, corn, cheese and jicama. Toss with ranch dressing {as much as you'd like} and divide between two serving bowls. Place diced tomatoes around the edges of each bowl, top with avocado slices and diced grilled chicken. Drizzle bbq sauce over top the whole thing and serve.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Chinese BBQ Pork

I love to order the Chinese BBQ pork at Chinese restaurants. That sweet, lacquered, porky goodness gets me every time. But it can often be tough and a little dry, not to mention who-knows-what preservatives are included in the sauce that's used, as it's usually from a can or powder. That color red cannot be found in nature!

So, I decided to make my very own Chinese BBQ at home and this is what happened...




Let me tell you, this was so good that I wish I had made more! Hubby and I were fighting over who got the last piece! This meal was worth the rice splurge on our low-carb diet. In fact, the sauce was so amazing that I'd like to see if I can get it tested for home canning.

For the record, this is a bit involved to make, so I would double the amount and maybe freeze the leftovers for future, Chinese-food-at-home-Netflix-marathons.

Chinese BBQ Pork at Home
Recipe source: Cooks Illustrated, April 2007

1 (4 lb) boneless pork butt, cut into 8 strips and excess fat removed (or use Country ribs like I did and cut off the bone)
1/2 cup sugar (I substituted Splenda to cut back on the sugar)
1/2 cup soy sauce
6 T hoisin sauce
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp five-spice powder
1 T toasted sesame oil
2 T grated fresh ginger
2 tsps garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1/2 cup ketchup
1/3 cup honey


Place pork in a large, Ziplock bag. Combine sugar, soy sauce, hoisin, sherry, white pepper, five-spice powder, sesame oil, ginger, and garlic in a bowl and stir to mix. Measure out 1/2 cup of the marinade and set aside. Pour the remaining marinade into the bag with the pork. Seal the bag and "massage" the marinade into the pork a few times. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.


While meat is marinating, combine ketchup, honey, and reserved 1/2 cup of marinade in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sauce is reduced to about 1 cup and is syrupy.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 300°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and set a wire rack on sheet. Remove pork from marinade, letting excess drip off, and place on wire rack. Discard marinade from bag. Pour 1/4 cup water into the bottom of the sheet. Cover entire sheet with tin foil, crimping edges tightly to seal. Cook for 20 minutes and then remove the foil. Cook for another 40-55 minutes, or until edges of pork start to brown.


Remove pork from oven. Turn on oven broiler to high and set oven rack 6-8 inches away from broiler. Brush reduced sauce on pork and broil until evenly caramelized, 7-9 minutes. Turn pork over, brush sauce on other side, and broil again for 7-9 minutes. Do this one or two more times until the pork is a deep mahogany color. Remove from oven and brush pork one last time with sauce. Let rest for 10 minutes, then cut up into strips and serve.




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