Thursday, July 31, 2008

The garden is laying down

...just for the next few weeks. It's soooooo hot out that everything but the okra seems to be asking for a nap. The heat here is sweltering and oppressive. No real rain for almost three weeks now and the hum of the cicadas entices us all to go into hibernation.

But despite that I picked two more butternut squash (11 and 12 from one vine!), tons of small tomatoes, loads of peppers, some cukes, the last of the carrots, and some dill that pleaded with me to end its suffering.

On a whim I made pickled peppers last night. Easy pleasey.

1 Quart of Fridge Pickled Peppers

  • Wash about 20 medium sized Hungarian Wax peppers and 2 cayenne. Slice into rings and shake off excess seeds.
  • Boil up 1 qt of water, 1 cup of vinegar, and 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • Push peppers into quart mason jar
  • Add 1/4 tsp dill seed and 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • Pour hot brine over peppers and let cool.
  • Refrigerate. They'll be good almost immediately but better next week. They'll last 3 months or so.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

10 minutes to chic

Not sure why I'm so busy lately. Okay, maybe I do: the course I'm crash-prepping starts in a month, my friend's election is wrapping up, my partner played a music festival this past weekend, and I just developed a training module for work...maybe that's why I'm a bit tired and have no time to blog...

Or cook for that matter. Here are two quick, cool recipes we've had in the past few days.

Chilled Avocado Soup
(I know I saw something about avocado soup on someone's blog but I can't remember where it was, so if I haven't acknowledged you, please link to your recipe in the comments!)

3 ripe Haas avocados, peeled and chopped
juice of 1 lime
2 cups milk (I used skim, you use whatever)
1 cayenne pepper, chopped (you can use ground red pepper or a jalapeno, or omit)
1/2 dozen currant tomatoes (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Toss in the blender, puree, chill, eat with tortillas. Be happy your kitchen is cool.

Faux Nicoise
1 1/2 cups left over bulgar
Salmon or tuna (we used salmon)
1 cucumber, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
kernels from 2 ears of cooked corn
1 cup green beans, lightly steamed and cooled
1/2 cup mushrooms
1/4 black olives, pitted and chopped
1-2 tomatoes, cut in large pieces
faux vinaigrette - 2 pts mayo to 1 pt lemon juice and 1 pt dijon, add fresh thyme and/or basil

Layer, dress, eat.

One quick garden note: I think it's almost time for my beans' final rewards. The romanos are so decimated by spider mites and the bush beans are just...tired. I'm still flummoxed as to whether to follow the fall planting guidelines (which suggest I should start planting fall things now) or to wait until it's not 100 degrees outside. Logic says the extension office most likely know what they're talking about. My intuition says "hold the damn phone, nothing wants to germinate when it's this hot!" I'll keep you posted on who wins...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Holy Toledo, Batwoman!

Bats! I saw BATS in my back yard last night!!!! Swooping and darting up through the space between our trees...It was AWESOME!

(image courtesy:

I don't know if you know about the mosquitoes in Green Country, OK. They are absolutely horrendous! I've heard they are worse this year (this is our first year in this area) due to the mega rains we've had. It's already the wettest year on record in July with many more months to come.

So when I saw the bats arrive, I wanted to stand up and do a bat cheer! Welcome home, my flying friends! PLEASE stick around! PLEASE eat several hundred mosquitoes tonight! (Mosquito tartare is delicious, I hear.) PLEASE beat that nasty white-nose syndrome! Yaaaaaay, BATS!

Several years ago I used to drive out to Weatherford, OK to some bat caves my ex- knew about. They were a locals hang-out for college students who wanted to chill (i.e. drink beer) on hot summer nights. We used to go during the day and explore the caves and gather guano. It was stellar in the garden! I hear that the caves have become more protected and that people from OU and OSU are conducting research there.

That's probably the strangest thing I've lost in a break-up...access to guano. Ah, well, what can you do? Maybe the bats will do a gracious fly-over of my garden. That would be nice.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Fridge Pickles of Death + home-econamarama

...or maybe Fridge Pickles of Doom. Which one makes you more afraid? Disclaimer here, folks, I have been called Asbestos Mouth by a former roommate. I like the heart palpitations that go along with extremely hot peppers. That and the spins make peppers quite a nice legal high! Either way, this pickle is supposed to burn your face off. Here at the Little Pink House in Northeastern Oklahoma we're of the mind that more is more. More spice, more garlic, more sour, more heat! Turn it up to eleven!

Fridge Pickles with Habanero and Garlic - makes one gallon

1) Grow pickles.

2) Harvest pickles (about five pounds, maybe? Maybe more? As many as fit in the jar. No more, no less...)

Sample Pickles

3) Harvest dill.

4) Harvest dill flowers. Harvest habaneroes. Harvest onions (or cut some from your braid in the garage).

5) Clean and wash pickles and habanero. Place in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes.

6) Clean out a big pickle jar you've been saving for just this occasion.

7) Fill with 5-8 dill flowers and some extra dill fronds, a whole head of peeled and separated garlic, 2 small, quartered spring onions, 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns, and 1 tsp. coriander.

Top View!

8) Boil up the brine - 10 cups water, 2-3 cups vinegar (depending on your sour jones), 1/2 - 3/4 cup Kosher salt (depending on your salt jones...and your blood pressure). Stir until salt dissolves.

This is what simmering water looks like:

9) Prick the habanero with a knife or fork. Place the pickles and the pepper in the jar. (This makes for a spicy pickle...if you don't want it that hot, use less - maybe a strip of habanero - or use a jalapeno or other milder pepper...or skip it if you're from New England......kidding.) Observe hot pepper safety.

10) Put the glass jar in the sink, just in case there is some heat reaction type breakage. This has never happened to me, but I always put it in the sink just in case because that idea is scary as hell. (Flying shards, oh my!) Let the brine cool slightly and then pour it into the jar. There will be an almost immediate color change.

11) Top with a handful of wild grape leaves (or cultivated grape if you are so lucky) for crispness. My grandmother told me about this tip.

12) Let sit in a cool dark place for 3 days to a week then move to the fridge...Voila! Fridge pickles!

**A note of caution: The brine will be spicy due to the pepper for several days. I found that the first few days it actually burned my hand on contact (not bad, but enough) and then lately has mellowed. Just be careful when handling and cutting super hot peppers.

And, in other news, I spent Saturday canning. My first time! I was a canning virgin until July 19! I canned up 13 pints of homegrown tomatoes and 3 quarts of beans. Unfortunately the liquid in the beans is no longer to the top of the jar. I don't know if I had seepage or what, but I imagine I'll have to eat them up pronto. I'll blog more about this soon, because I had so many questions and it was quite the process...

I've also been seed saving like mad! So far I've sifted out Viroflay spinach seeds, red savina peppers, butternut squash seeds, dill seeds, onion seeds, and three kinds of tomato - Golden Queen, Green Zebra, and a specimen from the Paul Robesons that was more pink than the others and had much less cat-facing. I've got lettuce and radish seeds at the ready but haven't gotten them sorted out yet. And the birds are digging the drying sunflower seeds!

Super high-tech seed saving technique - looks like the Star Wars backdrop in reverse!

Also yesterday we wandered into the part of the yard that makes us long for a compass and a boyscout tent to start cleaning out the (I shit you not) 5 foot tall weeds that were growing there. Mostly lamb's quarters and poke and various vines, morning glories, the heart-shaped leaf type (I don't know what that is), and wild grape. Long, hot story short, we ended up taking down two huge lamb's quarter bushes and made up a tasty stir fry afterwards featuring bulgar, okra, Turkish orange eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, Tabasco peppers, lime juice and peanut butter (for that delicious Thai flavor!).

Pre-dinner time
And then tonight I was sooooo inspired by Melissa's delicious basil culinary dare-devilry that I whipped up a nectarine, basil, and goat cheese salad with blue berries, lime juice, and a dash of Tabasco! Yes, really! Tabasco! Just a dash - it really made it all come together. YUMMMMM!!!!

So that's all for the home-econamarama...more on canning and my exquisitely local review of what grows well at the 36-95 in peak summertime heat...coming soon.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pot-pourri means spoiled pot

...or rotten pot, but whatever, 'tis but semantics en francais...

I've been overly busy of the sort that happens when you think your life is about to slow down and then - wham. Random things demand your quick attention.

Like piano moving, for instance. Everyone's favorite scorching July afternoon activity. But I realized something this time around (my piano has moved at least a dozen times and three times overseas and's a long story) have truly reached a different kind of adulthood when you are delighted to pay someone else to move a piano for you. There was a time when I was 22 or so when I would have thought it was an extravagant and asinine waste of money to pay some big dudes to move my piano when I could just round up enough beer and burly guys to do it for me. These days brawny guys willing to move pianos for beer are in short supply in my life. At this point they'd rather I just pay someone to do it, too.

So that's what I did on this glorious Bastille Day. I loaded up a trailer and some ratchet straps, watched two guys move it onto the trailer in 10 minutes (that'll be $90!), drive up the turn pike, rinse, repeat. Truly different sort of adulthood. And now we have a spinett piano shoved into our adorable little pink house. For you and me.

We also went camping over the weekend which was delicious. It has been way too long since I camped. Last summer I got to spend a weekend in Arches National Park so this was ... quite different ... but fun and pleasing nonetheless.

The garden has me overloaded with tomatoes already and is also demanding a lot of 90+º day-attention. So far the heat and the accompanying spider mites are winning an ugly battle, but I don't give up easily...Well, I fade a bit when the weather is hot but I come back like a raging bull come Indian summer.

I'm still way too busy trying to save seeds from onion heads and radish pods. That is some tedious work. I need to figure out a threshing mechanism because I felt like an uber-chump picking out those damn seeds for three hours. Chumpsville. Population: me. Help needed if you got it!

The squash vine borers also took out (in the mafia sense) two of my four jumbo pink banana squash. They were 2 feet long and beautiful - they'll be missed. I'm nervous for the remaining two, as well as the Black Futsu and Chicago Warted Hubbards. I've been looking for some Bt to do a syringe full of intervention but I can't seem to find anywhere around here. Is that weird? Not at the big garden stores and I can't locate a good local supplier here. There are some boutique greenhouses but no medium sized supplier like Horn's in OKC.

The compost volunteer butternut squash is rokken like dokken, though! So far untouched by those damn diamondback thugs. We've harvested 7 of those delicious squash to date and one was 3 1/2 pounds. Notice the difference here?

Freaky genes
One normal sized, one talked to Rogers Clemens...what can you do? Squash these days, it's really a tragedy. A national tragedy.

More recent harvests...

There's tomato creole, tomato gumbo, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried...

...pineapple tomato and lemon tomato, coconut tomato, pepper tomato...

...tomato soup, tomato stew, tomato salad, tomato and potatoes, tomato burger, tomato sandwich...
and...that's, that's about it. (Merci, Forrest Gump!)

On this one you get produce and a whiskey chaser

...and it's almost time for pickles!!! I'm planning to make fridge pickles tomorrow. I don't eat so many that I need to actually can them but I came up with a mean dill fridge pickle featuring habañero and garlic. Simply smashing!

These guys are destined for brine

And I guess that's pretty much it for now.

That's all folks!

Monday, July 14, 2008

June eats stash

To minimize widget sprawl I'm going to keep these notes to a month and then store them as one entry...Canning and pickling is on deck for next week. Woo-hoo!

  • June 30 - okra, cherry tomato, & habanero hash
  • June 29 - coleslaw!
  • June 25 - Green bean & eggplant pesto
  • June 24 - Pork chops with kohlrabi greens, okra, romano beans, garlic, onions, and Hungarian wax pepper
  • June 19 - Lamb's quarter & basil risotto
  • June 17 - potato salad

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wastrels and the wastey wasters they rode in on...

Maybe I'm getting old.

Maybe I'm getting such an utter head change from being on a downward consumption shift over the past few years that I've gone a bit stodgy.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood.

But SERIOUSLY. There are some college kids I work with who have no sense whatsoever of conservation (prime teaching opportunity, right? If I can be delicate and encouraging rather than ranting like I am right now...)

They turn the thermostat down to 66 degrees. They leave the (single stall) bathroom light on constantly. If we run out of coffee they make a whole new pot, even if it's 4:30 and we close at 5. They leave all the lights on in all the rooms even if they're not in there and won't be (this is the one that makes me feel old and revives the spectre of my dad c. 1982).

And god knows it's not just them. Our neighbors always have gobs and gobs of trash to put out twice a week since they recycle nothing. Most of it doesn't get hauled away since we're only allowed two bins each per pick-up. We barely have enough trash for a once a week haul...I'm just sayin.

A co-worker will have an entire conversation with the door of the refrigerator open while I'm itching to shut it, even though it's being held open...

People drive down our street and gun the motors on their giant-ass pick-ups and SUVs. They do seem to be fading in popularity, but still! Why waste gas that way??

When I worked in the Borders Cafe several years ago I used to have nightmares about all the plastic and paper cups being thrown away. A lot of times people would ask for a double cup instead of using the heat sleeve. I would try ever so casually to encourage people to use the ceramic dishes we could wash and re-use but it rarely got me anywhere. I would imagine stacks of cups stretching to the damn moon...

I know I have things I need to work on - so I'm trying to remember to refrain from judgment and recognize that we're all at different steps on the journey (even if it feels like some people haven't yet packed their bags). So I'll take a deep breath and calm down.

In that spirit here's a confession of what I need to work on to reduce waste:
* stop with the Diet Coke already! Cans and cans, even if they're recycled! Lame!
* get the solar oven thing going, either by homemade option or by buying one. A hot house is lame!
* line dry every time, even if it's 8000 degrees outside. No excuses. Lame!

What do you need to work on? I promise I won't make fun of you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Please don't kill that bug!

Hello everyone! Hope you're refreshed and enjoying yourself after the 4th weekend. We had a great time relaxing with friends and family. Even snuck in a discussion of peak oil and its ramifications here and there...poolside, no less. Ah, sweet irony.

After my blog on nasty garden bugs, I promised to follow up with this one, which will feature some of the dudes you want to keep around. So if you see these guys, please don't raise your fist or get out your pinching claws. These are the ladies and fellahs who help support your organic jones. Don't kill them!

Now why do they support your organic jones? Because diversity is the key to a healthy garden (and many other things, but we're talking gardens here). If you have a plethora of veggies, foliage, fruit, and bugs they all get to benefit from one another. Multiple plants draw in multiple bugs which helps balance their populations (i.e. they eat each other like mad). This is probably also why mono-cropping organically, particularly on a large scale, is an unlikely prospect. We want riots of color, texture, and variety.

Many of these bugs you probably recognize right off, like the adorable ladybug.

The Lovely Lady Bug
(image courtesy:

Why we really love them - beheading an aphid(image courtesy:

Ladybugs also come in oranges and ivories, although I haven't seen any ivory ones. Be sure to protect the nymphs and the eggs, too.



Next, of course, is the bee of which there are many varieties. The honeybee is a major pollinator and is also falling prey to a mysterious illness euphemistically called Colony Collapse Disorder, which you can read more about here.

Honey bees(image courtesy:

Get well soon, little fellah!(image courtesy:

If you really want a massively hungry and warlike creature in your garden (a good warlike creature, a scourge, if you will) then be sure to cultivate any and all friendships with these guys:

Praying Mantis(image courtesy:

Mantises eat flies and aphids and the bigger dudes actually have a taste for meat, stalking lizards, frogs, birds, rodents, and snakes! Holy camoley.

Lacewings are a common garden visitor, as well, and someone you want to be friends with. While the adults stick to pollen and aphid honeydew, the larvae are voracious feeders, pigging out on aphids, caterpillars (yes!), beetles, scale insects, leafhoppers, thrips, small flies, mites, and sometimes one another. I guess they're temperamental.

Here's a good website on lacewing activity with loads of pictures.

Adult Lacewing

Lacewing nymph
(image courtesy:

Another keeper is the ground beetle. It eats anything it can catch and kill, including grubs. Hang on to them. They only come out at night and they mind their business. Don't pick them up, though, because they emit a nasty smell.

Ground beetle

If you're lucky you might spot a robber fly. I saw a couple of these over the past few weeks in the back yard and I didn't know what they were until just now (as of this writing when I found them online!)...they look like mean-ass dragon flies but they eat all sorts of things we prefer not to be bothered with ourselves, such as wasps. Call in the robber flies and avoid the poison sprays! They also eat grasshoppers and other prey as big as themselves oftentimes. Now that's some insect muscle flex!

Call me deadly - Robber Fly

I will eat you!

The tachinid fly does us a favor by laying its eggs on another species, typically caterpillars but also bugs and grasshoppers. The eggs eventually hatch and burrow into said species, basically using it as a food source. Like that giant alien did to humans in the Alien series (Sigourney, I love you!). Very medieval nasty stuff. But hey, in this case, we benefit. There are 1300 species of tachinid fly in North America - mostly they're gray, black, or striped, but they can be hard to distinguish from regular house flies.

Tachinid fly

House fly
If they're flying around, chances are you won't be able to tell which is which. Moral? Leave 'em be. The other predators and frogs should be able to sort out extras of either species, anyway.

Predatory wasps do much the same thing. You can tell a predatory wasp from a regular wasp because the predator is smaller. The ones I've seen are a slightly orangey color and have small greyish-bluish wings - they remind me of flying tripods, sort of like a cross between a wasp and a fly.I'm not sure if they sting humans, but they haven't ever bothered me (then again, I'm not the sort of person who freaks out when they see a wasp or bee). They eat aphids, whiteflies, and moths, such as cabbage loopers and hornworms. Think small attack drone, specially designed for dangerous reconnoitering missions.

Brachonid predatory wasp predatorizing

Eggs on a caterpillar becomes parasite and host

Here are a few more to keep around - be friendly-like...

Assassin Bug - flies, mosquitoes, beetles, caterpillars
(image courtesy:

Centipede -
slugs, worms, fly pupae
(image courtesy:

Damselfly and Dragonfly - beautiful and voracious, love mosquito tartare and aphids

Rove Beetle -
aphids, springtails, mites, nematodes, slugs, snails, maggots, and compost makers
The day the Rove beetle larvae met the housefly maggot... (friendship did not ensue)(image courtesy:

Yellow Jackets - caterpillars, flies, beetle grubs (and sting us human folk, too)
(image courtesy:

Spiders eat more bugs and insects than any other beneficial per year, combined!!! Do watch out for black widows which like to make webs inside stored planting pots.

Spiders are garden heroes!!!
(image courtesy:

Soldier Beetle - aphids, caterpillars, grasshopper eggs, beetle larvae
(image courtesy:

Firefly!!! - larvae, snails, slugs

So that just about does it...I'm sure there are many more and I thought about including earthworms, which are my personal favorite garden creature. But I think I'll dedicate a whole blog to the precious worm.

In the meantime, please know your bugs. Get to know them. Watch them. See if you can catch them eating. I got to watch a lady bug take down an aphid bite by bite last week - it was amazing! Re-think the use of broad-spectrum pesticides...use diversity to invite good bugs to do your dirty work for you.

Two good websites for more information:

Friday, July 4, 2008

¿Dónde está la freedom?

Freedom...Lately when I hear that word, it comes out in my head in a thickly Te-jas-accented George W. Bush voice, which is sad. I don't want to make a political mockery of such a fine word.

I also think of fierce survivalist types who use freedom to mean more of an anarchical state - no rules, no taxes, the ultimate survival of the fittest (in a heavily armed little shack in the woods).

Then I think about when I was a little kid and freedom was more innocently connoted in my mind. Freedom meant George Washington, and Fromseatoshingingsea, and the Civil War that emancipated slaves.

In A Language Older that Words Derrick Jensen said that with increased awareness comes decreased happiness. When we know too much, it's hard to recapture the easier, blissfully ignorant stage of ourselves that believed in over-arching concepts. I'll show my jaded side and state that the idea of freedom in the US seems skewed to me. So many people hold the idea that we are a meritocracy and that with enough work or sweat equity anyone can do anything. Well, I don't necessarily think that's true - we don't all start out on an even playing field. If we did, I might believe that. But some people grow up in urban wastelands dodging bullets and dropping out to help feed the fam by age 12. Some people have parents who beat them or severely neglect them. Can some people rise out of these circumstances and make something of themselves? Absolutely. As a law of averages, though? No way.

And then, of course, there are a multitude of other freedoms that escape the working class but are the birthright of the wealthy...there are freedoms that are curtailed by political machinations and behind-closed-door-deals with multinationals...there are freedoms that are lost whenever any form of civilization of society is reified in our minds. We've all collectively agreed to play a game and (largely) abide by the rules. Is that freedom?

So maybe I'm trying to go too broad with the idea of freedom. Since I'm having trouble "feeling the freedom" on a national or international scale can I localize freedom? What does local freedom look like? Am I referring to local rules and regs as impediments to freedom or to the freedom I have within my personal sphere of influence or relationships? (I don't know!)

Maybe freedom is a state of mind. Maybe freedom escapes dogma and a rigid set of rules. Maybe freedom is a worldview.

I'm free to love, laugh, garden, kick my heels up, follow the rules I agree with and gently break those I don't (with an understanding of the potential consequences involved...). I'm free to get the sort of education I can afford. I'm free to give the finger to the corporate machine. I'm free to disagree with a political machine (hallelujah, now that's a freedom! I loved the bit about the American flag sticker on Tara's blog).

In that spirit, I'll close with this quote that I saw on the Urban Homestead blog - it's great.

"Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being."

Mohandas Gandhi

To celebrate our freedom, we're doing the most Okie thing we can think of - going to the lake to grill out. Food, family, and fun - that's freedom.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


This was sooooo good that I had to share. Please note that I don't really use recipes so this is rough and tumble and will need your good judgment and flexibility. My cardinal rule is "taste and adjust!"

Butternut Squash over Wild Rice with Habanero Cream Sauce
(*Note: I use "cream" loosely.)

1 Butternut squash, peeled and sliced in rings
olive oil for brushing
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 habanero, seeded, de-veined, and finely minced (use latex gloves or put one hand inside a bag to otherwise protect yourself. Our hab was not incredibly hot or I would have used 1/4 if it was)
6 pcs turkey bacon, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 can cream of celery soup (or a Bechamel if you have more time than me)
1/4 c organic milk
1/4 c shredded cheese
3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 c prepared wild rice blend

Brush each side of your butternut squash rings with olive oil. Dust with salt and pepper. Bake for 40 minutes at 365 degrees (I don't know why I turned it to that, but that's what it landed on), flipping once.

Have rice simmering during this time as a wild rice blend can take up to an hour.

Saute onions, bacon, and pepper in butter until the onions are translucent. Add the soup (or your lovely sauce), the milk, and the parsley. Let simmer five minutes or so and remove from heat to thicken. Stir in cheese and allow to melt.

Dish up the rice, top with the squash (cut into smaller chunks), top with sauce. Enjoy!

I had originally envisioned an actual cream sauce with shaved Parmesan or Taleggio. Didn't have any on hand and I'm usually too health conscious to consider using large amounts of cream and butter. Although sometimes you just have to...

Hope you enjoy this as much as we did.

Also, thank you so much to Anajz at The Sustainable Backyard for my fun-to-read award. Anajz, you're so kind! I truly thank you.