Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cookbook Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered our contest for a copy of How to Cook Everything! It's been great getting new followers and hearing from everyone who is enjoying our blog. We're having a great time with it.

The winner, based on a random draw from is....

Brian Madsen!

Congratulations, Brian! Contact us at oursuburbanprairie at gmail dot com to claim your prize.

For the rest of you, have no fear. We'll continue posting adaptations of our favorite recipes here. Not only from this cookbook, but from many others as well.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Food Tourist part 2

I'm a self-ascribed vegetarian tourist. I love taking periodic trips to Veggie land (I try not to stray off the road into Vegan land though), taking in some of the sights, and then coming home to my normal life. In fact, I'm a regular. I probably do it a few times a month. The trips are pretty short though - only for a day or two. That's enough for me though. I'm happy just visiting. I don't want to live there, but I wouldn't mind if they knew me on a first-name basis. I call it "tourism" because to me, it's just that. You're there to see the sights, take a break from your normal life, and then head home when you're all done. It's just more symbolic than literal.

Good things can happen as a result too if you let them. Whenever I travel, I find that I see myself from a different perspective during and after the trip. This in turn usually gives me a moment of self-realization, which can be followed by self-improvement (if I feel like it). I also find that my horizon expands, which leads to incorporating new things back in my "normal life."

The same thing can happen with trying out a new food lifestyle. I think that the biggest change I've experienced so far is that I notice a lot more foods. It's definitely been a gradual process. Each new "trip" has added a new level of awareness. In the beginning, after I started cooking seriously for myself, I started to notice the parts of the grocery store that were not processed foods. Then, I began to see the difference in quality of food. Vegetarianism opened up my awareness to more vegetables (duh). French cooking exposed me a huge amount of things one can do with butter, cream, and eggs. The Raw Food trend made me aware of edible wild plants (aka weeds). The list goes on and on.

Our one Raw Food "trip" so far was pretty miserable, though Chrissie and I can laugh about it now. We went on a 5 day smoothie/raw food cleanse. You actually have a lot of options for raw food, but we ended up going smoothies because we thought it had the highest probability of success. We piled up a bunch of fruit, veggies, and juice on Sunday and planned to go Monday through Friday on the diet. I didn't even last a day. I couldn't handle having nothing but smoothies. Tuesday, I started going out for lunch, but I still did smoothies for breakfast and dinner with Chrissie. That definitely stung me with shame and self-loathing. I felt like one of those tourists that goes to a foreign country and eats at McDonald's.

Chrissie was a trooper and finished the diet, although she was miserable the entire time. After a while, she didn't even bother having dinner. I think that happened in a couple days. She just couldn't consume that much smoothie. So, in the end, her tact was the opposite of mine. Instead of being a cheater tourist, she was a starving tourist. I think she lost 5 pounds in the end.

From the experience, I learned that taking smoothies is a great way to get your fruits and veggies. The ingredients aren't cooked so they retain all of their nutritional value and it doesn't take a lot to hit your daily allotment of fruits and vegetables. It's my plan to make these for breakfast one day... once we're totally over the shock of the smoothie cleanse experience. Until then, we'll keep things the way things are - vegetables cooked and fruit whole.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Strawberry Weekend Pt. 3

As quickly as we tried to consume our strawberries, we still lost some to over-ripening and mold. So that Sunday we used what was left to make strawberry shortcakes. I love strawberry shortcake. As I mentioned in part one, it's pretty hard to go wrong with strawberries and whipped cream and throwing a little cake or sweet pastry in there is no exception.

We decided to make strawberry short cake with butter scones and homemade whipped cream (which is what our buddy-on-the-cookbook-page, Mark Bittman, suggested). They were absolutely delightful. We had extra scones since we made a full batch of those, but only had enough strawberries for a half batch of shortcakes. My waistline was thankful. You can probably see why:

If you'd like to make some of these yourself, don't forget to enter our giveaway for the cookbook!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Food Tourist part 1

I love being a food tourist. I love getting out there and sampling different foods from different places, and just as important, how people prepare that food. Increasingly, how and what we eat is becoming a statement of our lifestyle. So, I don't necessarily have to go far to try somethinng new, I can just go next door and find out what's for dinner, or pick up a cook/diet book and make it for myself.

If you've ever seen an episode of "No Reservations" hosted by Anthony Bourdain, then you know how I like to roll. I want to eat the same stuff that the locals eat, at the same places - I want to feel connected to that place. To me, travelling is all about dropping how you live at home and adopting how people live wherever you are.

The best trips I've taken so far have been to foreign countries or places where we know people. Our honeymoon to Fiji was a blast. I'll be honest, it's a bit touristy. I will forgive them for it because that's how they generate a lot of their income.

Life in Fiji takes a more relaxed pace. Time becomes more of a suggestion than a rule and idleness is encouraged and accepted. If you were to walk up a Fijian and say, "I'm bored, is there a bowling alley I can go to?" I think they'd just laugh at you.

The best part about the food in Fiji was the fresh fruit. It was the first time I've ever had honest-to-goodness truly ripe tropical fruit. Ever eat an orange with no sourness in the flavor? Just sugar and orange? I have, and I'll never be the same because of it. All of the fruit tasted pure.

Contrast that to time I visited Hawaii. Hawaii is known for its pineapples, but try and get one over there. Just try it. You can't, because they're all sent to the mainland. Every single one of them. I can get an apple in Washington, a peach in Georgia, an orange in Florida, but I can't get a pineapple in Hawaii. WTF? It's stuff like this that really make we wonder about the way things work sometimes.

In defense of Hawaii, I am told that residents there do have access to the fresh tropical fruit that I crave - it's just not sold in markets. People grow them in their back yards and it's more of a cottage industry type thing. Which means that if I want access to the good stuff, I have to become really good friends with some resident Hawaiians. If any Hawaiians are reading this, please be my friend! I enjoy cooking & eating good food, music, reading history books, and playing strategy games. I like dogs. Please have a back yard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Strawberry Weekend Pt. 2

A flat of strawberries is a lot. Especially when they're so ripe that you have to down them as fast as possible to avoid losing your investment to your compost bin (which isn't a total loss I guess. But it's still sad). We'd already planned on making some fresh lemonade so in light of our impulsive strawberry buy, we decided to make it strawberry lemonade! It's the superior drink in my book anyway.

The thing is, when you have a lot going on in your kitchen and two people who both think they know what they're doing, the plan can go slightly awry. First, poor Aaron got three lemons (3/8 of our double batch recipe) nicely squeezed and then inadvertently bumped the vessel that he was juicing into and dumped it all over the dog lying beneath him. We conceded to make a single batch and went back to our individual tasks at hand. Aaron got to work on the strawberries for the lemonade while I worked on one of our other weekend concoctions (oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies, I believe. It all starts to run together) and I wasn't paying attention. A little while later I looked up to see Aaron dumping the strawberries into his freshly squeezed juice proudly. Straight off the cutting board. Tart as can be.

Soo, our lemonade was not quite as sweet as I prefer. It wasn't horribly tart (thanks to the fact that the recipe calls for sugar syrup to begin with and Aaron adding a couple spoonfuls of sugar after realizing what had happened). I'm sure not everyone in the world even bothers to sugar the strawberries before adding them to the lemonade. But not everyone in the world eats chocolate either. Or so I hear. (Who are those crazies anyway?) It was still quite good and even better - the dog smelled lemony fresh!

But what about you? How do you prefer your lemonade?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


It's the summer solstice and lots of people are celebrating. Around here, a glimpse of the sun lately is enough to sound the alarm, but to have it appear all day for the first day of summer is nearly worthy of fireworks. And lots of naked bicyclists.

We have our own reasons to celebrate here at our little house on the suburban prairie. Over the weekend, we hit our first blog-related goal: to reach 25 followers in our facebook group! This means now our facebook page is now allowed to have a unique handle instead of a random clustering of letters and numbers. For those who care, you can now find our facebook site at

Achieving our mini-goal was so super exciting to us that we've decided to host a giveaway. In honor of the humble beginnings of our trek, we're giving away 1 copy of the book that started it all for us: How to Cook Everything.

While the book doesn't *actually* contain recipes for absolutely everything that we've wanted to cook, it's been a great foundation for our adventure into food. Our copy was a wedding gift from my grandma, and grandmas can't ever be wrong about cooking, right?

For the giveaway, there are three ways to enter:

1) Leave a comment on this post
2) Follow our blog
3) Like our facebook page

You may enter in all three ways or any combination thereof, but only one comment on the post will be counted. If you're already following us either here or on facebook, you'll automatically be given those entries.

The contest is open until Wednesday, June 29th at 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time. We'll announce the winner on our first Month-iversary of blogging, June 30th.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Strawberry Weekend Pt. 1

Our baby strawberry plant is just barely beginning to produce fruit, but on our way home from work last week we drove past a guy randomly set up on a street corner near us selling flats of them. Given the cold & grey springtime we've had, we were totally suckered in to buying some.

No, that's not nearly all of them. Just what we had out at the time.

They weren't as fresh as we'd like and not as local either (turned out they were from California), but we were determined to make the best of them now that we had them. As strawberries go they were a bit on the tart side, so eating an entire flat of them raw wasn't going to happen.  Happily, there were a few recipes that we'd been waiting to try. The first was fed to me on twitter via their New York Times food blog: A Strawberry Fool.

Don't let the name deceive you. You'd be an honest fool not to try this. Really, is it possible to go wrong with something as simple as strawberries and whipped cream? In the end, that's all the recipe really is. Homemade whipped cream is totally where it's at, and I do believe that this recipe gets it right in creating the puree to avoid the separation of the juices (I've made enough Thanksgiving fruit salads to be aware of this malady first-hand).

We halved the recipe since there were only 2 of us to feed and probably used a couple more strawberries than necessary (we do have quite a few to get through...) but it was a perfect light and summery dessert. It even has me re-thinking if we should bother making other recipes with the rest.

For those who would rather not waste the extra click to get to the NY Times, here is the recipe, adapted from Mark Bittman's adaptation of the original. (Someday in the future, we will have proof that he's not the only person from whom we get recipes. I promise).

Strawberry Fool
(Serves 2)
  • 1/2 pint strawberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
  • 1. Hull strawberries, then wash them and chop into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Toss with half the sugar, and wait 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they give up their juices.
  • 2. Place half the strawberries and all the juice in a blender, and puree. Pour puree back in bowl with chopped strawberries.
  • 3. Whip the cream with remaining sugar and vanilla until cream is stiff and holds peaks easily. Fold berries and cream together, and serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two hours.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

That's why you don't name the trees

Today, we found out one of our pear trees has fire blight. Bad stuff. If given the opportunity, it could kill the entire tree and go after other plants too (it likes going after apples, pears, and roses). At first, we didn't really know what was going on. We only knew that it wasn't doing as well as the other two trees we planted (another pear tree and a peach tree). Those two are doing great, but the sick one has been suffering for a while. I noticed signs of stress and unhappiness a couple weeks ago and thought it would get better on its own. It didn't, so Chrissie and I went to the nursery (we should really have our own parking spot by now) with some pictures and leaf samples for diagnosis. The diagnosis turned out to be pretty crummy. There is a treatment, but it's pretty scorched earth. There wasn't anything keeping us from trying it though, so we decided to do it. We came home from the nursery with sulfer powder and a spray bottle.

Here's what the tree looked like before:

Close up of a blighted leaf

The treatment involves removing the infected areas of tree. Cuts must be made 6-12 inches below infected area (huh, that's kind of a large margin, let's go with 12). Signs of infection can be blight leaves, canker-looking bumps, or wood that looks burned. The shears must be disinfected after each cut with bleach (this stuff is tough). After all infected areas have been removed, mix a little sulfer with some  water and spray on tree. Sulfer will prevent anything from getting onto the tree by killing it.

Sulfer water is pretty bad stuff. If your skin comes into contact with it, you have to wash it for 20 minutes. If it gets on your clothes, put them in the wash immediately. Getting it in your eye or ingesting it - bad news bears. I can't help but remember the saying, "Only pick fights you know you can win." I'm starting to have some doubts.

Here's the tree after we removed all the diseased wood:

Amputation is the only treatment, which makes for one sad looking, Charlie Brown pear tree. There are some antibacterial drugs out there to kill fire blight, but (over) use has caused drug resistent strains to form, so those are hit-and-miss now. If we're lucky, we'll have removed all of the diseased wood and the tree will recover. If not, it'll die. If that happens, we'll try again with a new tree, but we'll have to remove all the soil from the original tree because it might pass fire blight onto the next one.

Is it too late to ask the fire blight for a cessation of hostilities?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Reading a review of some Seattle restaurants in the New York Times on Monday reminded me of exactly how Aaron and I got started on this venture into cooking and gardening to begin with: we wanted good food.

The article is filled with the usual digs at Seattle natives in our polar fleece and rain jackets. The reviewer also takes note of the natural beauty the area provides. I can't disagree, we are "wondrously watery" and many of our trees are quite pointy, though those aren't necessarily the first descriptors I would choose to describe our locale. Eclectic, natural, and down-to-earth are much higher on my list. As a rule, we are also more than a little concerned with green living, local eating, and environmentalism.

While the locavore mentailty of the area is, in large part, seen as a positive throughout the article, the author also often refers to the near-obsession a bit bemusedly. While the rewards are clear in the taste of the edibles, the fanaticisim with which we approach our choice to live locally often mystifies many people wandering through from other corners of the country. Admittedly, I used to share in that confusion. What did it matter if my apples were from Washington? It's not like I could grow my own bananas. In the end, it took flying halfway around the world for me to realize just how much it could matter.

For our honeymoon, we went to Fiji. It was sort of a random choice originally. We wanted somewhere warm & beachy that would not be in the middle of hurricane season in mid August. Fiji ended up being our answer and for that I'll be forever grateful. If you've never had bananas, oranges, pineapples, or any tropical fruit from so close to the source, I regret to inform you that your life experience is sorely lacking. I never knew how much I could love bananas until I ate them in Fiji. Breakfast became my favorite meal of the day as I stacked my buffet plate high with fruit and went back for multiple refills of my freshly squeezed juice. Heck, most days I went back for refills of food as well. My palatte was in absolute heaven. It's a good thing I didn't need to fit in my wedding dress anymore.

It took a little while for me to transfer this new-found understanding back to the Northwest. But eventually it sunk in. The local stuff just straight up tastes better. And hey, it's also good for the environment. And not too shabby for the economy. And impressively good for my health, as I suddenly started craving fresh salads, stir fried veggies, and strawberry parfaits in place of my usual gigantic bowl of chocolate ice cream covered in cool-whip. I also started craving and eating things seasonally. In the springtime I want fresh veggies and light pastas. In the winter I can't seem to live without hearty stews and fresh soups. By extension, we started being regulars at our local farmer's market. It's a little more expensive to buy our food this way, but the rewards are so great that we find it difficult not to. If we can't get to the farmer's market, most weeks we will make the journey to PCC (a co-op in the area). We buy less, but most of the tradeoff comes in the way of processed foods - cookies, chips, and various condiments that we find we don't need as much of anymore. And while it's a lot of work to make (and grow!) everything at home, again, the results are worth it.

These days I apparently embody the Northwest stereotype that articles like this one discuss and poke light fun at and I'm totally fine with that. Because at the end of the day, it tastes freaking good to be a locavore.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Soil Reclamation

"Soil Reclamation" is what I'm calling the soil rehabilitation process Chrissie and I are undertaking. On the surface, the soil around our house looks fine (it's amazing what someone can cover up with some bark dust and sod). Dig a little deeper and you find that it is totally unsuitable to sustain vegetation.

See the stuff right under the bark dust? It's dirt mixed in with rocks. It's packed in so tightly that you can't break it up with a shovel, you have to use a pick-axe or a similarly pointy thing. We use a triangular hoe. It'll take a long time for a plant to establish any sort of decent root system in this dirt.

I would rather have soil that is black and crumbly, like you stuff you find in a bag of potting soil. That's the sort of stuff plants love to grow in. I would also like to see a layer of it an inch thick. To achieve that here will take years. This was definitely one of the downsides to buying a brand new house.

Before I go on, I should mention that I could grow stuff with soil like this and probably quite successfully. I need only copy the formula that large, commercial farms use: bombard my crops with fertilizer. That's not really my style though. Using, and more importantly, relying on that stuff isn't sustainable. I don't want to be stuck looking for fertilizer when it's all gone and that's why I have soil reclamation.

What Chrissie and I are essentially doing is returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil any way we know how. I've already mentioned sniper potatoes and how they work in a previous post. We've started other things too. Composting is probably the most important action we're taking.

I talked Chrissie into allowing me two full size garbage cans in the back yard to fill with compost. I'm working on convincing her to let me have a third. You don't need to compost in a container, but we decided to do it this way to keep the critters out. The plan is, when the compost is ready, dig a big hole and dump the compost in. Then, slowly and surely, we have a bunch of patches that we can grow food in.

Another little project was planting lupins the back yard. Lupins are native to the Pacific Northwest and they are one of the first plants to grow places that have experienced a massive destruction, like a volcano or forest fire. They are essential to the healing process because they reintroduce nitrogen into the soil, making it possible for new plants to inhabit the soil in the future. I figure if it's good enough for a volcano, it's good enough for my back yard.

These projects don't mark the end of the process for us. They're just what I've heard about so far. Also, soil management isn't a process that ends at a certain point, it's something we'll always have to tend to. But it's a start.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Victory Garden

Victory gardens, to the best of my knowledge (and that of Wikipedia) date back to around the first World War. Simply conceived, they provided a way for the country to provide food for itself while simultaneously allowing gardeners to feel empowered by their contribution of labor and produce to the overall war effort.

These gardens were often planted wherever there was space – in backyards, on apartment rooftops, at work, or in random vacant lots. In fact, the essence of the movement is not far off from Aaron's Sniper Planting. And it's quite reminiscent of the trend going on today. An excellent article in the LA Times describes the re-emergence of these gardens two and a half years ago.

Our victory garden is still in its fledgling state. This year, we're making an attempt at sugar snap peas, green beans, romaine lettuce, butter crunch lettuce, spinach, carrots, garlic, shallots, potatoes, tomatoes, a  hodge-podge collection of herbs, and little pot of strawberries. That sounds like a lot at first, but currently our entire garden consists of a 4x8 foot bed, a 1x4 foot bed, a garbage can of potatoes and a bunch of terra cotta and wooden pots. We've also planted two pear trees and a peach tree with hopes for the future.

Although this is our first real attempt at a victory garden, already we've felt small swells of pride at each miniature victory. The first garlic shoots to push through the ground. The garbage can full of potato vines. Snap peas growing taller than the poles that we provided for them. We haven't harvested a single bite, but the garden has already served a purpose in bringing our attention to local seasons, when things taste the best, and why various preservation techniques were created.

It's inspiring to build life in such a literal fashion and watch it grow. I'd encourage everyone to try to grow something, be it one pot of herbs or an entire landscape of beautiful edibles. Don't fret if it doesn't work out perfectly the first time, goodness knows we've already hit some roadblocks with ours. It's all a part of the process and what will make the eventual success be even that much more of a triumph.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Make it work! - House edition

There will probably be a lot of posts with this title over the course of the blog. I think that it has become the new motto for my life. I don't think that there's a day that goes by where I don't have to "make it work!" I've gotten so used to it that it's kind of fun now, although there are still times where it can be stressful.

Chrissie and I got a lot of practice at this when we were searching for our house. Our house is a bit different from the place we had in mind when we first started "the process." Originally, we wanted lots of space, an open floor plan, big kitchen, big yard, lots of character, good construction, close to the city, quiet neighborhood. When we went to go look for houses matching this criteria, we discovered that the house we wanted did not exist. Well, I should say it didn't exist in our price range.

This forced us to condense the list a bit and it took us a while to figure out which things we really needed and which things we could do without. During our search we saw just about every possible combination of our original list of features. When we finally found our house, our decision to buy it could be summed up by the phrase, "We love that it comes x, y, and z already and are totally willing to work on the rest over time."

Making it work! is a blessing in disguise in several ways. First, all the effort we spend working on the house puts our own personal stamp on it. The payoff is that the place feels a little more homey every day. Also, it has helped me accept "pretty darn good" as a suitable substitute for "perfect," because, "pretty darn good" is, well, pretty darn good. Last, it forces me to look at life through the lense of what I have instead of what I don't, which is ultimately much more managable.

Hopefully, one day the list of "made it happen!" will be longer than the list of "make it work!" That won't be for a while though. We're really good about getting things done, but there's always a new project catching our eye. Which I think is fun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Little House, Big Flour

It wasn't long ago that I didn't understand why anyone would buy food in bulk quantities. Who, outside of a family of 14, could possibly consume enough of one product to make that worth it? Of course, that didn't stop me once from buying a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips. But even factoring in regular chocolate binges with my college roommate and tons of chocolate chip cookies, it took a good year plus to get through the whole bag.

On the other hand, back then I didn't cook a lot. Or almost at all. Once in a while my roommates and I would get it in our heads that we wanted to spend a bunch of time trying to create a masterpiece of a dinner and would walk the grand 4 or so blocks to the grocery store to get exactly what we needed. Having everything so close is definitely a perk of living in the tight quarters of urbania.

Fast forward a few years and Aaron and I now cook a lot. Aaron is constantly experimenting with cookbooks (especially How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and anything by Julia Child), and as of last Christmas (when my parents bought us the pasta attachment for our Kitchen Aid) we've been making more pasta than it's probably healthy for any 2 people to consume. And of course now, our grocery store is not just a stone's throw away. At first I was amazed by how quickly we were going through basics like flour, sugar, and eggs. (Clearly we're neither gluten free nor vegan. I love gluten. Gluten is my best friend.) Then I realized that we were still shopping with our old habits: buying small quantities assuming that we'd be lucky to finish them at all, let alone with any particular expediency. Not only were we setting ourselves up to run out of things regularly, but we were also spending more money than we needed to. As much as it pains me to admit it, bulk items are typically cheaper. It became apparent that we have become a household that needs to buy our staples in those quantities that I previously considered outrageous. So, thanks to my gluten-loving dietary needs, say hello to our big ol' bag of flour:

And just for the sake of clarity:

Turns out, two people can eat like 14.  Who knew?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Filibuster diligently...

My name is blue canary, one note spelled l-i-t-e.

So the rate of posting has been going faster than I anticipated. When Chrissie and I were formulating this blog we casually talked about how a post a week from the both of us would be a nice minimum rate to go at and knowing how we work I really thought that would be the pace that we'd keep. It seems though that every time I put a new post up, Chrissie has one moments later, and so, I guess it's my job to keep up!

But, I don't really have anything new to say at the moment, so I think I'll talk a little bit more about myself and pass that buck off to Chrissie.

I grew up in the country. I'm Asian. You wouldn't think that these two things have a lot to do with each other, but they do for me.

When you live out in the country there are a lot of jobs that a kid can get under the age of 16. The earliest job you can get is picking strawberries during summer vacation after sixth grade. From there you can move onto other illustrious summer jobs like picking other berries for a higher dollar-to-pound pay ratio (whoo!), or spinach roving for an actual dollar-per-hour wage (whoo-whoo!).

I say that with sarcasm now, but I can remember talking about getting one of those jobs with wistful tones and dreamy eyes. "Next year, we can go onto this blah job and buy this blah stuff with all the extra money!" The prospect of all that extra money was intoxicating. I think I blew all of my money of Magic cards...

Anyway, back to me and being Asian. Like all good little Asian boys, I did what my parents told me to do, and they told me to work. It's funny to think back on it now, they didn't even consult me about it. They just signed me up and then a week before work told me that I was going to go do such-and-such. I can't even remember if I raised a fuss. So, starting the summer after sixth grade I started picking strawberries. Then, the summer of seventh grade I was a spinach rover. Then, the summer of eigth grade, I picked blueberries on my father's farm. I did that all the way until I was sixteen when I could finally join the proud workforce of the retail sector! Which I did.

To get the point of the post - life is funny. Ironic funny. When I was working those summer jobs I hated them. The jobs were physically exhausting, they were outside where it was wet and cold in the morning, then hot and dusty in the afternoon, and maybe worst of all, they took away part of your summer vacation. Summer vacations were precious, and now that I'm an adult, I realize just how precious they were, because damnit I'll never have anything like that again! Why was it my lot to spend part of them working? So, if you were to ask the Aaron of yester-then what he would be doing with his free time when he was an adult he would say, "Something inside."

What do I find myself doing these days? Busting my butt in the yard, trying to make a little piece of Eden on this world. And enjoying it even. Life, you are a tricky minx.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

You say potato...

Until recently, if you didn't look closely, you may have thought we were attempting to grow garbage in our backyard. Actually, in some ways, we kind of are. But I'm not planning to talk about composting today.

While Aaron was busy sniper planting his potatoes throughout our yard to varying degrees of success, I decided we should take an approach I read in Gayla Trail's book, Grow Great Grub and plant some seedling potatoes in a garbage can. (Note, seed potatoes are important. Grocery store potatoes can carry diseases that will cause you to have unhealthy plants. We got our seed potatoes from Sky Nursery.)

The technique is pretty simple. Drill a bunch of holes in a garbage can. Add dirt & potatoes. Water. As they grow, add more dirt.

Also note that we have the can up on blocks. Good drainage is important.

I have absolutely no idea how many potatoes this is going to yield, but so far our plants have completely taken off. It took them a little while to get started, but once they broke the surface there was no holding them back. At this point, once we add just a little more dirt our garbage can will be completely full.  Then, I gather we get to wait.

That's one thing about this whole gardening business. I'm not a big fan of the hurry up and wait thing. It sure seems to permeate through life in a lot of ways though. I should really learn to be a more patient person.

But I digress.

I understand now we have to wait until the vines are withered and dry, then leave the potatoes in the soil for a couple more weeks before we can harvest them. If all goes well we'll have a can full of awesome potatoes. Followed by awesome potato-y food.

See why I'm no good at waiting?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sniper Planting

This is a term Chrissie coined for one of my hobbies. It is planting something somewhere, seemingly at random. I like to plant things in places that people have come to ignore. My favorite things to plant do well without human intervention (it's no fun coming back to something that's dead) and are perennial (it may be a while until I see them again).

Sniper planting appeals to me for a few reasons. First, I like planting things and watching them grow. Second, it's kind of devious (and I like being devious). I like to think of it as tagging with plants. Some may find this odd, but it can't be more weird than this. Third, some of things that you plant could become free food in the future.

My recent sniper planting has been geared towards more constructive purposes. Here are some potatoes I planted randomly in the back yard:

This poor little guy got run over by the lawn mower.

Actually, not really randomly. I had some guidelines to follow. First, Chrissie told me they couldn't be planted in the middle of the lawn (even though I think that's where they'd do the most good). Second, they had to be planted in locations where the soil was really hard. Why would I want to put potatoes in hard soil? It's part of my Soil Reclamation project for the house. I'll write a full post about that later. For now, I'll say that when we got here the soil was crap. There was no top soil to speak of and the ground was rock hard. Not ideal conditions for growing things. The potatoes address both of these issues. They have very strong root systems which can break and loosen hard soil, even clay. Then, if you leave them in the ground, they will eventually die and return organic matter to the soil.

Daikon radish is another plant that was well suited for this job, but I couldn't find any of them. Potatoes are a plenty here though and they like growing in our climate, so I think the project will be pretty successful.

Here's another plant that I snipered into our back yard too. It's garlic.

Friends of ours had garlic growing rampant in their back yard and gave some to us. We ate most of it but I snipered one into the ground. That was last year. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this guy's shoots come up during the spring. (Chrissie was more genuinely surprised).

Anyway, if you are ever in the neighborhood and find an edible plant (randomly) in the ground, it may have been me... or it may not have been. If it was me and you're hungry, you have my full blessing to grab some and eat it. Or take some and plant it somewhere yourself.