Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Charlie Brown Pear Tree Update

I thought that I would update everyone on our Charlie Brown tree we tried to save last year. It is still alive and seemingly doing well! It has a bushy look to it, but it's full of leaves. The trunk is thicker than any of the other trees we planted. Unfortunately, some rust appeared on the leaves, but with how wet the spring and early summer have been, I'm not surprised. Rust is not fatal, so Chrissie and I are OK with just letting it run its course.

I have to say, that I'm very pleased with Charlie Brown tree's rehab. All winter it looked stumpy and sad. My dad came over one day and commented that we totally pruned it incorrectly. "Yes, dad, I know," was my reply and I proceeded to tell him what had happened. Under normal circumstances, he would be correct, but here we were pruning for survival and I think that we did alright.

From this point, we'll try pruning to make it look like a more normal tree. This process will probably take a couple of years, which makes me sad because it might mean extra time before it starts bearing fruit. I shouldn't complain too much though. We did save a tree from certain death had we left it unattended.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gardener Helo

I'm sure I've mentioned once or twice that Helo has his own concept of gardening & landscaping. Typically it involves digging a large hole, at the bottom of which is some thick root that he thinks would make an excellent play stick if only it would leave the ground. His antics don't usually align very well with our conception of the yard. Until yesterday.

He's been working at one particular spot in front of our back fence for quite a while now. First he unburied a giant tarp that we eventually worked free. (Most of it at least). Then we filled it all back in and figured we were done. To no avail, Helo re-dug the hole and kept going, this time finding one of his root-type friends. We tried throwing a bunch of rocks in the hole, but it didn't deter him. He was determined to expose the root.

Thinking that it was tied to one of the large trees along our back fence, I wasn't fond of the idea of letting him continue this escapade, so we decided we were going to try filling it back in again and planting some things there. Big things. Things he'd be less likely to want to dig up.

The back was a little overgrown though, so some weeding needed to be done first. Aaron started taking a stab at a pesky bush type thing that refuses to die. He pulled and dug and dug and pulled... until he realized that the offender was, in fact, connected to Helo's root! Since that was nicely unburied, he was able to cut the root and with any luck, we're finally done with whatever menace of a plant it was. (No, we didn't bother to look it up. Maybe we should have. But we didn't want it, so it seemed kind of pointless.)

Helo's garden-sense has gone up a few notches in my esteem. Maybe we can make a suburban farmer of him yet. :)

Monday, July 9, 2012


Summer has finally arrived in Seattle. Traditionally, it begins the day after July 4 and this year decided to be traditional. Chrissie and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather while it was here by doing some grilling. Here's a recipe for my favorite grill item: changburgers (fancy hamburgers). The recipe is adapted from Julia Child's ground beef recipe. Instead of thinking of burger patties as only 95% meat and 5% fat, I think of it as more like a well seasoned meatball now.

1 lb ground meat ***
1/4 lbs finely minced yellow onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp thyme
1 Tbsp Parsley
1/4 Cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

Feel free to season to taste. I rarely use exact measurements anymore and just eyeball it. Also, feel free to experiment with different ingredients. I try different herbs often. This is the most consistent combination I go to. Not surprisingly, all of these ingredients go really well with meat in general, so you might take a cue from what pairs well with beef in other dishes.

Optional: 1 egg. Adding the egg with help the patties maintain their shape after they've been formed.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until you are ready to use.

When you are ready to form your patties, you can do it by hand or use a mold. Doing it by hand will keep the patties "fluffier" and lighter. I really like these because the meat just falls apart when you bite into it. The difficulty with forming the patties by hand is that they are prone to falling apart before they get into your mouth. I would recommend adding the egg if you decide you're going to form them this way.

Admittedly, I use the mold more often. The patties stay together without help from the egg and that's important when things are going on the grill. I hate it when things fall through the grate.

Secret Ingredient: butter

Julia has taught me well
I stick the butter in the middle and cover it up with more meat

I stick a little bit of butter in the middle of all of my burgers. Here's a secret - fat equals juicy. I like juicy burgers. The butter here melts while the meat is cooking and spreads throughout the patty. It's delicious. You can probably use any kind of fat that is solid at cool/room temperature and melts when exposed to heat; I use butter because it's tasty and readily available.

After your patties have formed, they are ready to go on the grill. Cook to taste.

Cooking! Summer!

Bon App├ętit!
Happy Summer everyone!

*** A note about the beef - the most important ingredient after all! Quality is important. A good rule of thumb is the closer to fresh you can get, the better tasting your burger is going to be. This is just as important for taste as it is for texture. Frozen meat will never be as good as fresh ground meat. Your chew count will reflect that. The three kinds of ground meat I've eaten have been burger patties from the frozen food section, ground beef from the grocery store meat section, and meat that I've ground myself the day of. The best one by far was the meat I ground myself. It's something I want to eat again and again. If you have a good butcher or grocery store, the stuff you get there will probably be pretty good, but in my experience it's too dry. The meat was probably ground a day or two ago and all the juices have seeped out. I will never eat patties from the frozen section ever again. If you don't believe me, there's a standing invitation to our table for changburgers. I promise you an awesome burger.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Patio Building

This summer, Chrissie and I decided to add more patio to our yard. We have a small concrete landing already, but that isn't a lot of room to do stuff, particularly grilling. It has enough room to fit the grill and myself, but not anything else. Makes it kind of hard to get up and down the stairs. I don't want to do grilling up on the deck because I don't want any stray sparks or coals to land on the wood so I do it in the yard.

Making a patio is pretty easy. It takes time (what doesn't) and each yard has its own particular challenges. For us, it was the fact that our ground was hard to dig (stupid hard packed dirt and ROCKS - so many rocks!) and we ran into a huge slab of concrete about eight inches below the surface. It was really big and right next to the house so we couldn't unearth it. First, we tried working around it, but it was just too big, so we had to reduce it in size somehow. Instead of heading to the hardware store and buying a mallet and chisel, I decided to improvise and use a large rock to whittle away at the thing. It took repeated bashing for half-an-hour, but I eventually whittled it down. I would have made a good caveman.

After we dug the hole, we put down about 6 inches of gravel, then 2 inches of sand over that, and then place pavers on the very top. Both are to help the drainage of the area. I believe you use sand over the gravel to ensure that the pavers can easily get level.

We went on the thinner end for all of the layers, but so far, we haven't had any drainage problems. I don't anticipate that we will have any in the future either, because we've been having a really wet summer - like "Junuary" weather (January in June, get it? Ha ha, our weather forecaster coined the term last summer - the worst one in recent memory).

Anyway, here are some pictures of the process and product. Things are gradually coming together.

One side of our hole

The other side.
Aaron hitting concrete rock. You'll notice sand laid down. That's how far we got before finding out the rock was just a little too proud.

Caveman Aaron.
Colton is modeling the new patio. Work it!

For more detailed instructions, you can look here.