Sunday, August 31, 2014

Expired Gardening and Granola

I've been working on cleaning out my pantry and found half a dozen cans of fruit that expired in 2012.  I also found a can of green beans and a can of carrots that also expired in 2012.

Four of the cans of fruit (all peaches) were "pop top" lids, and the bottoms looked swollen.  Not good!

I opened them all up, put them in a colander, rinsed well, and then dug holes here and there in the garden and fed them to the plants.  Figured it would be a good use for them.

I finally remembered to buy mini chocolate chips so I can make peanut butter energy bites.  I also made up a pint jar of my favorite granola.  This is what I use:

It's just a nice simple granola that I found and I add sliced almonds and mini chocolate chips.  Simple, but satisfying when I need a snack.  Today I couldn't find any sliced almonds in the fridge or freezer so I used walnuts which I think I like even better!

I've tried making my own granola several times, but it is never quite right.  So I gave up and now I buy this.  

Break over.  Back to work!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Kefir Grains

I have been looking for Kefir at the local Publix for a few weeks now.  I've been to three stores with no luck.

I went online to see if there was a Kefir shortage or something (!!) I was that perplexed. I like to use it rather than milk to make refrigerator oatmeal (old fashioned oats, kefir and berries in a 1/2 pint jar - LOVE IT).

Making milk Kefir at home is apparently a very simple process.

I found a link to a Facebook group that shares Kefir grain.  The idea of the group is to be able to request free Kefir grains (you pay postage), make your own Kefir and as you make batches, the Kefir grains "grow", then you offer to give them away.  Seemed like a neat idea.  There are other types of culture grains offered as well, which I don't know a whole lot about.  Yet.

I've signed up with the group, requested Kefir grains, and some kind woman has offered to share some of her grains with me.  I should have them by the end of next week.  They won't be shipped until Tuesday due to the Holiday weekend. So for $6 (priority mail due to being live culture) I should be able to start making my very own Kefir!  Very excited!

I understand you can use any type of milk - organic cows milk, goats milk, coconut milk, almond milk.  I might try all of them to see what I like best.

The recipes I've read say you only need a tablespoon of Kefir grains to start a batch which will make 1 pint of Kefir.  Here's a video in case you're interested:

And that's my excitement for the day.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Perennial Vegetables

A lot of annual vegetables don't seem to grow well for me.  I find it very frustrating.  The things that do grow well will be planted in larger quantities this year.

I really need more edible plants that grow with little fuss - like my papaya and pigeon peas.  I am certain there are other plants that will do just as well with very little care.

I have quite a few edible greens in the yard that don't require much fuss - shepherds needle, amaranth, longevity spinach, moringa, sweet potato vine, dollar weed, purslane and gotu kola. I could certainly put a salad together with no problem, but I'd deplete those greens pretty quickly if I tried to make a salad once a week, never mind every day. Except for maybe the shepards needle.  That just doesn't quit!

I searched the library to see what books were available on perennial vegetables and found one I hadn't read yet.

There's quite an extensive list of perennial vegetables in the book, but it's doubtful that a good part of them will grow successfully here.  The author is from the UK. But I'm going to research them just to be sure.

Some of the "shade only" plants listed have definitely given me some ideas...mainly that I need to stop worrying about all the shade in the back yard and find plants that will grow in it! Shade is not a bad thing to have here in SW Florida.

This book also has a good list of nitrogen fixing plants, mineral accumulator plants, and beneficial insect attracting plants to help with self maintenance of your garden, which is exactly the kind of help I need!

I seem to be an accidental gardener.  I have accidentally planted a nitrogen fixing wax myrtle on the north edge of my garden.  I didn't even know wax myrtles were nitrogen fixing shrubs!  The wax myrtle came alive this year and even flowered!  I was amazed.  I guess it will be useful after all!  And here I was ready to pull it out. Ha!

There are a few root vegetables I'm interested in growing, as well as a very intriguing little tree called Silver bell (Halesia diptera) which produces four wing shaped fruits which apparently taste similar to cucumber.  Sounds interesting. Also sounds very much like a vegetable version of Star fruit!

I have lots of research to do on the long list of perennial vegetables in this book to see what might survive the summer months here.  I can't WAIT til the weather breaks! Hello....I'm melting over here!!!!  Ugh.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Velvet Beans, Lemon Grass and Weeds Weeds Weeds

I got some velvet bean seeds from David the Good a while back and had planted 3 of them out by the sunchokes - they even had a nice homemade stick tripod trellis.  Well, I haven't been paying much attention to things out back over the past 6 to 8 weeks.  I knew the velvet beans were starting to climb up into the sunchokes, but I had no idea how out of control they were!  What made me get to work on cutting it all back right then and there was that the vine had started choking my Roselle!  Oh No!

I've chopped and pulled all the velvet beans out and will need to be a bit more careful where I plant the next seeds!  There were no "beans" on the vine yet, so I don't have to worry about regrowth in that area.  What was most impressive was that the base of that vine was already as thick as a cigar!

The mosquito planes were out Friday morning and must have sprayed the good stuff because the skeeters weren't that bad tonight.  I managed to weed for about 20 minutes which is pretty darn good for me.  I try not to dwell too much on the thought of all those chemicals in the yard from mosquito control planes.  Cringe.

A few weeks ago, we went to the Asian market looking for dragon fruit but didn't have any luck.  What we did find was lemon grass stalks.  I don't remember how much they were, maybe $2.50 for 3 stalks, so I figured I'd buy some and plunk them in the ground and see what happens.  And voila!

You can't buy a small pot of herbs for much less than $4.00 these days so I figured it was an inexpensive way to add some lemon grass to the garden!

Two of the three are doing great!  The third one isn't dead, just hasn't sprouted new growth like the other two have.

My two new pigeon pea plants are doing great too! Not sure if you can pick them out. Both are to the right of the new fig.  Ignore the whatchamacallit in the foreground. Lantana I think.

I'll move one tomorrow - they're too close to each other.  I was planting southern peas that day too, so I must have gotten confused.  Duh.   These grow into quite a large bush.

I've been putting all my weed clippings in the garden box area.  I'll mulch on top of that. It will be a good "base".  The velvet bean clippings, being nitrogen fixers, will help build the soil so chopping it all down wasn't wasted at all.

And boy do I have some weeding to do.  Geesh.  All the weeding I had accomplished a few months ago is right back to where it was before because I stupidly didn't put down mulch.

Here's some ginger doing it's thing - lovely:

The pinecone ginger is red, so this must be one of the gingers I planted from the market. Since I planted only the market ginger under the firebush (the bird area) I'll be able to confirm soon.

And here are some of my lovely papaya fruits:

And speaking of papaya, apparently you can use the leaves for medicinal purposes in the form of papaya leaf tea.  They are discovering that papaya leaf can cure some cancers!  

Lots of good things growing happily through the summer.  Now to find more plants like papaya and pigeon pea (plant them and they will grow without much fuss) for the edible garden!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Some Gardening and Coffee Roasting Today

I finally planted my 2nd knockout rose and the two pots of Gaillardia.  I also added the 25 bricks I had bought probably a month ago!  Phew!  There's a big root that needs to be chopped out before I "finish" the project, but I was so happy to get those bricks set!

It was soooo hot today - ugh.  But I did as much as I could - weeding as I went.

I turned the sprinkler on for about an hour before I went out so things would cool down a bit, then set the sprinkler to go just to the right of where I was working, so I got a bit of spray now and then.  It worked like a charm.

I realized after I had finished the gardening and cleaned up for the day that I forgot to plant the Persian shield plant!  Duh.  It's been tucked under the birding area with the caldiums and gingers/turmeric.

I dug up all the caladiums that were along the deck and will be planting them under the bird area, so I'll plant the Persian shield along with them, hopefully this week.

I roasted my second batch of coffee today - two different types - Mocha Java and Sumatra Mandheling.  I'll try each on their own, then mix the two as a third sampling.  It will be a good experiment.

I bought the Sumatra Mandheling after reading the description - it sounded similar to the blend I loved so much.  But when I roasted it, I didn't like it AT ALL.  It tasted terrible.  I found out last week that this particular bean needs to be roasted through 2nd crack to bring out the chocolate flavor.  So that's what I did today.  I also learned to roast the coffee, then blend the roasted beans, not blend and roast.

We still have two more kinds of beans to experiment with - Papua New Guinea and the "House Blend II".

We ended the day at our favorite local Mexican restaurant to celebrate hubby's birthday and our 34th wedding anniversary.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Planting a Fig Tree and Feeding Skeeters

My plan this morning was to put the contents of my compost tumbler onto this nifty sifter my son made for fossiling in the Peace River.

When our son moved to Seattle last February (sniff), he left two of these in our garage.  I figured I might as well make use of one of them and it worked great.

This little shovel and my big blue bucket are my best buddies in the garden.  I use them for everything.  The shovel is perfect to scoop out the compost from the tumbler, or to get the bunny poo out of the sacks they came in.  It's lightweight so it doesn't tire me out so fast. I drag these lightweight buckets around when weeding.  LOVE THEM!

Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were vicious today.  Unstoppable.  I used everything in this pot,

starting with the store bought "No-See-um" all natural spray, which worked like a charm when I've used it before, several times!  Then I added my clove/oil spray when the No-See-um stuff didn't work, and when THAT combination didn't work, I added the Repel with Deet stuff.  It was a bit more tolerable after that but still got attacked wherever I hadn't sprayed my clothes, particularly my back. Very unpleasant.

I managed to plant my fig tree, using the compost and bunny poo (which had worms in it so it must be a happy place!) but then gave up on doing anything else.


I'll try again tomorrow.  I'll just have to use the stuff that works.

Cause sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.  And I have soooo much I gotta do!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tanglefoot and Deer Flies

I hate deer flies.  I get terrible welts whenever I get stung by those little buggers. Which is whenever I go outside without long pants on.  We never used to have them here in the yard but they moved in over the past few years.  I blame the coyotes.  They moved in about the same time.  Probably not related, but that's my theory and I'm sticking to it!

There's lots of folks out there on the web talking about how they trap deer flies, including the University of Florida, and the consensus seems to be that if you put "tanglefoot", which is clear sticky stuff, on bright blue objects and walk around the yard waving the "bait" around you will attract the deer flies and they'll stick to said blue object.  You can use Solo blue cups or plates, or whatever else you can find that's bright blue.

I ordered some of the Tanglefoot sticky stuff today from Amazon.  I looked for this locally but couldn't find it, even at ACE Hardware, and they usually have the things I can't find at Home Depot or Lowe's.

Here's an interesting blog on how this woman deals with her deer fly problem! I rarely get bitten above the knees, so I'm not sure this method would work.  I'm not even 100% sure that what we have in the back yard are true deer flies.  They might be a relation of some sort with the same propensity to bite the crap out of people and leave large itchy welts for a week or two so you can walk around looking like you have the plague.  It is NOT pretty!

I can't wait to give it a try!  I'll be sure to post the results of this little experiment!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Non Gardening Weekend

A few of hubby's co-workers came over on Saturday to install the laminate wood floor in the kitchen.  It was so kind of them to take time out from their weekend plans to give us a hand.  We really appreciated the help.

The floor was very inexpensive (why bother for a kitchen floor that will be abused and might get water damaged), but it looks so much better than the first one we put in.  The only problem is, it's a bit more "red" than we expected it to be.  

Oh well.  It's done, and we'll get over it.

The kickplates still need to be installed, but other than that, it's back to normal.

A few of the guys are "natty", "neat freaks", "fussy" or whatever you want to call those folks that live in model homes and never have clutter or frogs on their patio - which means lots of frog poop where they congregate at the light in the corner of the sliding glass doors.  They probably have SCREENS on their patio!

Our screens went by the wayside years ago when the raccoons decided to tear them to shreds.  The palm rats had already ruined the top part near our shed.  So we gave in to the critters and just removed them.

So we spent the week prior to the install feverishly tidying up the patio, and the "back" patio which is what we call the patio beyond the patio, and then there's the deck.

The back patio:

Like the ladder?  For some reason, hubby likes to go up on the flat roof now and then so he leaves the ladder there - as good a storage place as any I guess.

So that's what I've been up to rather than gardening.  I haven't had the energy for even a good 5 minute speed gardening session!  Geesh.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fresh Roasted Green Coffee Beans

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a website that sells green coffee beans "to roast at home".  After a bit of research, I was surprised to learn you can use a hot air popcorn popper to roast coffee!  Who knew?

There's excellent information, including videos, at where we learned how to roast coffee, and about the stages of roast.  We bought our first sampler pack from Sweet Marias - four different 1-pound bags of espresso blends. Two were blech, but the other two were AMAZING! We were hooked!

We immediately ordered 5 lbs of the one I liked and 10 lbs of the one hubby liked.  He uses twice as much ground coffee per cup as I do.  All was well until I went to reorder our coffee and those blends were no longer available!

OH NO!!!!       

Anyway, long story short, we learned that you can't rely on a particular coffee bean, or "Espresso blend", to be available next time you need to order coffee.

Our last order of green coffee beans came from a company out of Tampa,  We figured since they were practically local, we'd give them a try.  Unfortunately, we weren't in love with the coffee we selected, so we went back to our old standby, roasted coffee beans at Fresh Market.

When we put the kitchen back together I found the box of green coffee beans and I told myself that rather than buy coffee again, I'd give the green coffee beans another try.  

Today, I roasted "Mocha Java".

Green - Mocha-Java
A blend of the two original coffees from the Red Sea area and the Dutch East Indies. Rich and full bodied with spicy overtones. Has a pleasant and lingering finish. 

Here's a pictorial of how I roasted the beans:

The Hot Air Popper and Green Coffee Beans

Colander or Large Bowl to Catch the Chaff

I add a paper towel to help "catch" the chaff.  It does blow all over the place.

Fine Strainer to pour the roasted beans into for cooling
We roast just shy of 1/2 cup of beans.  A full 1/2 cup is just a bit too much for the hot air popper and it will take a long time.

It's best to roast coffee beans outside.  But we have done it in the house plenty of times using our microwave fan/vent which goes outside the house.   Roasting beans doesn't smell like "freshly roasted coffee".  It's an earthy, burning sort of smell.  I kind of like it. But I'm weird.

Beans are Roasting, Chaff is blowing out

After about 5 minutes, you'll clearly hear the "first crack".  

In this next picture, the chaff is getting darker and the first bean has "popped out". I use this as my sign that it's nearly done.  

Close to Second Crack - see the dark bean?

I try not to get to the Second Crack stage, so once the beans start to spew out, I let it go another 20 seconds or so then stop the popper.   Potholders are important to have handy - I forgot and had to run in the house to grab mine!  Gaaah!

Steaming Hot Finished Roasted Coffee

At this point, you would think it would smell like coffee.  But it doesn't!  I shake it around and make sure it's not screaming hot before I pour it into a half pint jar.  I use a canning jar funnel so the beans don't go all over the place.

Freshly Roasted Mocha Java Coffee

Here are the roasted beans.  I keep the lid askew for a few hours to off-gas the beans, then magically, in a few hours, it smells like coffee heaven.  

Easy peasy!  Once you get the hang of it!  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Snakes and Squirrels

We were amazed after living here for 18 years when two squirrels moved into the cabbage palms at our back property line.  That was about 5 years ago.  Two months ago, I saw that there was a 3rd squirrel.  They were having words with each other - that's why I noticed.  Apparently 3 is a crowd.

I do believe we are now minus a squirrel.

One night last week we were investigating the progress of the dragon fruit next door and hubby noticed something odd on one of the huge limbs.  It "looked" like a snake, but it was HUGE!  He ran walked in to get our binoculars while I kept an eye on it.  It certainly had the coloring of a yellow rat snake, but it was grotesque looking.  With the binoculars we confirmed that yes indeed it was a yellow rat snake and it had clearly just eaten something quite large.  This is a very large yellow rat snake - nearly 5 feet long and quite thick.  It's been around our yard for several years. The length of the creature it ate is about the same as a nice fat squirrel!  We can't think what else it could possibly have eaten that would be that size. We do have palm rats, but they're pretty small (short).  It would have had to catch and eat the creature right there, because there's no way that snake was going to be able to move for some time.  Cause it was freaking HUGE!!!  I honestly thought it was a "bad" snake (a python or something like what's in the everglades).  It was a relief to confirm it was the yellow rat snake.

Today, I was taking some kitchen scraps out to the compost bin and a 4 foot black racer scared the crap out of me on the back patio.  I clearly startled him too because he thrashed about then took off in the wrong direction and ended up getting into the other corner of the patio near the sliding glass doors!  I heard more thrashing then nothing for a few minutes so I assumed the snake was laying low or had snuck out while I was busy getting the courage up to go back in the house.  I cautiously crept back onto the patio and got into the house, not wanting another close encounter with Mr. Thrasher.

After I got inside I looked out the sliding glass door to see if I could spot it.  I was very upset to see that it had gotten tangled up in some netting!  OH NO!

So I called hubby to see if he was nearby (which he wasn't) and had to wait an hour or so before he could get home to help me get the snake free of the netting.

Hubby held onto the snake while I took some surgical scissors and cut him loose. It was very distressing.  The wait for hubby to get home to help free him gave the snake plenty of time to tangle himself up pretty badly. Once I got him free and hubby let him go he went off like a shot. There was no skin broken by the netting so he'll be fine.

That netting is horrible.  We're still scratching our heads over why there was a wad of it on the patio.  We could have sworn we had thrown all that old netting away.  Things that make you go hmmmm...

Sugar, Ritz, Rice Krispies, Milk, Canned Soup, Velveeta

Rant on -

These are just a few of the grocery store items that are either downsized packaging, but not the price, or I don't bother buying anymore because they're just terrible quality - not the same.

Sugar - I went to Publix yesterday and they no longer sell a 5 pound bag of sugar!  Only 4 or 10.  WTH?  I couldn't believe it!  I bought a 10 pound bag instead of the 4 pounder.  I don't really use a lot of sugar - we don't even put it in our coffee anymore, but I like to be sure I have some on hand for baking when the mood strikes.

Ritz crackers are not the same as they used to be.  Their packages have gotten smaller but of course not the price.  They are pale and no longer "buttery".  My boss still buys them because he likes peanut butter on Ritz as a snack.  I eat them occasionally but I grumble every time I do.  I just used the last of the ridiculously small tubes as the topping for Tuna(less) Wiggle (tuna casserole).  I'm going to have to try the Keebler brand to see if they're any better.

So how do you make Tuna Wiggle?  You tickle it under the chin!  Nyuk Nyuk.

I've been making Tuna casserole for years, but in 2009 when my brain left me for about a year (scary times indeed) I forgot to put the tuna in it.  After a good laugh, we all realized we liked it better without it, so since then it's been dubbed tunaless wiggle. Good thing too, since tuna is scary and we don't buy that anymore either!

Which brings me to Velveeta.  The last two packages have not been "right".  They are the wrong texture and density.  Almost stringy.  I don't use it often, so it was an eye opener last night when I made the wiggle.

I use velveeta in only two recipes - tunaless wiggle and spicy pasta.  The last spicy pasta I made (about a month ago) was when I discovered the wierdness of the velveeta.  I thought it was just that particular package.  Apparently not.  Sigh. Another product to add to my list of don't buy ever again...

Rice Krispies - What are these even made out of?  Cardboard?  I made rice krispie squares and YUCK!

And milk?  OMG!  I'm afraid to even buy the stuff!  We do buy half and half for coffee - I figure it's safer than the "creamers" they sell which don't even have any milk or cream in them, just loads of chemicals, so if I need milk in a recipe I just use 50/50 water and half and half.

Canned soups - I used to love Campbell's chicken noodle, chicken and rice, chicken and stars, tomato, minestrone, lentil and vegetable soups.  I'd bring them to work for days I'd be running late and didn't pack a lunch.  But now?  OMG!  I can't even believe how terrible they are.  I don't bother buying them.  I do buy the occasional cream of ... soups, but those aren't right anymore either.

When you can POUR tomato soup out of the can (when you used to have to get a spoon to get it out), you know there's something wrong.  I used to eat tomato soup when I was sick.  It was always my go to soup.  Nope.  Not anymore.  And the Progresso soups or others that you don't add water to?  HOLY YUCK!

I have been making my own soups and canning them.  Once the weather cools a bit, I'll be gearing up to can some more soups, chili, Sausage/Peppers/Onions and baked beans.

Got any "I won't buy that anymore - yuck" stories?

Fig, Rose and Persian Shield

I had an appointment 2 minutes away from a Lowe's I don't visit often, so I ran in to the garden area to see what was on the markdown rack.  I was overjoyed to find another "Knock Out" rose - a double pink this time.  Since the first one I planted is doing so well I bought the double pink, which is the color I was hoping for the first time.

As I was leaving the markdown rack, I spotted a Magnolia fig tucked in between some other plants so I snagged that too.  It was only $3!

I also bought a Persian Shield plant.  I know it's a useless non eater, like the roses, but I really love the color of these plants.  It will go in the bird area along with the caladiums.

I still haven't planted the worms tumeric roots I bought a few weeks ago, or the two $1 pots of Gaillardia, but I'm hoping I'll find some time to do that this weekend.  I have a yard long list of things to do in the house to get ready for the installation of the flooring next weekend - mainly packing up the dining room hutch and emptying a big bookcase in the living room.

I spared everyone's eyes by not taking crappy pictures of the new plants!  You're welcome!