So: plan change

So, tonight Bruce and I were supposed to have a date night and go to the Nasher Sculpture Center for the Frank Gehry designed Ken Price Retrospective.

Check it out– it looks pretty cool and we were excited to visit this beautiful museum and garden at night. If you come to Dallas, you must go there.

Instead, we’re home. I picked up a pizza. Bruce uncorked an inexpensive vino. We’re emptying the DVR.

Godiva’s sick.


The brown one. The pack leader. The sweet and sensitive girl.

The one who was so upset and embarrassed to have not one, but six accidents today. Of course, scattered about the house, mostly on the freshly cleaned carpet. (Thanks to Bruce and the Bissel SpotBot for cleaning up before I got home.)

And Tracy (she lets the Gs out at lunch time) also found several accidents in the kitchen. (She cleaned them up and texted us right away to let us know that things were not right with Godiva. She also gave her some medicine.)

Poor pup. She has the most sensitive constitution. It could be anything…or nothing. This happens every so often. We always try to figure out what happened, what was different, what she ate, to no avail.

She really seems ok now. Tail wags fine. Belly still needs to be rubbed. All three Gs are snoozing, a normal thing when the two-leggeds are watching the glowing box.

We’ll be watching Godiva through the night, half sleeping in case the door needs to be opened at 3 am. Hopefully she’s fine tomorrow.

So: DIY weekend

So…we’re home this weekend. We’re not sick, that is, beyond our usual allergies caused by living in America’s dustpan. We are not entertaining. I don’t have to work.

Bruce just informed me that it’s going to rain all weekend and my plans of seeding the Urban Farm’s salad greens, carrots, beets and beans are kaput.

What does that mean?


The Mortroski Midcentury was built in 1966. It is unfortunate but the previous owner felt that generically modernizing what I imagine were funky bathrooms was the way to get the house sold. As a result, we have many plans for our abode.

And some of them have been started already. They are currently “in progress”.

Take our barbecue station. Bruce was a short order cook in a past life and enjoys grilling. Since arriving in Texas, he also experimented with smoking. As you can imagine, he has also accumulated a bunch of related implements, utensils and other accoutrements. I support this wholeheartedly since it means less food preparation and more eating for me.


Over the Christmas holidays, we both had time off so we built an amazing rolling cabinet to hold everything and tiled the countertop.

Except we need to adjust the drawer. Finesse the doors. Grout the tile. Sand the rough edges. Paint the whole thing red to match our back doors (I’m predicting it will take 3 coats based on past history with painting things red).


And as Bruce says, since the table saw will be out anyway, we might just as well work out our bathroom wall.

Back in August we decided to optimize the laundry room and the attached bathroom. It involved sealing up a door, drywalling, installing a pocket door, installing cabinets, tiling on walls, countertops and floors. We are still not done working on the bathroom, laundry room or office (the result of being adjoined to the bathroom).

It’s ok.

The wall mentioned is a dimensional wall. We will be taking MDF and cutting it to different lengths, applying it to the wall, then painting it bright white. This particular bathroom is not large but until we started working on it, the only character it had was purchased on sale at Home Depot.

Our aim is to add a bit of funkiness and fun back to it. Once the wood is installed, we’ll give it a couple costs of paint, add another towel rack, and we will have added master bathroom #2 to the house. Or an office restroom for a future home-based business.

Then it’s on to finish the laundry room. Another story for another weekend.

Did I mention we have a sewing class on Saturday morning?

Sow: unseasonably warm

Our schizophrenic North Texas weather is in full on spring mode this week and it’s definitely unseasonably warm.

I went out at lunch to do an errand and had the windows down and sunroof wide open. As I told my boss upon my return, I wanted to keep driving. It was that kind of California-esque bright, sunny day. Truly all we were really missing were some mountains and a few palm trees and I would have sworn I was in Northern California.

This morning as I harvested lunch, I had a familiar indication today would be one of those beautiful golden days. It was slightly foggy and misty, almost raining, just like many of my mornings when I lived in Berkeley or Los Gatos. In Northern California, it’s important to keep extra clothes in your car. You never know when you might need a sweater or jacket, a pair of pants, socks, because the weather can change throughout the day. And if you drive any distance, you could encounter a completely different weather pattern. All bets are off if you go to San Francisco. Unless it’s September, it’s going to be chilly. You will need a sweater or jacket.

But I digress.

The salad greens are impressing me with their output and I believe these abnormal early springtime conditions are helping a lot.

February 6, 2013 salad harvest

February 6, 2013 salad harvest

I harvested on Sunday and then again today. I could have easily harvested twice as much, but there was no need. Today I only harvested from the main salad plots, but I think before the week’s out I’ll need to get picking the washtub on wheels. I’m looking forward to the mache getting big enough to pick. Until last year, I had never purchased it in the store, maybe I tasted it at a restaurant. It’s not a particularly common green here in the U.S. but you can find it at Whole Foods when it’s in season. I’m hoping to be able to grow it when I like—as long as the washtub rolls into the garage when the weather is too cold and heads into the shade when summer’s heat threatens to bake the mache.

This weekend I intend to seed an entire raised bed with a variety of salad green seeds. I’m hoping that it’s as pretty as it will be delicious. You may have ascertained that we eat a lot of green stuff at the Mortroski Midcentury. You would be correct. Generally our lunches are salads with some sort of protein, no matter what the season. We’ve experimented with lots of different salad greens so that’s the other reason we’re so excited — when you take shipping out of the equation, there are so many different types that you can grow.

A packet of organic lettuce seeds is about $2.50. So far all of the lettuce that I planted for fall has provided us with plenty of salad stuff since about September. Only during a particularly cold few weeks did we purchase any (one container of organic salad greens is about $5). Yes, I know I am not calculating the cost of the raised beds, the various components to make soil, organic fertilizer, and water. I didn’t add in the cost of my labor. I also didn’t add in something that’s priceless: the daily physical and mental benefits the 3G Network and I get by puttering around in the garden.

And I hope the weather we had today sticks around through the weekend.



Sow: creativity

Besides gluttony, the reason I’ve been enjoying growing stuff on the urban farm is that I have to use a bit of ingenuity to outsmart Texas’ weather patterns and to counter my own lack of knowledge. Luckily making something out of ether is something I’ve been doing professionally for years.


watermelon vine being held up with netting used to keep birds from eating vegetables or fruit

watermelon vine being held up with a type of netting used to keep birds from eating vegetables or fruit (it was purchased for the tomato plants)

You might see a stick. I see a stake for my weak and windblown brussels sprouts.

You might see a tomato cage. I turn it upside down and it’s adding support for the romanesco broccoli.

You might see a garden statue of a little pig. I see it as an anchor to keep the frost cloth down one more night.

a quick "fence" made to prevent George from lounging on beet seedlings

a quick “fence” made to prevent George from lounging on beet seedlings

I often don’t know I need a tool, a support, a cover, or something else, until it’s 7 pm on a Sunday. Or in the case of a spontaneous cold front, 9:30 pm. And at that point I don’t really want to go anywhere. So kitchen items, yard ornaments, burlap, beach towels, bits of string, get pressed into service. It’s not always an elegant solution, but it’ll do until stores open, weather changes, or harvest time comes.

Creativity is just about looking at things differently. Trying to figure out a solution when there’s none in plain sight. It’s not always about a big idea. Sometimes little ones save the day…or in my case, the plants.

"trellis" made for pole bean crop

“trellis” made for pole bean crop

This year as I plan the spring garden, I’m hoping to increase the amount beauty while decreasing the McGivver-ing. Don’t worry, I’ll post photos.

Sow: inspiration


I’ve taken to snapping photos and pinning garden ideas for inspiration–and future experimentation. The shot above is from Savannah’s Owens-Thomas House. It’s rainbow chard being treated as a decorative patio plant.

It got me thinking: what if all of our patio pots and planters held edibles?

I’m still thinking about it.

You see our ancient oak tree makes a lot of shade. And while I do like growing food much more than most people do,I also love flowers, like this dwarf canna:


Last spring, our pal Mack gave us three transplants he grew from seed. Two survived the Texas surface of the sun summer and they now reside in the flower beds in the front of the house. They are very beautiful, yet hardy and they make me want to learn more about native Texas plants.


And then there was last winter’s indoor experiment of growing mushrooms. And as a CAL graduate, it made me snicker that this oyster mushroom kit came from Berkeley and the growing medium was coffee grounds from Peet’s. I was inspired to do it after reading an article about the guys who started the company (and it sounded like a neat thing to do). It was a lot of fun especially since my coworker Lisa and I did it together. The mushrooms were quite delicious but I was not moved to do it again. Still, it may have been the catalyst for the urban farm’s raised bed.

Sow: salad daze

I needed a nap today. But post-siesta I also needed a good putter with the plants in the urban farm.

Here’s a peek at the romanesco broccoli:


Pretty, isn’t it? I’m curious how it will taste. Will it be like broccoli and cauliflower together?

Did you know one broccoli plant = one head of broccoli? No, me neither. This might sound funny but I prefer growing higher yield crops. And I certainly have more respect for the folks who farm the broccoli I so cavalierly steam up for dinner.

Growing my own has made me very conscious of the effects of waste. It’s a waste of energy, water, someone else’s effort. I try never to throw any produce away. I freeze overripe bananas. Save scraps from cutting stuff up for stock. Freeze herbs that I won’t use in a recipe. While I would love to grow all of our produce, it’s not possible yet so we are still buying stuff. Maybe this year!

My favorite canine gardening helper was hanging out today under the big oak:


Her brothers were snoozing inside. But eventually they all hung out with me.

Lettuce was plentiful today. I think either some of it reseeded itself or seeds planted in the fall are now sprouting. In any case, I’ve got patches of lettuce happening:



I thought the cold would have wiped it out but this is all stuff that has been growing abundantly since fall. The washtub experiment is also coming into its own and I harvested a few handfuls today of the mesculin. Mâché will be ready in a week or two I think.


I had all but given up on the spinach.
It was my fill in wherever there was space crop. So now I have several big clumps of spinach growing like crazy. I picked a big bowl today and hope to pick more next weekend. It’s like the cilantro: a happy surprise.

The spinach seeds grew strangely–the common stuff seems to like the Texas weather and one heirloom variety so far has produced only one plant. But that one plant has promise–it’s supposed to grow amazingly huge leaves. Fingers crossed I’ll have a big plant to show you soon.

This is a leaf of the kale I mentioned yesterday:


There’s lots more to come. Kale has made me happy.

But not as happy as salad greens.


Today’s salad harvest was great. So much to pick, so much to choose from. I’m excited for my work lunch tomorrow (first one in over a week!) and will enjoy every mouthful. I plan to grow a whole bed of salad greens this spring.

Then there’s collard greens:


Beautiful. Tenacious. Super easy to grow. Delicious in their dark greenness. We eat them raw usually but I read an article this week that says cooking releases more of their vitamins.

Bruce mentioned to me today that collards are something that we never ate until we planted them. We ate them a few times usually cooked in a restaurant or for New Year’s after moving to Texas (like cabbage they are eaten to promote a prosperous year). Because they grow well here, three small plants have gotten big and kept us well supplied.

Next weekend I’m going to need to make some tough choices. It’s time to start the planting of seeds and I’ve got bits and pieces in multiple beds. Some will stay, some will need to go. It’s something to look forward to and something for a novice gardener to really think about.

Sow: hail to kale


Kale certainly is the darling vegetable of the health conscious folks. Juice it! Make chips of it! Massage it for salads! Steam it! Bake it! Make soup!

I love it, not just because I’m sold on its health benefits and earthy iron-y taste, but because it is another surprising vegetable to grow.

The photo above is from a day last fall, probably October-ish, when I planted kale and chard. This kale is called Nero and grows quite tall. It looks a bit like a palm tree and has flat dark green long leaves. To harvest, you pluck the bottom leaves and it keeps growing up.

Today I was watering the Urban Farm (by hand, using harvested water from one of our 4 rain barrels), and noticed that new leaves were springing from the stalk where the old leaves were picked.

Awesome! More kale for us! Since I like to harvest salad greens daily, I’m happy for the bounty.

So far I have had the most success with green leafy veg. All sorts of lettuce, red romaine, mixed greens, mâché, kale, spinach, collards, mustard, leafy things have grown well and provided not just salads, but satisfaction.

Tomorrow, I will putter in the garden and harvest Monday’s lunch. Next weekend is when we can begin to plant the first spring seeds so I need to start planning and organizing. Time to put the garden planner to work!

Sow: it’s alive!

I almost gave up on it completely. Little did I know, it would be brighten up my day today.


I’m talking about cilantro. You might call it coriander or Chinese parsley, but I call it a plant that doesn’t like growing in North Texas.

I never had any trouble growing it in a little pot in my tiny backyard in Toronto. But try as I might, I could not make it flourish in Dallas.

I planted some last spring. It became crispy in the North Texas sun. I tried again in the fall. The same thing happened. Or so I thought.

Apparently my sickly cilantro likes winter!

Today when I wandered outside to check out the garden and make sure the 3G Network wasn’t feasting on kale or rolling on fresh compost, I saw three bushy mounds of cilantro where my once scraggly plants were planted!

Of course I picked some. It will grace a dish of Quinoa and Roasted Corn from Mark Bitman’s excellent cookbook How to Cook Everything for tonight’s dinner. I’ll savour every mouthful — and hope that I’ve finally found the proper growing time for cilantro. Maybe it’s also an annual that’s a perennial down here. One can only hope!

Other crops that are getting closer to harvest:
Brussels sprouts (they’re purple!)
Romesco broccoli (looks like a Gaudi house’s turret)

Ongoing harvests:
Nero kale
Mixed salad greens
Mustard greens
Collard greens
Swiss chard
Red romaine

PS: Thank you to everyone for their well-wishes while I was so sick with the flu. I am feeling much better though I found that I got tired easily today.