Sow: spring fever

Although it’s a bit gloomy-gray out, when George and I went out to pick lunch this morning by headlamp, I knew that I would have a hard time being inside today. So much so that, even though I had time for a break, I dared not go outside. I might roll the windows down and drive. And I might not come back, as crazy-stricken with spring fever as I am.

While work is fun and cool stuff is happening inside, there’s so much going down at the Urban Farm. Tomato flowers! Lettuce that has doubled in size! Tufts of bok choi! Beets that need to be thinned! Carrot shoots coming up in neat little rows (thanks, seed tape)! An almost full grown radish! Rose bushes greening up and getting leaves! Pea shoots starting to reach toward the trellises! Garlic sprouts! (All exclamation point worthy!)

I’ve been dreaming of planting jalapeño and bell pepper transplants. Getting the spring basil plants in the ground. Figuring out what to do with the patio pots (edible or just pretty? that is my question). I want to feel the soil on my hands (and face) and the sun blazing on the back of my neck. I want to yell at George for trying to catch butterflies and Guinness for trying to catch bees. I want to catch Godiva digging the hole she shares with George. I want to bask in the flowering beauty of the plum and peach trees now that Bruce added a gate to that part of the fence. I want to get the composter going  and turn those garden and kitchen scraps into this fall’s fertilizer. I want to wear flip flops and sit on the patio, cool drink in hand, watching the plants grow and the Gs roll in the grass. I even want to pull weeds in the front yard again.

(I’m itching to get outside if you can’t tell.)

Two walks through the neighborhood each day with Bruce and the 3G Network plus some weeknight watering and limited poking around in the raised beds isn’t doing it for me. I need more. And since my allergies aren’t going completely insane anymore (touch wood, right?) I am even more ready to plant some stuff and enjoy the outdoors before it becomes The Surface of the Sun (aka North Texas’ version of summer).

Luckily for me, it’s almost the weekend. Well, it’s Thursday, the Gateway to the Weekend(TM) and this week, it’s my Friday. You see, on Monday, I decided to give myself a little gift. I’m treating myself to a vacation day and spending Friday doing what I wanted to do. So I’m prepping for Spring, starting with a much needed pedicure to get ready for sandals and open toed shoes, then doing a little bit of wardrobe refreshing, topping it off with a visit to North Haven Gardens for some transplants. (I could do without the shopping but I really must go. I have a lot of client visits coming up and I need to look sharp. Ugh.) A perfect day that hopefully will go as planned and the shopping gods will deliver lovely work clothes and great bargains to me in record time.

So I’m getting up at 5 am as usual tomorrow. Starting my day as early as I can. No rest for the wicked. Or the spring feverish.

 

 

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So: donkey show

image from event invitation

Tonight Bruce and I went out on a weeknight date night. While usually we head to the Granada Theater to see a band from the 1980s like the Psychedelic Furs, Adam Ant, or Peter Murphy (next month), this time we went to a small theater near Southern Methodist University (SMU).

We pulled into a strip mall parking lot filled with an assortment of Priuses (is that the correct plural, Brandy?), Subarus, and some fancier German SUVs. We enjoyed live music, a lovely catered dinner from the Dream Cafe, several comedians, surrounded by plenty of politicians.

You see, we were at a fundraising event for the Far North Dallas and Richardson Democrats (hence, the donkey reference).

Yes, there are Democrats in Texas, contrary to popular belief. It’s a little more challenging to fly your freak flag here in Dallas compared to Northern California, but if tonight’s event proved anything to me, it’s that there are more like minded individuals here.

Sow: brussels sprouts

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Harvested purple brussels sprouts

I think I mentioned that I accidentally grew purple brussels sprouts this winter. I should have been paying closer attention while plant shopping and read the plant descriptions instead of just mindlessly grabbing. But they were lovely. Purple leaves. Purple stems. Purple-green sprouts.

Even upon cooking they remained purple. I bet a fancy 5-star restaurant chef would have loved to cook them in some decadent way. They were even probably some rare heirloom variety. However, tonight I was very happy to cook them simply in garlic infused olive oil, a tiny bit of chicken stock and a bit of salt and pepper. They were delicious and the Gs also enjoyed a tiny taste. (Yes, all of the dogs like vegetables, though only George likes them raw. Then again, George will eat pretty much anything. Hence, my need for a fence around the Urban Farm.)

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aren’t they pretty cooked?

For those of you who are wondering why in the world I’d grow, much less eat such a vegetable, I must confess that I love brussels sprouts. For those of you saying ew, you must know that they are my absolute favorite side  dish vegetable and I will have none of that. I do love avocados and artichokes more, so much that they grace the Mortroski Midcentury kitchen’s walls, in both art and avocado green paint color. If you don’t like brussels sprouts, I’d suggest you’ve never had them fresh from the field or properly cooked.

One of the best brussels sprouts dishes I have ever had was a frito mixto combined with artichokes served with a delicious aioli at the Hotel Vitale in San Francisco (it’s across from the Ferry Building where San Francisco’s best Saturday market takes place). I was there on a business trip and it was my fabulous room service dinner, eaten with a gorgeous view of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Not only did I wish I could recreate it, I wished that I would have had someone to share it with. Bruce loves brussels sprouts too (I converted him, he did not grow up that way) and he would have been the perfect sharer, especially since he would have given me all of the artichokes.

Brussels sprouts have been my go to vegetable of choice since I was a teenager. My brother hated them and would feed them to our family’s beagle under the table. Like George, Rex would eat pretty much anything so my brother could clear his plate pretty fast.

In Northern California where I grew up, they are practically a native plant. They are cheap. You can buy them in winter at the farmers markets on the stalk. They last much longer in your fridge if you leave them that way. From the farmers perspective they are much easier to harvest if you just have to take a machete to a stalk versus pick every little sprout off the stem. Probably much less material to compost/dispose of too. And I bet the farmers laugh a little bit when the customers try to shove them into their market bags and baskets and wind up just throwing them over their shoulders. I know I would.

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growing

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perhaps a bit past due

But I have to say, as pretty as they were, the purple brussels sprouts were an Urban Farm failure. Most of that was due to my greedy desire to maximize the harvest which actually ended up minimizing it. I planted 5 transplants and lost 2 over the winter. Of the 3 that were left, only 2 produced. If I try them again next fall, I will make sure that I fertilize them several times, not just upon planting. I will also make sure that I carefully chart their time to harvest so that I don’t end up with only a small bowlful to show for my efforts.

But it’s spring tomorrow so it’s time to focus on the newly planted and the soon-to-be-newly planted. I’ve given myself Friday off so you can pretty much count on some planting about to happen. It’s time to get the peppers in the ground and I believe it’s safe to plant some basil too.

Happy Spring Eve, y’all.

So: new beginnings part 2

So I promised earlier this month that March, the month of my birth, would be a month of new beginnings. Of change.

Well, it’s certainly delivering in the project arena. And that’s just fine with me.

It’s like I’m physically waking up from the (short) winter’s hibernation. And as sick as it is, I’ve been enjoying the sore hands. The tight back. A few bruises here and there. Dirt under the nails and coloring my skin. Sound sleep from a weekend of manual labor. Finding red paint in my hair and orange paint on the back of my arm. Even liking the twinges from too many squats. My left buttock has never been so toned. And my body feels alive.

Last weekend we painted. Poured some concrete. Installed hinges. Planted stuff. Grouted. I can’t even remember what all else. We still have lots to do with the laundry room/office/bathroom project. But we’re chipping away at all that bit by bit because it’s the catalyst to the biggest project of all.

You see this spring, we are going to start getting rid of the stinky, dirt trapping carpet throughout the Mortroski Mid-century and put down bamboo flooring (you wouldn’t expect anything less from a tree-hugger like me). First room is the office. And, like the office, we will do most of it ourselves, saving only the really tricky room, the family room aka “the lounge”, for the professionals.

Here’s why: in the 1960s apparently exterior brick was a popular flooring choice here in Dallas. I’m thinking the mason who installed it must have enjoyed liquid breakfasts and lunches. We have seen it  uncarpeted when the big hole under the house needed to be dug to ensure that we continued to have indoor plumbing. It is not pretty nor even. I can’t imagine that someone thought it was a good design choice since it looks like they just decided that the middle of the house was a good place to get rid of the leftover bricks. It will be nice to have it covered with a dog-friendly, easily cleaned flooring choice.

We have hardwood in one room right now: the kitchen. Note to anyone that has large dogs that drink water enthusiastically: hardwood is not a good choice for the feeding/watering area. So we will also be tiling the kitchen sometime between now and 2015. A shame really, but truly the floor the previous owners selected is not a good choice for animals, my somewhat sloppy cooking and washing up skills, and North Texas weather (we have a door to the backyard and hardwood is not the best for muddy paws).

Some might think, “Poor Julie!” But don’t feel sorry for me at all. I’ve enjoyed learning a plethora of new skills ever since becoming a first time homeowner back when I was 27. Who knew that I, a bookworm who paid little attention to her dad’s piddling around in his workshop,  would ever helm a tile saw? I have in several of our homes now and I am not afraid. I am not scared of cutting flooring. I am an amazing taper. I can dig great holes. I have used a jackhammer. I can drill. And while I am still somewhat apprehensive about the nailer, I’ll use it. I just make sure to have the protective eyewear on because I had a friend with a construction worker boyfriend and he shot a nail from a nailer through his eye. His misfortune ended up ok (a short hospital stay with lots of tests, workman’s comp, and a week off with no loss of eyesight). I benefited greatly by accompanying his girlfriend to see Rod Stewart using his ticket. Score!

Speaking of new beginnings,  Bruce found me a great gift this past weekend: a dual action composter. You fill one side and then let it do its thing and while it’s doing that, you fill the other side. It’s in about a million parts in its box right now, but once we get it together, we can get our own free compost/recycling system going. In Toronto we had garbage, a green bin (compostables), and recycling. While our home compost system won’t be able to reclaim as much as the Toronto system, we will be able to reduce our trash considerably AND more importantly, create our own compost for the urban farm.

I’m really excited to get it up and running. It’s going to go in the part of the yard where we have the plum and peach trees which is very close to the raised beds/stock tanks. I just need to get the inside bin to collect the peels, shells, scraps, etc.

It’s kind of like this one in case you’re wondering:

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Hopefully it’s not as complicated to assemble as it looks. We should save it for Friday as a fun date night!

 

 

So: birthday projects

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day, or as I like to think of it, Guinness’ birthday. Of course, since he was a stray, we have no idea when he was born, but it made sense to give him March 17 as a birthday given his name.

It was a great day to be Guinness. He had his dog cake from Three Dog Bakery and shared with Godiva and George. He went for an extra long walk this morning and played with Edgar the schnauzer. He also spent most of the day outside with us and got really close to catching a squirrel. And he mooched some fajitas too. (He’s also passed out on the sofa right now. In fact all of the Gs are passed out from exhaustion.)

I would also like to pass out.

My bottom is sore from squatting. It was manual labor weekend and we got a number of projects completed and a few closer to completion. Tons of outdoor work happened. The yard is looking great. The farm is growing like crazy. It was awesome to pick so much delicious stuff this weekend.

The weather is amazing. Shorts and t-shirts weather. Windows open weather. Hopefully it’s here to stay.

Projects complete:
1. Ikea light wood stool converted into Kraft Dinner orange end table for living room
2. BBQ cart for all of Bruce’s big green egg stuff now has a grouted tile countertop, pull out shelves, and bright red paint. It just needs to have its white trim painted but it already looks great
3. Dug a fence post hole, poured concrete and hung hinges so we can open up another gate in our fence over by the plum and peach trees
4. Got a dual action composter so we can turn our plant scraps into fuel for the urban farm
5. Plans for office and laundry room are finalized. All materials are purchased and we are going to begin the big deal work this week. We are on deadline now with the office since the pad for the bamboo is back ordered but will be ready for pickup in a week.

Whew! Good thing tomorrow is Monday so we can rest.

Sow: sad but happy

So, I’m a little sad because today it’s time to say goodbye to several delicious friends who have served us well this fall and winter:

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Brussels sprouts: I had such high hopes for you, but I realize now that I messed up on timing. Still what I could salvage I’m sure will be delicious. And very purple. If I try you again next winter, I will choose green. But honestly, this is one veg that may be best imported from California where cool seaside conditions are perfect for growing these yummy mini cabbages.

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Collard greens: farewell and see you next fall! You were an awesome producer and delicious supplement to salads galore. I sauted you but never cooked you the traditional low and slow way with lots of pork fat. You, my friend, were one of my winter garden favorites since you grew no matter what the conditions. No wonder most hard core North Texas gardeners grow you. Good job. You will be back.

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Processed collards. Those containers are huge! Hopefully we are really hungry this week…

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Kale: apparently you can’t handle the heat we’ve been getting. Your flowers though apparently delicious, signal that it’s time to say adios. So tomorrow once my birthday composter is assembled (thanks, Bruce!), you will be picked and whatever can’t be eaten will be heading back into the fall garden. I am sad to see you go because not only did you look pretty, you tasted awesome and were a centerpiece salad for many dinner parties. I can’t imagine that purchasing kale will be 1/2 as tasty as growing it.

Again, I hope we’re hungry this week. We have a lot of green stuff to eat. Good thing we’re all in town this week!

Replacing these fine veg will be some new seeds. Royal Burgundy bush beans which are “stunning violet-purple pods” that “magically” turn green upon cooking and Black Beauty Zucchini (courgettes) which are a petite “bush” variety were planted today.

Stay tuned for further details and photos!

Sow: crop update

collards: it's time for them to go

collards: it’s time for them to go

This morning’s watering and romp around the garden with the squirrel hunting posse of labradorian descent gave me lots to think about. As our days are getting longer and warmer, some of the fall stuff must go to make room for the new spring crops.

The brussels sprouts have made it clear to me they need to go so they’ll be on the plate this weekend. And so the collards must go too. They are on the verge of flowering and my guess is if I let that carry on much longer, the plant will be inedible. Then again, who knows? I never really ate collard greens much until I started growing them. And they rewarded me by being easy and providing lots of good eating!

So bye bye collards! You have grown well and provided us with plenty of vitamins, tons of fibre, and lovely greenness. But you’re at the end of your life cycle and it’s time for you to make room for new veg. Maybe the zucchini will go here. Or some lovely peppers. Not sure yet. For now we salute you and bid you adieu. We’ll grow more of you next fall.

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all of the spinach is growing beautifully

Our salads these days are mostly spinach, arugula, kale and chard. A deep green and very tasty mixture that holds up pretty well even if you dress it in the morning before work.

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red velvet lettuce is getting bigger fast

But I’m starting to dream of the other lettuces that are sprouting up. The red velvet lettuce looks really pretty in its small state. It’s going to be just gorgeous when it’s bigger.

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snow peas are getting going quite well

The snow peas are bigger than the English ones. I took shots from two views so you could see how cute the little pea shoots are. I’m excited to see how big they get—and I can’t wait to pick the peas. They are reminding me that I can get pole beans in the ground starting now. If I can find the space, that is…oh wait, maybe they can go where the collards were.

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see how nicely spaced the peas are

Today’s gratuitous dog photo (you’re welcome, Julia):

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This morning, my 4 legged “helpers” chased each other around the raised beds and hunted squirrels (don’t worry no woodland creatures were harmed) while I watered. Bruce is considering putting up a low fence (2′ high maybe) around the farm to keep the straw mulch in and keep sunbathing hounds out because I’ve found a couple of holes where snouts may have pushed their way into the dirt. And George keeps trying to sneak digs. He has a nice hole started on the opposite side of the yard. And when I yelled at him to stop, Godiva started sulking. Maybe she’s thinking he should help us expand the Urban Farm.

So: almost Guinness’ birthday

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We don’t know when Guinness was born. And we don’t know his birthday. But in our house, it’s Sunday. Yes, St. Patrick’s Day. Only seems fitting, given his name.

Except in our house we don’t drink green beer until we’re stupid. Our tradition is to have a Guinness with Guinness. As you can see from the photo, you can see the big boy is rather antisocial.

The Gs will have a dog birthday cake made by our friends at the 3 Dog Bakery. Just a little one so they all get a taste. It’s a nice treat and a fairly healthy option (not like a people cake) designed for dogs. Don’t worry I’m sure we’ll take photos.

PS: this post is for Julia who specifically asked me for more posts about the Gs. You will also get your wish on the 17th.

(all: I sorry to say that I’m still lagging from the joys of business travel. Can’t say I was impressive at the office today. So it’s a short one tonight. Did you know Bruce’s post was the blog’s all-time greatest day in terms of readers? Must get him to write again soon!)

So: California

Here’s a scene from my trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.

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I lived there from 8th grade until I was 26. My parents still live in the area. Don’t make it out there as often as I’d like but I’m hoping this new business opportunity changes that. Fingers crossed!

A big thank you to Bruce (the husband) for writing yesterday’s post. He may be writing more soon based on the overwhelming response!

So: Meet the husband

While Julie is busy working in Northern California, I have been asked to write today’s blog entry.  This is quite the daunting task, as Julie’s passion for gardening is only surpassed by her ability to capture the moment, through her writing.

I am a 3rd generation Canadian, born in St. Catharines, Ontario.  My grandparents came from Canada, England and Scotland, so as you would expect, I am a short, stocky, bald dude.  My mom and dad were married for 57 years before my dad passed away in 2011. My mom has lived in the home that I grew up in for almost 47 years.  My dad worked at General Motors for 40 years.

Maybe because of the longevity that was/is a part of my parent’s life, I have been a nomad.  I have worked at more companies and jobs than I can count.  I have lived in 12 apartments/townhomes/homes since I left my parent’s. But, in 2013, Julie and I will celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary.  People were unsure if our marriage would last due to the nature of our relationship.  I knew she would be in my life forever, the first moment we met.

Julie and I met in 1994 through an introduction from a mutual friend.  Shane and I met in July 1991 in London, England, the night before we embarked on a 12 day, 10 country Contiki bus tour through Europe.  Contiki has double rooms on their tours only, so if you are by yourself, you have to pick a roommate. We were very different; I was a preppy sales guy and Shane was a graphic artist with jungle print MC Hammer pants.   Shane lived in San Dimas, CA (yes, Bill and Ted’s hometown) and I lived in Canada.  We had a great time and became great friends visiting each other when finances would allow it.

In 1994, I won an incentive trip to Costa Rica and was not dating anyone at the time, so I invited Shane.  Despite our hope that the all-inclusive resort setting might provide us with the opportunity to find some female companionship, this did not happen.  It turns out that Costa Rica is full of German senior citizens in February and that our resort was their nesting ground.  Shane does speak fluent German, so at least he was amused.  My thoughts were of future travel and I wanted to visit wine country in Napa and Sonoma. He suggested that I call his friend Julie for ideas. When we got back to frozen Toronto, I made sure I got her number. This would be the start of the greatest journey of my life. Did I mention that Julie lived in Los Gatos, CA?  This was 1994; before email and the internet. No one texted and there wasn’t any cheap phone plans.  This was old school courtship with hand written love letters and long phone calls.

When I first talked to Julie about the travel plans, I found myself drawn to her voice.  She was super nice, but scarily smart. From March until October 1994, we spoke on the phone almost daily and our letters and cards were mailed at least twice weekly. By summer time, I knew she was becoming more than a casual friend. I had to meet her.  After mailing photographs of each other (remember we didn’t have Facebook either), we made a plan for me to visit her in Northern California. The plan was to meet at SFO and we would have lunch at Green’s Restaurant overlooking Alcatraz.  The rest of the ten days, we would play by ear.  Julie had to work while I was there, so I would explore during the day.

As expected, Julie was nervous and running late to pick me up at the Air Canada ticket counter.  I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be.  I was excited, but felt an overwhelming calm as I was FINALLY getting to meet her.  She was more beautiful in person than the cute photo of her that I carried with me everywhere. We hugged awkwardly as we first met and we headed to the elevator.  As we entered the elevator to get her Honda Civic (Sonic), I asked what floor is it on.  Julie said 4G and that wasn’t one of the choices.  In her frantic race to get to the airport, she memorized the location on the parking garage, but not the floor.  Once we found the car, I put my bags in the back and went to calm Julie’s nerves.  I hugged her and I felt the stress of the past months melt away.  It was time for the first kiss and it did not disappoint.

Over the next 13 months, Julie and I were in front of each other 27 days before she moved to Canada.  We were married on December 7, 1995 in St. Lucia. If I am allowed to write again, I will tell you about the engagement and wedding.

Hopefully, I did not bore you today.  Julie is very passionate about our urban garden and her writing evokes that emotion.  By now, I hope you realize that my main passion is Julie and our incredible journey in life.

I will leave you with this quote : “Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to (your) God”