Monday, August 31, 2009

Back to Work

I returned to work at the Forest today. After taking the summer off it was good to get back and see my old friends at the nursery and schlep around some heavy wet flats of plants! After packing a few things to ship in the morning I spent the rest of the day organizing the many varieties of species camellias that we carry. That involved gathering them from all over the nursery and organizing them in alphabetical order in 5 rows in the greenhouse. I was dedicated to getting this done as last year they were scattered everywhere and each time we had to pull one for a shipping order, a major search would ensue, walking up and down the aisles of the greenhouses trying to find one of the tiny plants, all with strange names like tungienensis, caudata, nitidissima or my least favorite- crappnelliana.

There is something quite rewarding about having a job before you and getting it done, being able to stand back at the end of the day and see your work accomplished. Not all the work I do is like that, straight forward, it's one of the reasons I like the nursery.

I've been checking out some cool bugs lately, the one up top is from our mountain trip and the bottom one is in the garden, eating the leaves of my fennel. I wonder if that swallowtail caterpillar feels like I do at the end of a working day when he looks back up that stalk and sees he's eaten all the leaves off a stem?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Beans, Beans, Beans

A 6 foot high fence is not enough

I'm crazy for beans and grew 7 kinds this summer, 2 varieties for shelling and 5 for eating as snap beans or to freeze. I thought I would feature a few varieties on the blog this week. The ones pictured above are Garden of Eden, I've written about them before, they have vigourous vines that keep going after they hit the top of the trellis just reaching for more. The beans are grown to a large size and cook quickly to yield a tender, scrumptious bean. I like eating them as an appetizer, dipped in good oil or hummus, or tossed with oil and vinegar and S&P.
Plain and simple.

I wish you could smell these ginger lilies, the fragrance is like that of a magnolia or gardenia, lemon and ginger, fresh and crisp. Walking past this fence right now is olfactory heaven.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mountain Vacation

Cave Mountain Lake, view from the dam looking towards the beach
Sorry for my absence but we've been on vacay. Spent 5 days and 4 nights in a delightful little campground called Cave Mountain Lake. Since we arrived on Monday night, there was almost no one there and we had this phenomenally beautiful, clear, cool lake all to ourselves. We couldn't believe it, it was almost spooky. What a refreshing treat after weeks in the 90's down here in the low lands, it was humid there but the highs were in the low 80's and at night it cooled off enough to put on long pants. A sweet little stream burbled past our campsite serenading us each night.

Classic smoky mountain view from the AT in the James River Face Wilderness
We took several hikes that tested our metal- I forgot that hiking in the Appalachians is a pretty much up and down affair, but we were proud of ourselves for still having what it takes, at least for a few miles with only a day pack, actual backpacking might be out of the question anymore, at least in that terrain.
This last picture pretty much says it all, me blissing out on my back in the calm, cool water, taking in the sky and clouds, chillin'. I'd give anything to have a lake like this near my house.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Gate Finished!

If you've been following the blog or know me, you know I've been trying to get these gates installed in the vegetable garden fence for months, I got the first one done in the spring, built a second one a few weeks ago and had been waiting for my honey to help me get it hung up, takes two people to do hinges. We did it this morning, it looks great, now we can easily walk straight through the garden to the garden shed instead of all the way around, which we were doing because the temporary gate was difficult to open and close due to the temporary wire latches. One more left, my goal- to complete it before the end of September. They are not really that hard to do, there is just some kind of major avoidance thing going on to getting them finished.

I have this feeling that when I finally get the gates done, it's like I'll be passing through them into some new life?

Now here are some other peppers that I meant to post yesterday, Round of Hungary - pimento, thick walled, incredibly sweet and spectacular when roasted and dipped in some good olive oil.
Yeah baby! Is this thing sexy or what?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Even with the garden overflowing and working everyday to decide what to do with it all, we went to dinner at a French restaurant last night and ate and drank ourselves silly. We were inspired by the the film Julie and Julia, which I thought was excellent. I had read Julie Powells' book about her efforts to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. Having a catchy idea for a blog and getting discovered and turning it into a book and a movie- every bloggers dream. Nora Ephron did a great job of marrying the two stories, that of Julie Powell and Julia Child during her early days in France and the writing of MtAoFC. It was a love story as much as anything, an enchanting portrayal of the two couples, in love with one another and with food, and of husbands who support their wives in their pursuits, no matter how desperate or challenging.

As an aspiring young chef, MtAoFC was certainly my bible, the film made me want to dig it out and cook up something spectacular from the pages of this classic. Tonight we'll be eating a mountain of haricot verts with roasted red peppers and one of my favorite eggplant dishes- Imam Biyaldi.

Imam Biyaldi means "the priest fainted" and Marian Morash in the Victory Garden Cookbook says she isn't sure if that was because the dish was so delicious or because of the amount of expensive olive oil used in its preparation. But its a winner and Marian's book is one of the best in helping people with lots of vegetables on hand to use them up in many creative and delicious ways.

What's your favorite vegetable cookbook?

Peppers ripening, almost ready to roast.

Read my latest column in the Chapel Hill News for more on gluttony.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


This is Toulouse. He doesn't belong to us, just comes around now and then when his people are out of town. We don't know exactly where he lives, somewhere through the woods. He likes to hunt for lizards and bunnies in our garden, I wish he wouldn't catch the lizards, I think the population has diminished. But, he's pretty adorable. He marches across the lawn with his fluffy tail held straight up in the air, plaintively meowing for attention. He likes to climb to the top of the gate and then figure out how to get back down. Here he is contemplating a leap to the fig tree, but he thought better of it.

Do you ever have visiting animals in your garden?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Transition Time

Here in zone 7 its time to start pulling out the summer crops and replacing them with things for fall. Yesterday the bedraggled squash went to the compost heap and I turned the soil and added compost and Plantone. This morning I seeded kale, more beets, bok choi and lettuce. I broadcast a mix of Asian greens; mizuna, radish greens, purple mustard and tatsoi, thinking I would harvest it small and use it as a braising mix in stir fries or as a side dish. Then I pulled out the bush beans and the last of the spring beets to make way for spinach and turnips to be sown this evening if I can get myself back out there...

The ocean of tomatoes seems to be smaller, maybe only a lake now, one section of the kitchen counter and one end of the kitchen table has been covered in red for many weeks. The freezer is full so I'm going to have to come up with a plan for the rest of these red beauties. And the peppers are coming on in earnest now, I picked these poblanos and will roast them today and squeeze them into the freezer some how. I've been fantasizing about real deal, honest to goodness chile rellenos and will have to try and make some while these pretty chiles are in their prime, stuffed with cheese, dipped in a coating of egg whites and flour and deep fried, they are spectacular, even if they aren't "on the diet" every now and then I gotta splurge.

And then there are these big bells, the Vidi now turning red and the Sunsation bright yellow, they will be filling salads and stir fries and getting dipped in hummus for several weeks to come.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Let's Talk Eggplant

I think its one of the best years ever for growing eggplants. We've had more of the Black Bells than usual and of really good size, (above right), look at the sheen on that baby. I wrote about the little Fairy Tales back in July, they are fun but not very productive, and the Rosa Biancas (above left) are just gorgeous.
It helps that David goes out and picks flea beetles off the plants every day- he says it's his meditation time- good thing- I don't have the patience for it. We've been cooking them up into all kinds of yummy dishes like ratatouille and caponata, charring them on the grill to make smokey Baba Ghanouj, sauteing them to top pasta and pizzas. I bought a fresh bottle of canola oil this week as I'm having a serious hankering for fried eggplant. I never fry anything anymore- health you know- but I'm gonna do it and see if I can't satisfy my soul, I'll let you know- I can just imagine the crispy outside, the creamy inside, hope I'm remembering right.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Strange fly or hornet

When I stepped out the door this morning to go for my run, I was stopped in my tracks by loud buzzing and two big flying insects zipping around the back porch. Then they stopped and hovered. I've seen these guys before, got out my binoculars to take a closer look. They look like either a hornet or some kind of fly, bodies are reddish going to a point at the tail, heads with large grey compound eyes, they looked almost like they are wearing helmets with a very blunt nose and face. They hover in place as if they were sitting perfectly still, through the bioculars it looked like the wings were stationary they were beating so fast. Every few seconds they would buzz around each other again and then stop and hover, buzzing, zipping, hovering. I got tired of watching after a few minutes and went on for my run.

Any idea what kind of insects these might be?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Turtle Gertie

Been seeing a lot of our resident turtle Gertrude lately. I imagine she's lived in our yard longer than us, but for sure we've been seeing her for 12 years since we moved in. I'm not sure if she's on the move from all the rain we've been having or if she knows we'll give her some tomatoes to eat, today she was in luck.

I finally finished the blueberry patch. Its taken me weeks, beginning with taking apart the potato cages which I had set up in between the plants planning to use the soil we piled in there to improve the rows.

When we originally planted the blues, we set them far apart and not in much of a line so mowing around them has been a pain. I decided it would be good to create rows, so first I had to remove the grass in between, then I spread that good dirt from the potato bins, I added 3 more plants to one row, and finally today I put down newspapers and covered the whole thing with 4 big cartloads of mulch. I think they are going to be real happy and hope they'll spread towards one another and fill the rows. And mowing is going to be so much easier now too. I'm sure they will never look this good again so feast your eyes

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

End of the Berries

Last pie o' the season

The berries have been good this year. Especially since I killed all the squirrels. They haven't moved back in either as I thought they would, probably in the fall we'll begin to see some Shorty's again?

We picked blueberries and blackberries for about 6 weeks and there are still a few ripening up. Our line-up starts with O'Neals in mid-June, goes to Climax, then Premier and finally Powder Blue. I just got three new plants of a variety called Delite that are covered with berries so I'm hoping they will extend the blueberry season to 8 weeks next year. I planted those in the ground this morning to fill out a row. All that's left in my berry patch maintenance program is to lay down some mulch. It's looking sharp down there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Signs of fall in midsummer

Despite the 90 degree days piling up like thunderheads, I can feel fall in the air sometimes. Especially when its a rainy day. Last Wednesday was one of those days, so cool and cloudy There was a feeling in the wind, it had a force about it that felt autumnal, different from the summer breezes or worse, the still doldrums that set in in August where the air is stone still and muggy. I was inspired to take a walk down to the creek, it had been almost a month since I had ventured there, too many ticks, spiders, and poison ivy to make it fun.

I decided to brave it, wanted to see if there was any water left. The feeder streams were wet but not flowing, just pools of water separated by damp creek bottom. When I approached the pools frogs screamed and plopped in, fish darted for cover. It was cool and pleasant walking through the shady woods. A spider stick was essential and my hair still got full of sticky webs, but I only got one tiny tick on me the whole way.

When I reached Morgan it was still flowing! As I turned the bend near my swimming hole a great blue heron flew in and landed on the edge, searching for dinner. As I walked closer I chased it up stream, it would fly around the bend and land, walking, stalking on its stick legs through the shallows. Then jump a bit further up stream. I startled the bird 4 or 5 times before completely losing sight.

I waded in the cool water, not inspired to get all the way in, last time we were in the swimming hole David found a big leech on his leg! nothing yuckier than leeches in my book. I also spotted this turtle, nearly stepped on the boy, when I picked him up to look at his plastron he shut his shell tightly with a crunch.

We are now half way between the solstice and the equinox and I can feel the scales tipping. Even though I know the worst weather of the summer is likely still before us, I also know it will end in about 6 weeks and with that, I can carry on.