Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Garden Invaders

No matter their destructive potential, there is beauty in those plants and bugs that come into our gardens uninvited. I doubt any of these are new to you if you're a gardener but maybe if you just take a little time to look at them differently, you will see what I mean.
And then you can pull them up/off, squish them, feed them to the birds or a compost heap and hope you got every last rotten #@$!

So much for straw as weed control...

This is the first time I've seen spurge flower and noticed the tiny seeds (they look like fruit, embiggen if you can't see it). Although you can compost this weed, the pile needs to be hot enough to kill the seeds, otherwise you'll just be doing the spurge an evolutionary favor when you add the compost to your garden next year.

Found a few hornworms (caterpillers) in the Ichiban yesterday. Look like Tomato Worms, right?

Tomatoes and eggplant are both part of the nightshade family... as is tobacco, which is a hint for the correct identification of this bugger: it's a Tobacco Hornworm larva. Tomato worms are similar except they have green horns with black sides instead of red horns. These guys were pretty young so there's no color in their horns yet but the white striping on the sides gives them away (Tomato Worms have white 'v' markings). The Colorado State University Extension folks have a nice fact sheet here. The moths are on the big side; I kind of hope I can catch (and release) one if any caterpillars survive the purge. Hey, they're eating my eggplant! Without eternal vigilance, the tomatoes are next! (Apologies to drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs.) 

As for my last invaders, it's really not their fault. Truly, it's a case of being deemed a weed only because you're in the wrong place. That burst-out-of-your-chest alien look-alike is a pecan seedling.

We have red squirrels all over the neighborhood; they sit on the fence and laugh at our neighbor while taking one or two bites out of his ripest tomatoes and melons and leaving the rest for the birds. Of course they need something wet and delicious, it's hot and dry here and they have been working really hard... planting pecans all over our yard and garden.

pecan seedling in the wrong place
Here in Smallish Small City they have had pecan trees since the late 1800 - early 1900s; they grow in people's yards (planted so folks could make a few bucks selling nuts to the wholesalers) and in the city parks.  Nuts from trees in public spaces are considered fair-game as the local PD generally doesn't enforce the laws against picking public pecans. Even laden branches hanging across sidewalks might be available to the intrepid forager who asks permission, so there are plenty of free of pecans available: we don't need to grow them. (Don't get me wrong, I LOVE pecans: raw, toasted, in ice-cream, on salads, in pie...) Plus, we are not yet ready to cede our hard-won garden space to an orchard. Even if we wanted to grow them, the nuts are not buried in great tree spots and they would take at least 15 years to start producing, so they are deemed invaders and yanked as soon as possible.

There's not a total anti-immigration policy in the garden, a few weeks ago I welcomed a most auspicious visitor:

showing the distinctive white stripe
Who is Mr. Toad?

That's a Woodhouse's Toad. He's an insect eater and would have been allowed to stay but for this display...

chemical warfare via the parotid gland
I wasn't planning on licking him but the three cats and Chessie might have mistaken him for a playmate so he was shown out the back gate and into the alley. I still listen at night to see if he's still in the neighborhood; haven't heard these dulcet tones yet.

As more invaders appear in the garden I just have to remember to take the time to observe and appreciate them all... before raining death upon them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mushroom Monday

When we are out foraging for edible mushrooms we see a lot of varieties we can't identify. Upon spying an interesting specimen we usually whip out our handy pocket guides and race to see who will be the first to "key it out" (identify by matching a series of characteristics). For this one, guides remained holstered; M immediately knew  what it was. I still had to look it up, though, to reinforce the identification and -- most importantly -- to see if we could eat it.

Let's see... we found it on the ground under a mountain conifer in August...

It's about 5-6 inches across and has a distinctive pattern (if you embiggen you can see that the top has big ol' scales)...

And when you turn it over to see whether it has gills or pores... looks like it might it bite back; so a toothed fungus* of some sort. (The teeth or spines are actually very soft and brittle.)

Yes, it's a Hawk Wing, Sarcodon imbricatus, aka Hawks Wing, Hydnum imbricatum, Scaly Urchin,  or Shingled Hedgehog. They are supposed to be edible (Arora says to simmer for 20 minutes to get out the bitter taste) but that was not our experience (blech). They don't seem to hold much interest among the culinary set either: it's not easy to track down a recipe on the internet (even the recipe wiki is empty!) and neither of the two mushroom-specific cookbooks we have (Fischer & Bessette, 1992 or Kuo, 2007) address the Hawk Wing specifically, instead they concentrate on other toothed mushrooms like the Hedgehog and Bear's Head Tooth (we saw a little one of those in AK; you can check it out here).

Sure, we'll harvest another Hawk Wing to try, but the next time we're in the right place at the right time,  I'll be on the lookout for those hedgehogs.

*Toothed fungi are a good mushrooms for beginners because there are no poisonous look-alikes; they might cause a little indigestion but they won't deliquesce your liver. A great book about maximizing safety in the face of uncertainty as you foray into the world of wild mushrooms is Schwab's Mushrooming Without Fear. Along with various sizes of paper bags, mushroom knives and the aforementioned guides, without Fear  lives in the truck during mushroom season.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Double Glad it's Saturday!

Found this in the garden this morning.

  It's a double gladiolus, cool! 

Never saw one before; didn't know there was such a thing. The hybrid corm must have been mixed in with our big-box store lot inadvertently. Not sure if we want to hunt up a few more for next year or if we should let this one have all the glory.

Now that 95% of the glads have bloomed there are clear favorites, although M & I don't agree about all of them. And it's not like I would actually dig up and trash the ones we like least... hum, maybe a donation to the local garden club's annual spring sale is in order.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Capturing Purple

Purple has been a favorite color of mine for a loooong time. As a youngster, my bedroom walls were lilac and the afghans knitted and crocheted for me by grandmas and friends were always purple in hues ranging from psychedelic black-purples to very staid and lady-like violet shades. It's not a color I can wear, or want for dishes or towels... it just makes me happy. So as soon as I saw Beth was accepting links for this morning's You Capture: Purple & Bathrooms, I grabbed the camera and made a quick tour of the house.
in the garden

purple glad

from the larder

home grown purple and white pearl onions

in a patio pot

in the kitchen junk drawer; a Christmas gift from someone who knows my purple passions

Duck Tape, don't leave home without it.

and Pasque flowers found morel hunting last year (yes, an archive photo... but they're so pretty!)
not morels

The other theme this week is bathrooms, of which we have two cool art-deco examples. But seriously friends, 'clean enough to photograph' is a little beyond my motivation level today. Maybe later.

"I never saw a purple cow..." but there's a good chance you might find one over at I Should Be Folding Laundry.   

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pheasant Confit on Wild Mushroom Risotto

We had a bountiful pheasant hunt in 2009 (you can read about it here*) but didn’t manage to get through all of the little white packages in the freezer before we went again in 2010.

These frozen treasures made the trip to Smallish Small City with us and we vowed anew to make sure we made a dent in the freezer baskets of pheasant before the 2011 season. Unfortunately – for this task anyway – our favorite preparation for pheasant turns out to be a great way to stretch an ingredient. Inspired by a dish we had at a local wild game & wine dinner, we braise and shred the pheasant, mix it with corn and roasted poblano chiles, add a little cream, wine and stock, and serve it on pasta.

Well, it tastes fine...
We used up a few more birds in an experimental canning of the pasta sauce, thinking it would be an easy-to-fix meal after a cold day of duck hunting (it turned out tasty, but not pretty in the jar). If you’ve checked out the 2010 link (above) you know the buttermilk fried pheasant turned out well, too.

A few days ago I was searching for something slightly different to go on the grill with our newly harvested eggplant and thought perhaps that buttermilk soak might work again for pheasant on the grill. So the freezer pheasant count dropped by three; they were cleaned & breasted, the bones and scraps went into the stock pot, and the legs… hum… what does one do with perfectly lovely game bird legs that are too nice for the stock pot? That’s right… confit them!

Confit is a technique for preserving meat (usually goose or duck legs): the meat is salted (with spices) for 24-48 hours in the refrigerator;

then rinsed and gently cooked in fat. The cooked meat is stored in its fat in the refrigerator until needed;

That's actually confited quail , but you get the idea.

then reheated (often until crispy) and served on salads, in cassoulet, etc. In our case, we served the pheasant confit on a wild mushroom risotto made last year's boletus barrowsii and fresh sage. We were quite pleased with the pheasant, the slightly gamey taste was nicely balanced with the herbs and the texture was firm, not dry or stringy.

Risotto in the pot.

Okay, maybe it was a bit of an overkill. Even using the pheasant stock in the risotto, it took a lot of pheasant to stand up to the mushrooms in any given bite. It was all delicious but the combination didn't do justice to the pheasant. Well... there are five more confited legs in the 'fridge so the experiments will continue.

* and Disclaimer: That's the blog of the erudite and dashing MDMNM, husband, missed in the blogosphere (and in the kitchen) as work devours his life for a while.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Mushroom Mondays

I used to hate mushrooms: slimy canned things perked up in vinaigrette for childhood holiday meals; ubiquitous chewy white extenders of college meals; over-marinated and overcooked replacements for meat… ugh. I never feared them, per se, but the presence of button mushrooms in my salad, stir-fry, or pasta made me grimace. I would eat them if the meal’s source was someone beloved; otherwise they were pushed aside until scrapped into the garbage can.

Hunting for mushrooms, however, sounded like fun. An invitation from one of my husband’s blog-buddies was proffered. It would be an opportunity to walk the woods with interesting, intelligent people and learn something new; it’s not like I would have to eat the things, after all. I didn’t hesitate, “Sure, I’m game.” Off we went.

That afternoon we toasted our success, often, while we removed bug-damaged flesh and dirt from boletus edulis. No problem; all in a day’s work. We sliced the pretty, fat little porcini, laid them out to dry and then… our hosts offered to make fresh mushroom risotto: uh oh. Maybe it was the wine or fear of offering offense to some very wonderful people that lead me to my first taste of… heaven. Which is how I became a convert,

“Hello, my name is LoARSqred. I am a mycophile.”

Hunting mushrooms is now a favorite pastime. I enjoy the anticipation of their seasons; finding, identifying, and photographing them;
spores in an old puffball

Unknown species

and yes, I enjoy cooking them and preserving them so we can eat them whenever the mood strikes.

 partial 2010 mushroom haul ready for shelf and freezer

We are still neophytes: we eat only that which we can positively identify -- crossed referenced in at least three books-- and stick mostly to non-gilled mushrooms with no (or easy to identify) poisonous lookalikes. It's an odd sensation, but once you start seeing mushrooms in the woods you see them everywhere... huge and tiny, on trees, on dead things, in cow patties, under pine needles, on the side of the road... I still can't identify 99% of them but trying to figure out what they are is part of the fun.

While it is a joy to find edible mushrooms, the others are often beautiful and photo-worthy. On more than one occasion an exasperated M has said to me, "Lo', we're hunting grouse (or whatever), not mushrooms!" Uh... not quite; if I'm outside, I'm always keeping an eye out for mushrooms... like this one that popped up a few weeks ago next to our Golden Midget Watermelon seedling.
Mushroom Mondays will kind of be like my pre-season training; a little disciplined research to go along with pictures every week will increase my knowledge base and make me a better hunter. My go-to source, and the best field guide available for my part of the county, All that the Rain Promises and More, is the hip pocket companion to one of the most authoritative tomes for mushroom identification in the Western U.S., David Arora's Mushrooms Demystified. We don't leave home without them... and about five other books that stay in the truck.

Yes,  my age is showing... who needs books when, of course, there's an app for that! I don't have an Apple iPhone so I can't vouch for idMushroom but I'm going to bookmark their reference page, it looks like another nice resource.

There is lots of good information available on the internet, too, like Mykoweb, Mushroom Observer, DavidFischer's American Mushrooms, and Mushroom Expert. In the case of foraging for wild mushrooms, I don't think there's anything approaching 'too much information.' Just read the horror stories about misidentification and you probably won't either.

And then there are the outdoor bloggers and foragers, and chefs and home cooks who share their tales and recipes... we'll save them for next time.

"Honey, do I need a disclaimer here to, you know, tell people not to eat things they can't positively identify? 
Or maybe it would be enough to post a 'Darwin loves mushrooms' sign?"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

japanese eggplant harvest

Eggplant?! Really?! Meh.

Our first real harvest (albeit modest) is Ichiban eggplant from a patio pot. Sliced and dressed up with a little olive oil, fresh garlic and salt & pepper, they'll join green onions on the grill to accompany buttermilk-soaked pheasant for dinner tonight. A good bottle of wine and baguette should round out things nicely.

 Not a great time to grill, though. It's 104 with SW winds of ~29 mph; the poor chard is wilting in the onslaught. We have yet to harvest anything from the main garden although the first zucchini and yellow squash are only a few days away. Time to go through our ratatouille recipes to see which one we'll try first... or maybe we have some green chile from last year and can get fresh corn for calabacitas... oh, the possibilities.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A New Garden Tool

What's in your garden basket?

That, my friends, is a Tomita Japanese Hori Hori Garden Landscaping Digging Tool With Stainless Steel Blade. Along with my not-quite-finished garden map and an up-to-date garden book, this will be traveling into the garden with me on a daily basis.

"Specialty knife of function blade Made in Japan. Nisahu" 
Truth be told, I had never heard of this 'diggy diggy' wonder before it was taken out of its bubble wrap and presented to me by a grinning M. He had read about this Japanese favorite and its many uses a while ago and thought it might make my gardening life a little easier. As advertised, "Whether digging up pesky weeds, cutting out stubborn roots, or planting your favorite bulbs, gardening dilemmas soon disappear. With the Hori Hori, modern design is certainly the gardeners' indulgence."  Cool.

Combined with the cheerful bio-weapons that just arrived, this new tickler nearly completes my garden arsenal. Now where did I put that literature on silent .22 air rifles...?

Thursday, June 16, 2011


They came in a fairly innocuous box. Temporarily housed in a cheesecloth bag,

they nested snugly in a raffia matrix. 

Invited to dine, they now breakfast in Japantown (Ichiban Eggplant)

and over in the barrio (tomatillos).

At Sol's place (giant sunflower), it's catch-and-carry.

bon app├ętit!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ladybirds, ladybugs

Today's mail:

Per the enclosed instructions, the ladybird beetles are resting quietly in the refrigerator before their debut this evening. It was 99 degrees when USPS dropped them at the door so they have a few hours to chill out before it's safe to release them. The garden will appreciate a little extra water as we all share a welcoming toast to our ~4500 new residents. Of course, they won't all move in tonight -- the instructions say to stagger their release over several days -- and there are more coming from a different source (comparisons will be posted). I'm hoping for some fun photo opportunities; good thing I figured out how to set up the 'continuous shoot' mode on the new camera.

"Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home; your house is on fire, your children do roam..." At least within the limits of Smallish Small City they won't have to worry about that fate.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lawn-to-Garden Project: Before and After

When we started looking for a place to call home in Smallish Small City we were surprised at how much house our dollars could buy, at least compared to our former urban location. In the end, it wasn't about the square footage of the house, it was about how much yard we could get and still be close to M's work (his commute, on foot, is 20 minutes). The house we bought was the last one we looked at on the first of three house-hunting days; it stood out because it was cool in a pueblo revival/pueblo-deco kind of way, but it was the yard that cinched it for us.

This photo was taken in October 2010, before we knew we were going to make an offer on the house. Note the sad little tufts of pampas grass and spindly Spanish Broom* in the sea of grass and weeds. In our minds' eyes, however, we saw a big vegetable garden, flower beds and plenty of space for the cats and dog to play. This series of Lawn-to-Garden (L2G) posts are about how that came about.
Why yes, that is Burmuda Grass. The first time we ran a tiller over that part of the yard it sighed and thanked us for the thatching.  "More dakka!" we cried, and returned the wimpy rent-a-scratcher. We then noted that it was 97 degrees out and opted for a Shiner and some extra time to figure out the best course of action.  M came back from work one day to find I had taken the simple path...
That's a pick in the lower right-hand corner of the plot outline. As I hewed my way across the yard I channeled my inner Tom Sawyer, "...hey, this is an intense functional activity not everyone has access to, maybe if we charged $5 per 30 minute session, the local CrossFit community could finish this quickly and cover the costs of straw and mulch as well..." Amazing what goes through your head when you're not used to doing this kind of work. We eventually got it all turned and tilled.

Fast forward to June 2011. There are fruit trees and a 1000+ sqft vegetable garden; the wall has been restuccoed; the shed torn down and another built out of our line-of-sight; there are glads and irises in the near beds; and, of course, we've added a mobile pool as an oasis for the 100 pound Chessie.
That's the short version, anyway. Next in the L2G catch-up posts: Talkin' Dirt-y.

*No plants were harmed in the making of this veggie garden; they were lovingly transplanted to a neighbor's yard.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


It's been hot here; we're looking at 100+ degrees for the next 7 days with no moisture in the near future. We're still learning how to garden in these searing conditions so... um... I'll admit it...mistakes were made. Now we have bugs.

No, not beetles. That is a happy little 'infestation' at a local park today and I'm pretty sure it will clear up without intervention.

This is what we've got lurking in our sunflowers and tarragon, two potted plants that were a under-watered and over-stressed, making them easy targets for bugs and disease. Whether these are mites or aphids the treatment will be the same.
I should have known better: this unrelenting heat, combined with dessicating winds, is scorching petals on the gladiolus in a matter of hours. Fine tuning the watering schedule in this new-to-us place will take some time, I just hope there aren't any more plant casualties. In the meantime, the ladybug brigade will take a few days to arrive so I 'm off to fetch the pyrethrins.