Sunday, October 14, 2018

October 14, 2018 Closing down the garden

We are now someplace else. Yesterday we flew off to Virginia. We had some good seafood, said hello to the ocean, and spent a quiet evening reading mystery novels. We are staying in the house where my father was born. We have gotten away for a week.

Back in Iowa....
The outside is almost done.
Dry weather finally arrived, after 11 inches of rain in a week. That was the rain total in my rain gauge during that first ten days of October. "Officially" it was more like 6 inches.
With the dry weather comes the cold. My goodness we have had swings these last two weeks. It was 87 and 80 the last two Wednesdays. Thursday night got down to 38. The forecast had been 33. With the cooler temperatures came a wind. We went from no jackets with the windows open to a light jacket to a heavier jacket.
There has been a 29 in the forecast scheduled for Monday night. (Actually as I look this morning that is now only 31.)
An actual freeze means no indoor plant can be outside. Many will shelter in a garage. Perhaps it was not be that cold. Perhaps they can go back outside for a few more weeks after that cold weather has past. But the expected lows for the week are likely to stay in the 30's.

Midweek there was one day when the sun came out when we went home for lunch. These lovely fall crocuses were out. What an unexpected surprise.

The Japanese anemones have hung around to the end.

This tiny cactus on our window sill bloomed this week.

Here are a few last zinnias. I should not be so pessimistic. It may officially get to 29 in the low lying areas. But sometimes the fact we are not in a low area, and there are still leaves on some of the trees, means our flowers miss the frost.
I really do love speckles.

Solid colors can be good.

I really like the shapes of the individual flowers on the annual asclepias.

Here is an enlargement from  the anemone picture.

Julia's recipe
Middle-Eastern (I think) Beets

I like beets - plain or marinated in green salads, pickled with or without the addition of onions, even Harvard beets although they are a little fussy. Several years ago, when Katie lived in Brooklyn (NY, not IA), we visited her and had dinner in a Middle-Eastern (maybe Iranian) restaurant in Manhattan, somewhere near the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as I recall, where we had a lovely dinner including a dish of beets and yogurt and mint. When we came home, we tried to replicate it but it was not the same. More recently, with some extra beets on hand (an impulse purchase at the farmer's market), I tried again, and we liked the result. Probably not as good as the restaurant version but quite tasty and easy.

Here are the players: 6 medium-sized beets (about 3 cups), 2 scallions (about 1/4 cup), 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup chopped mint, salt and pepper. That's it.

I started by simmering the beets in water (boiling stage first, then turned down). The beets were done when they could be easily pierced with a knife. This can take as long of 45 minutes, depending on the size of the beets. Make sure the beets are covered with water as they cook, as this will make slipping the skins easier.

When the beets were done, I cooled them under cool water and slipped the skins off. This needs to be done promptly or the skins will become harder to remove. Actually, I let the water boil down and there were a few spots on some of the beets where the skins would not slip off, so I used a carrot peeler to remove the stubborn patches of beet skin.

Then I cut the beets into little cubes - about 1/2" pieces. I ended up with about 3 cups of beet cubes.

I put the beet cubes in a bowl, and cleaned and chopped up the scallions, slicing them in half lengthwise and then into thin slices crosswise. I ended up with about 1/4 cup of scallion bits.

Then I washed, dried, sorted and sliced the mint. In my store, the mint leaves came attached to stems. And a few of the leaves were bruised, hence the sorting. I rinsed the leaves and patted them dry, then stacked up the leaves and sliced across. I ended up with about 1/2 cup of mint leaf pieces.

I added the scallions to the bowl and then started adding sour cream. I started with about 3/4 cup, but that was not enough, so I used a full 1 cup. After I added most of the sour cream, I added the mint and then the last of the sour cream. Last, I added about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Here is the finished salad in a nice bowl. It is bland and earthy and tangy and minty all at the same time. And pink!

This salad would be good with a vaguely Middle Eastern dinner of lamb kabobs or pitas or with a vaguely Indian dinner of curries. We served it one night when we were having the last hamburgers on the grill dinner, so as a side, this dish is versatile. Especially if you have made an impulse purchase of beets.

Odds and Ends

Here is lower City Park last Sunday.

I find it interesting how some hosta hold up well into the fall, and some not.
This is hosta June. It is one of the best.

Here are coleus cuttings.
I will bring in cuttings from several annuals each fall. The grow and multiply during the winter, and then go out in May.

If it were not to freeze or even have a frost until we return in a week, I will get more cuttings. Why not?
Coleus root quite easily. Little plants are easier to keep over the winter.

Slowly the plants fill up the house. Here are some of the smaller crotons.

Here is the Zinnia patch on Thursday. I wonder if they will survive the week.

The zinnias actually get a little more sun this time of year as the leaves slowly fall from the elm tree overhead.

That is it for this week. We are off to the east coast to enjoy some seafood and the beach in Virginia. We plan to top off the week with a trip to Longwood Gardens.
We will return to Iowa next Saturday.
I will see whether the freeze actually came as predicted.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

October 7, 2018 A lot of rain

It is the kind of weather for frogs and toads.

We have been through historic floods in Iowa City. There was 1993. There was 2008. Each caused much damage, disrupting our city and our state. Some of the buildings at the University, destroyed in 2008, have just been replaced, with the new buildings just having opened in the last year or two.

We can all remember  details.
In 1993 there was a very wet June and then again in July. I think there was 15 inches of rain each month. The worst flooding in the neighborhood came after 4 inch rainfalls bookending one week.

In 2008 the flood literally came down the river. We have a  reservoir about 10 miles upstream from Iowa City. It is intended to hold lots of water, and then gradually release it downstream. When a whole bunch of rain flooded downtown Cedar Rapids (which is 25 miles north) the reservoir held off the immediate effect in Iowa City for a few days. Then there was sort of scheduled flooding. There were predictions that the river that runs through Iowa City would just keep rising over the next 4-5 days. It did and there was the 500 year flood.

(I should add that our house is well above the nearby creek, and well away from the river. We are not in danger from the flood, other than the expected wet basement from the rain.)

The question at the moment is are we heading in that direction again.

It has been wet. We had 7 inches of rain for the months of August and September. But it was dry at times. I even had the garden hose out at times when there would be several weeks of hot dry weather.

We had maybe one third of an inch in the first 4 days of October. That was this past week. There were even 2 days of sunshine the middle of the week. I had a trial during that time. One day when we finished by 4 o'clock, that was just in time for the judge to go mow her lawn.

I did not particularly feel it was necessary to check or empty my rain gauge.
Towns to the north of us, one place being Waterloo, has had a lot of rain in the last month. But the rivers from up north come down here. They are full and the reservoir north of town is getting full.
I noticed  on Wednesday when I went to Cedar Rapids, that the reservoir was higher than it had been in a while. The Corps of engineers, who run the reservoir, had been opening the gates a little, permitting  the river in Iowa City to actually come a little out of its banks in places, mostly places without homes.

Then there was last night (Friday) . It had started raining about dinner time, but it was not too heavy. About the time we went to bed it was raining steadily, but not enough to even think about. There was no severe thunderstorm. I did see the radar at one point.  There was one big red dot over Iowa City. In addition the entire line of showers was just coming right through town, going from west to east, with the long line staying over our town.

When we got up there was water in the basement, but not that much. It seemed to have come in through the garage. That meant the water was rushing down the street in such a stream at some point, that it pushed into the driveway and then the garage, and then the room off the garage.

And it was wet out. The wood chip paths in the garden were washed out in places.
Our neighbor Bob asked if I had checked the rain gauge. His only went to 5 inches, and it was full. I went out and checked ours. It seems so official to have your own rain gauge.
It  measures up to 7 inches. Well, it measured  6.5 inches.
We had just had 6 inches of rain in our part of Iowa City in 12 hours of time. That is more rain than I can ever remember. (I was disappointed that the official total was more like 3.5.)
Lower City Park is now completely flooded. The newly raised Dubuque Street is working like the levy it is suppose to be.
But the most ominous sign, is that it is suppose to rain all this coming week.

UPDATE-  It is Sunday morning and I am about to publish this. It is raining.

So how is the garden?
Mostly I am not working in the garden. Days are shorter. Work is busy. And the weekend is wet. I was limited yesterday to a few walk throughs to take some pictures and pick up the biggest sticks. Today does not look like a garden day either.

I suppose it is fitting that with all that wet the toad lilies are spectacular. At this point the toad flowers are all up and down each stem.

Here is one of the nice lines of toad flowers.

Most everything else is fading.
The zinnias took a beating with all that rain.
The anemones still have a few flowers.
Here were pictures taken last Sunday.

This last cactus flower chose last night (Friday) to open. It was not the best choice. But it gamely went through the day (Saturday) , mostly being open.

Julia's recipe
Scallops in Mustard Sauce

When the children were young, they liked scallops. I am not sure why scallops, as opposed to, say, shrimp, but it was scallops. We liked scallops too, and so I have several scallop recipes, two of which have appeared in this space before. Here is another. It is pretty much straight from a cookbook by Pierre Franey called More 60-Minute Gourmet, published in 1981. We have two of his cookbooks, and they contain a number of recipes that are fast and tasty. He is more interested in chicken liver cuisine than I am, but that's a mere quibble.

Here are the ingredients: 3/4 lb. small scallops, butter, 1 cup of whipping cream, wine vinegar, dijon-type mustard, 1 tablespoon of  finely chopped onion (in this case, red onion), salt and pepper.

I put 1 tablespoon of butter in a skillet and when it was melted, I added the onion (1 tablespoon, finely chopped). Pierre used shallot. I don't have shallots on hand. I think scallion or any kind of onion would be fine.

When the onion was softened, I added 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar. Red or white - I had white.

I cooked the onion, butter and vinegar mixture over medium high heat until the vinegar was almost evaporated, as shown.

Then I added the cup of whipping cream and let the mixture cook away on higher than medium high heat, stirring more or less constantly, until it was reduced by half. "Reduced by half" is not an exact term actually. You will have big bubbles and lots of boiling. Let that go on for maybe 3 or 4 minutes.

Then I added the scallops (which I had drained) and a pinch of salt. I reduced the heat to medium high and cooked the scallops for 2 minutes, stirring the scallops so they cooked evenly.

Then I took the skillet off the heat and squirted in about 1 tablespoon of fancy (that is, not bright yellow) mustard. Could be dijon, could be German. Off the heat, I stirred the mustard in, added a few grinds of black pepper, and dinner was ready.

Here it is in a bowl. We served it over little pasta shells, which have the advantage of hanging onto the sauce, which is delicious. Long pasta would work or other shaped pasta or rice.

We make this dish with scallops, but if you have medium (not bigger than that) shrimp, peeled and deveined or crab meat, they would work just fine instead of scallops with no adjustments needed.

This is not diet food, but that is okay with me. If you feel the need for something righteous, serve kale on the side. By the way, Philip says he likes the sauce so much he would eat it on toast, but he always says that. There was enough left over for one person's lunch, but not on toast.

Odds and Ends

The plant sale for Democrats continues on the back driveway. One of the two very large jade plants for sale is still left. If you ever wanted one that is already quite big, this is the time.

This is the bud of one of the cattleya orchids. It does usually bloom this time of year. Maybe it will bloom by the end of the week.

There are temperatures now predicted for the mid to lower 30's for the end of the week, when the rain finally slows down.
I do not know how many of the orchids can stay outside.

The plant migration continues. Some of the orchids will go to the office today
Several big plants went to church yesterday.

I got some really on-sale pansies yesterday. I am not sure when the ground will allow me to plant them.

That is it for me.
We are on the road next week. We will try to send a post, but we will be at the mercy of a wifi that does not get used much.


Sunday, September 30, 2018

September 30, 2018- September is almost gone

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Today in Iowa it barely got to 50 degrees as a high temperature. That was after it dipped down to 45 last night. I suppose we should be glad it did not get down to the 36 degrees that had been predicted.
This was the second day in a row where it seemed as if you wanted more than just a light jacket. Now, later in the afternoon, it has started to rain. It is not a heavy rain. That was earlier in the week when we had 1.8 inches in less than an hour. I can speak with such precision because I do now have a rain gage.

I was able to get out and do some gardening this morning. It seems like my gardening time this time of the year is more and more limited to just the weekends.

I am still planting a few things that have been in pots all year.
Between that and weeding there certainly is plenty to do.
Today we also went and looked at the sales at one of the garden centers. I wound up getting 3 more very colorful coneflowers. My, they are doing great things these days with different colors. I got 2 very nice yellow ones, still in bloom of course. Then I got one of those red ones as a contrast. I put them all together in an area where I had already planted some coneflowers. I will have a little group of different colored coneflowers next year. This will be a new area for the garden. I can imagine it expanding, in a definite land grab, seeking to take sunny places away from the daylilies.

It is now time to at least begin to think about the fall plant migration. I think there must be close to 200 plants that will begin coming inside. Some are quite large.

The very first plant to come in was the wonderful air plant globe.
It is now in its winter location, which is right above the kitchen sink.

The "plant" really is a collective of many airplants strung together into a globe.
Here it is close-up. It still has the bright red plants that turned that color when they bloomed several weeks ago.

One of the single airplants is still outside, preparing to bloom.
There will be pictures next week I hope.

We will start taking several plants each day to the office. All the window sills there get filled up. (There are 4 offices with south facing windows.) There is also a light stand, where some of the shorter orchids will go.

But in the cool dreary late afternoon it is good to remember what it was like just about a week ago, when there was plenty of sunshine.

This was written on Sunday after noon, September 23.

It is always a good thing to remember that no matter how well you know something, you may be wrong. Maybe I am being hard on myself.
How about no matter how well you know something, you can be surprised.

I have now had my bigger Night Blooming Cereus for maybe ten years. Actually there is a blog post for August 12, 2012 when I first noticed a bud on the plant. I wrote that it had never bloomed before, despite my having had the plant for 5-8 years. It bloomed on August 20, 2012. I have the picture even though I did not put it in a post at the time. (Sometimes I would go dormant for times in the summer.)
So I guess it has been  blooming for me for the last seven years. It always would open about an hour after dark, and be done by morning. It was frustrating because it was not open for people to see. (Other than the neighbors I would sometimes go get to come view it in the dark.)
So it was about to bloom Saturday night I thought. I checked about 9 p.m. and the 9 buds had not started to open.
Well, the next morning, that would have been last Sunday morning, I looked and 4 were not only open, but were fully open as of 8 am. It was no coincidence that it was close to 50 degrees.

So for the first time, ever, I was able to take pictures during the daytime.
Particularly with the perfect weather, it was rather grand.

Here are other pictures

This picture was taken about 7 in the morning. The flower actually had not fully opened.

Even a week later I cannot get over having an opportunity to photograph this lovely flower with a background of a blue sky.

Here you get an idea of this flowering plant hanging from the Walnut tree.

I should add that Monday morning was also cool. It at least started with lots of sun and blue sky.
The remaining flowers opened that morning.

People who had never seen it blooming were finally able to see it.

Last Sunday this monarch appeared with the zinnias. I have found these butterflies do like zinnias. I find the colors on this butterfly are amazing. And the spots. The colors look like the came from some ancient Greek pot. The zinnia is not bad either.

Here are pictures from this weekend.

This is the yellow toad lily in full bloom.
If you are in the neighborhood it is under the walnut tree in the front yard.
It really is striking, standing out with its color even when viewed from the second floor of our house. Yellow is such an unusual color for a toad lily.
Lemon Twist is the name of the variety.

The really and truly last daylily of the season bloomed for the last time. There had been two buds, the first having bloomed about a week ago.
As I would have expected, since the temperature did not get above 55 for the 48 hour period, the flower absolutely bloomed for 2 days. This morning (Sunday) we will see about a third day. I think that will be pushing it.
But remember, they are called daylilies. They are named that because they only bloom for one day.

This fall bloomer is call Turtle head.

Here are the spent flowers from the NBC, 5-6 days after they bloomed.

While you are looking at the Night Blooming Cereus, 5-6 days later, let me show you, for comparison purposes, the two varieties I now have.

The Zinnias continue to provide much beauty.

Julia's Recipe

We make ratatouille in the late summer and early fall when lots of vegetables are available. I understand that this is a classic French rustic dish, and I am not French although perhaps rustic. So, as usual, I disclaim authenticity. I probably consulted a cookbook at some point early in my ratatouille-making years, but not for a long time. This dish does not require a precise recipe, just a bunch of vegetables, a willingness to chop them up and an oven.

One day recently, we had been to the farmers' market and come home with: a large eggplant, 2 medium-large zucchini, a big jalapeno pepper, 2 onions, 2 bell peppers, and a small head of garlic. Late summer and early fall in Iowa means that all of these vegetables were at the farmers' market.

I also used 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, some olive oil, some kosher salt and a bit of leftover wine. These things were not at the farmers' market.

I washed the eggplant, zucchini, jalapeno and bell peppers. I cleaned the peppers (being careful with the jalapeno) and cut the ends off the zucchini and eggplant. I peeled the onions and also peeled the garlic cloves (about 8 small cloves). I did not peel the eggplant, as I had bought it at the market so I knew it would not be bitter. If you are not sure about how long the eggplant had to travel to get to you, you might peel it.

First, I turned the oven on to 475 degrees. It suddenly turned chilly here this week, so it was just fine to heat up the oven and the kitchen.

I cut everything up into chunks or slices: 3/4" (or so) cubes of eggplant, 3/4-1" squares of bell pepper, 1/4-1/2" half moons of onion and 1/4" half moons of jalapeno, 1/4" slices of zucchini. I left the (peeled) garlic cloves whole.  As I went along, I dumped the chopped up vegetables into a bowl, added about 1 tablespoon of olive oil (2 tablespoons to the bowl of eggplant cubes) and about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and stirred it up. I had two full bowls of vegetable chunks, and used about 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoons of salt, using slightly more olive oil in the bowlful with the eggplant.

After mixing the oil and salt into the vegetable pieces, I dumped the pieces onto large rimmed baking sheets with silicon baking mats. Parchment would work too. I ended up with two pans full. 

Here are the pans in the oven: a pan with mostly eggplant on the bottom and a pan with the zucchini, onion and bell peppers on the top. It took about 40-45 minutes to roast the vegetables. Part way through, I rotated the pans, top to bottom, front to back. Now and then, I looked at the vegetables and stirred around.

As the eggplant shrank down, I added some of the onions and peppers to that sheet pan. Interestingly enough, the eggplant was done first (after maybe 25-30 minutes), and the zucchini last (after about 40-45 minutes).

When the eggplant was done (that is, a bit brown on the bottom and shrunken in size), I poured it into a 12" no-stick skillet, turned off, to await the rest of the veggies. After the first sheet pan was more or less empty, I redistributed the rest of the vegetables and put them back in the oven.

Here is the skillet, with all of the vegetables. I had already added the can of diced tomatoes, which I rinsed out with about 1/2 can of water.

I cooked the mixture on the stove for about 10 minutes on medium high heat. It began to dry out so I added the end of a bottle of dry white wine - only about 1/2 cup was left.

When the vegetables were heated through and combined, it was ready to eat. We served it with little pasta shells and Parmesan cheese. We have served it with rice. Sometimes, we have served it with poached eggs on top, one per serving.

You will have observed that the only seasoning is salt. True. It is nonetheless a very flavorful dish, and it tastes like roasted vegetables.

You will also have observed that I did not provide measurements for the chopped up vegetables. It is not a measure-everything kind of dish. I think all of the vegetables are good participants, but proportions can vary by what you have and what you like. More or less zucchini or more or less bell peppers - just fine. Leave out the jalapeno if you're worried about heat. Use other summer squash if that's what you have.

As one might expect, the leftovers are good. Philip sometimes eats his cold; I prefer mine heated up.

Odds and Ends

This is a little tiny cactus we got a month ago. It came with a little bud. That bud is about to open. I anticipate the flower will be bigger than the plant.

It is still a time of anticipation in the garden.

3 of the other variety of Night Blooming Cereus still have a few buds. Here is one.

Here is a bud on the biggest of the cactus.

As we age I assume we all struggle with forgetting where we put things. That has been true for me in the garden for a while. Where are those red handled clippers? Where did I put the trowel?

Well, I have found that the flip side of losing something, is the joy at finding it. (At least you hope you will find the things you lose.)
I had a little potted cutting from one of my favorite crotons. It had been outside. I wanted to bring it in, but not quite yet. So I got it out of the ground and set it down somewhere. Then of course I could not find it. I looked and looked and looked.
Finding it several days later made my day, at least for a few hours.

I have started my plant sale for Democrats. The sign went up yesterday. At the end of the first day I had sold over $100. This is absolutely a win-win situation. I raise money for Democrats. I also do not have to bring some of those plants inside, and they find good homes.
Come by if you have not already done so. The plants are in the back driveway. 1507 E. College St. Prices are marked. If I am not home you can leave the money in the mailbox, by the front porch. The plants will be out there until they are sold or brought into the house when it is too cold.
I am selling several of the large Jade plants. I will even part with one of the Night Blooming Cereus, with bud, if you come soon.

Have a safe week.
Better times are coming.