Sunday, December 16, 2018

Week #3 December 16, 2018

Welcome from far away.
We are in Palm Springs, California, this weekend, at a wedding for Julia's nephew.
It is different here.
We knew that when much of the airport did not need to have a roof.
Then we noticed that there was this brilliant red bougainvillea everywhere. I think this was in a gas station.

On that first day here we found a lovely garden that was open to the public. I do not want you to be surprised but it was some very rich person's place. But it was late in the afternoon and the sunlight was getting to be just the best angle.

Those are barrel cactus plants. I must confess that walking around in shorts and seeing these cactus plants was more refreshing that I thought it would be.

The succulents were enormous.

But now let me get to the Winter Picture contest for Week #3.

Here is your winner from Week 2.
You have certainly favored vibrant colors these first two weeks.
The Magnolia held its own for the first day. Then the purple iris ran away to an easy win.

Here was the full  voting.

Week #2
Tricolor crocus819%
Star Magnolia921%
Dutchman's breeches37%
Orange lily37%
Purple Iris1945%
Total votes42

Here is Week #3

#1 Epimedium brevicornu (May 1, 2018)


I love all the epimedium. They are a little difficult to photograph. The flowers are so tiny. They come in white and pink and yellow, and purple to think of a few.
This variety gets to be about 15-18 inches high.
It is from someplace else- well China, to be exact.

2- Iris cristata (May 10, 2018)

This is a little tiny iris. It is also a wildflower. It grows along the top of the ground, barely getting into the dirt. I have found it to be quite hardy. It spreads nicely.
It blooms before the Siberian Iris, usually in late April and early May.

3. Black Daylily with raindrops (July 14, 2018)

Black is an interesting color to consider in the garden. It is certainly dramatic.
This daylily is about as close to black as they come.
Daylilies after a rain make for wonderful pictures.

The daylilies were quite late this year.

#4 Striped Morning glory (September 7, 2018)

This bloomed on my birthday.
The variety is called Carnevale Di Venezia.
Morning glories are wonderful in the later part of the garden year. They do need supports, growing up a trellis or even into a small tree. I got a lot of foliage on the one at the end of the porch. The ratio of bloom to green could have been better.

Do you know where morning glories comes from? I didn't until I had a little bit of extra time for this post. Wikipedia says China. But the Japanese are credited with developing it into an ornamental flower. In the 9th century. In addition that definitive source says that there was a variety in Mesoamerica.
Who knew?
Here is the link

#5 Wide open tulip (May 3, 2018)

During the day most tulips open wide. They can be quite amusing by the time they are all the way open. It doesn't look like a tulip at all. It is looks like some kind of crazy daisy.

So there you have Week #3. Tell me why you like a particular picture.

Bonus pictures

Some more wide open tulips.

Any flower with bluebells is good.

This is a black dwarf bearded iris.

Here are more epimedium pictures.
As I look at these pictures I think about getting a camera just for these tiny flowers.
But I guess we all make choices.
Probably I should get another dogwood or two.

Here are more desert garden pictures. It does want to make you go get a few more succulents to put under the lights for 6 months of the year. Really?
Maybe I should plant all my cactus in the ground in rows.
If you are interested the name of this place was Sunnyland, and it is located in Palm Desert, California. They get about 6 inches of rain here each year. I could not tell and did not ask how much additional water their collection was given.

Julia's Recipe
Pineapple Salsa

We first had this side-dish/condiment at dinner at the home of Barb and Larry, Iowa City friends who have since moved to Portland OR. They served it, as I recall, with salmon, and we do too. We make the salmon plain; that is, rubbed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt and that's it. Bake in a 400 degree oven until it registers 120 degrees on an instant read thermometer. But today is actually all about the salsa.

Here are the ingredients: 1 fresh pineapple, 1 red onion (I used 1/2 of it), 1 orange pepper (red would be good too), 1 jalapeno pepper, 1 banana, kosher salt, ground cumin, cumin seeds and lime juice.

I started by cutting up the pineapple. I took off both ends, then cut it in half lengthwise, then cut each 1/2 into 1/4s. As shown, I cut out the piece of core from each piece (which is okay to eat, but a bit tough), then cut each piece in half lengthwise and then cut across into vaguely pineapple tidbit shapes. I ended up with about 3 cups of cut-up pineapple.

I then cleaned and diced 1/2 of the red onion (for about 1/2 cup), cleaned and diced the orange pepper (for about 3/4 cup) and cleaned and sliced the jalapeno (for about 1/4 cup).

A word to the wise about jalapenos: they are variable, sometimes quite hot, sometimes not so much. If you are sensitive about hot stuff on your hands or if you are the sort of person who rubs their nose or eyes a lot, wear gloves when you prep the jalapeno. Use plastic bags if you don't have gloves. This is not brain surgery and clumsy gloves will provide protection and not interfere with your cutting-up work.

Then I peeled the banana, cut it in half lengthwise and cut across into half-moons (for about 1 cup).

Everything went into a big bowl. Then I sprinkled on: 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 1 tablespoon of lime juice.

I stirred it up and let it sit on the counter until dinner to facilitate the intermingling of the fruits and vegetables.

Here it is, on its way to the dinner table. It is terrific with plain roasted salmon. Also good with baked chicken or roast pork. The key would be to prepare the meat simply so that the flavors of the salsa have a chance to shine. Philip eats it plain out of a bowl.

Right Now

This time of year there are poinsettias in all the grocery stores.
We get one every fall.
We then try to keep it alive until it can go outside along with all the other plants.
We have one that is now 4 feet tall and about 5 years old.
We bring it in and try to make it turn color.
It is supposed to be kept away from all artificial light.
Well, this week we noticed...the first color.
Sometimes it is the little things that are really appreciated.

Odds and Ends

It has been a short week in Iowa.
On Tuesday I had an oral argument to the Iowa Supreme Court in Des Moines.
By Thursday we were on another planet.
We will be home today. It is supposed to be in the 40's and sunny. Not bad for Iowa.

There are now 95 days until the official first day of Spring.

I still have more pumpkins to carve.
I noticed that several were dripping this week, as the weather warmed.
No one has pumpkins in their trees in California.

Be safe.
Stay warm.
Better times are coming.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Week #2- Winter Picture Contest December 9, 2018

Welcome back to week 2 of the picture contest.

We are now well into December.
We are also done with Week #1 of the picture contest.
It is still cold, but not very cold. That will still come. It always seems to come right after Christmas.
Winter seems to have been here a while.
But Winter in Iowa is just getting started. Winter is young. Isn't that a unusual phrase. Mostly we think of winter as old, as in Old Man Winter.

But November is over.
It is now only 12 days until the solstice. At that point the days will get longer.
It is 102 days until the first day of Spring.
In my garden I sometimes think of time as measured by inside time and outside time. I am referring of course to when the many plants can go back outside. Inside time this year started about mid October. (Our first hard freeze was Sunday morning, October 20.) Outside time starts about April 1. Inside time lasts by that measure 163 days. We are 50 days into that time. We are 31% through that time. That is progress.
It is 25 days until the new Congress convenes in Washington. Can anyone say "tax returns"?
There are some things between mid January and mid April.
There will be the start of baseball spring training.
There will be the time to plant the first seeds for spring.
There will be the time to order the first seeds to plant for the spring.
Actually that could be any day now.
Big Zinnias will top the list.

In last week's voting the winner was the pink tulip.
What a wonderful color.
This picture will advance to the next round of competition sometime in February or March.

The totals were
Pink Tulip 13 for 30%
Red and Yellow Zinnia 9 for 20%
San Ignacio Daylily 8 for 18%
Blue Chionodoxa  7 for 16%
Winter Aconite in the snow  7 for 16%

Imagine being in Maine and having rank ordered voting. If there were 5 candidates running how long would it take to figure out between 3 and 4. What if you could just vote for 2?
But this is not Maine.
You can just vote for one.

Week 2

#1  Tricolor crocus (March 30, 2018)

Crocuses are so welcome when they arrive. The very early flowers can show up before winter is really over. When the crocuses get here usually spring is very close.
This is a crocus called tricolor. You can see why.
When the first flowers show up, not long after that are the first bees. I think about Noah's ark at that point. I hope you are with me on this one. The first bee wakes up and goes to see if there is any reason to get up yet. If there are flowers the bee goes back and lets everyone else know it is time.

Star Magnolia  (April 25, 2018)

We have a little star magnolia tree in the backyard. We must have had it for 20 years. It blooms each spring right about in the middle of spring. It is about the first of the blooming trees. I have pictures on my computer going back to 2003. I looked at the pictures of the tree to see when it bloomed over the years.
The earliest picture was from 2012 and was taken March 18.
This year, April 25, 2018, was clearly the latest.
Please look at the pictures in the bonus section below.

#3 Dutchman's Breeches (April 26, 2018)

I love the early woodland spring flowers. This of course is Dutchman's breeches. It grows by the thousands in the woods. We got a start of the Dutchman's breeches a long time ago. They spread, but not in an invasive way.  I now have a reliable group in the raised bed by the back driveway. They are established enough that I can transplant a few each year. The foliage is lovely and feathery. The flowers really do look like pants hung up to dry on a clothesline.
They are a little tricky to grow however. They, like so many other spring flowers,  disappear by June 1. At that point you have to make sure you do not disturb them by planting something right on top of them.

#4  Orange Asiatic lily (June 28, 2018)

Here is one of the pictures this week that is all about color. Here you have orange.
This flower is one of lilium  that I sprinkle around the garden. This group of bulbs includes the Asiatic lilies, that are the first to bloom. They start in June. Then there are the Trumpet lilies and the Oriental lilies. These lilies can be crossbred with other lilium. That means you can get a combination of an Oriental lily and a Trumpet lily. It will be called an Orientpet. It could have been called a Trumpal but that must have been ruled out.

#5  Purple Iris (May 20, 2018)

This is a Siberian Iris. The variety is called Jewelled Crown.
I love iris. They come in so many shapes and sizes. The little riticulata are some of the first flowers in March. The Japanese Iris are the last variety to bloom. Sometimes that is as late as July. You really can sometime have five months  of different kinds of iris.
I divided the clump in 2016. It usually takes 2 years to recover from the shock. This coming year they should do well.

Bonus Pictures

April 12, 2011

Here are pictures of the blooming Star Magnolia over the years. This will give you an idea of how the Springs are so different from year to year.
In the first picture you can see the daffodils blooming. The Star Magnolia does not bloom until Spring is quite organized.
The dates range from the very early in 2012 to the quite late date in 2018.

2018 was perhaps the latest I can remember.

March 18, 2012

April 3, 2016

April 25, 2018

Here is another picture of the star magnolia. I love any picture with a blue background.

Here is a group of crocus pictures from 2018.

Here are some of the Dutchman's breeches at Ryerson Woods, the park by the County Fairgrounds which is one of our favorite places to go in the Spring. In this first picture you see the breeches with some Mayapples.

They grow in very large numbers.
This is really something to look forward to.

Julia's recipe
Turkey Tetrazinni

All of Julia's recipes for the last two years can be found at

We always buy a bigger turkey than would be strictly necessary for the sake of having leftover turkey. Someday I will tell you in detail about the year we pre-ordered a turkey from a novice raiser of turkeys who did not know (neither did we) that turkeys will get bigger and bigger until they are butchered. We ended up with a 33-34 pound turkey, which was apparently on the small side of the novice turkey raiser's crop. It was a cooking adventure, although finally delicious, and we had leftovers in the freezer into the spring. There are many lovely things to do with leftover turkey, including curry and vaguely Asian stir-fry dishes and soups. We like tetrazzini, and we make it every year after Thanksgiving and later in the winter. This recipe is adapted from my oldest Joy of Cooking.

Here are the ingredients: 3 cups of cooked turkey, 4 cups of cooked little pasta shells, 1 lb. of white button mushrooms, some leftover turkey gravy, some turkey stock, half and half, white wine, parmesan cheese, panko breadcrumbs and butter and salt and pepper (not pictured).

If you don't have leftover turkey gravy, not to worry. You can make a white sauce instead, which I will get to below.

I had some pasta shells in the refrigerator so I used them. You could use any kind of shape pasta or spaghetti - about 1/2 lb. or maybe a little more. If you don't have leftover turkey, you could buy a cooked chicken at the grocery store and obtain your leftover poultry that way.

I started washing and slicing all of the mushrooms. Then I melted 3 tablespoons of butter in a big skillet and dumped in the mushrooms. I stirred them up and added maybe 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. I cooked the mushrooms over medium-high heat.

I lubed up a 9" x 13" baking dish and turned the oven on to 350 degrees.

When the mushrooms had released some liquid and shrunk some, I added the shells to the pan and mixed them together. I turned the big skillet to low.

In another pan, I heated up 1 cup of leftover turkey gravy and added 1 cup of turkey stock. When it was bubbly, I took it off the heat and whisked in about 1/2 cup of half and half and 1/4 cup of white wine. You could use more dairy and stock if you don't have or want to use wine. I tasted the sauce and then I added some salt and pepper. 

I had about 2-3/4 cups of sauce. I poured 1/2 of it into the mushroom/pasta mixture and 1/2 of it over the turkey, which I had chopped coarsely and put in a bowl.

I then mixed 1/2 cup of panko breadcrumbs with 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese in another bowl.

Assembly time: I poured the mushroom/pasta mixture into the bottom of the lubed-up pan. I poured the turkey/sauce mixture on top and leveled it out so there was turkey all over.

Then I sprinkled the panko/parmesan mixture over all and put the pan in the oven for about 30 minutes. Start checking after 20 minutes. The casserole is done when it is golden brown on top.

Here it is: golden brown and delicious. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with something green like broccoli or green beans and a nice salad. Leftovers (essentially leftovers squared) are delicious.

If you do not have leftover gravy (and who does, usually?), make a white sauce by melting 3 tablespoons of butter, then whisking in 3 tablespoons of flour for about 1 minute. Then add 1 cup of turkey (or chicken) stock or milk. Then proceed as directed above with more stock and then half and half and wine. Make sure you check to see if you need to add salt and pepper.

If there are gluten-phobes among you, use de Boles corn pasta instead of wheat-based pasta, and gluten-free panko (yes, there is such a thing) and make your sauce using cornstarch or tapioca flour or some other gluten-free thickener. I don't think the recipe would work for folks with dairy issues, and I can't even imagine a vegan option.

Odds and Ends
It is December 9. We are 12 days from the winter solstice. We all know that the solstice is when it stops getting darker and the days will get longer.
When I look at the actual times for sunrise and sunset for the next week, I was surprised. In the next week sunrise will get later by 5 minutes. That sounds right. The days are getting shorter. But sunset stays the same. It is at 4:35 all week.  What?  Actually the earliest sunset was on December 8, Here is the exact time for sunrise for these days, at least as reported by the local TV weather station.
Friday         12-7              4:35:32
Saturday     12-8              4:35: 31
Sunday       12-9              4:35: 30
Monday      12-10            4:35: 33
Tuesday      12-11            4:35: 39
Wednesday 12-12            4:35: 47
Thursday    12-13            4:35: 58
Friday         12-14            4:36: 11
Saturday     12-15             4:36:27

The local weather channel provided this link about this odd matter:

Average High for today 35. The average low is 20.

I started watering the indoor crotons using a big tub. That was because some of them were too big to carry to the kitchen sink. I am suppose to water them when they get dry and water them until the water comes out the bottom. With a big pot that can be hard to estimate. (It can also make a mess.)
It is a snap with the tub.

Here is the tub.

One of our garden magazines has a place where people write in with garden hints. Mine for the week is to use needle nose pliers to weed the cacti.

Right Now

Here is a new section for the blog. It could be called "Right Now." It would tell you what is blooming or happening right now in the garden. The garden really is mostly inside at the moment.

This particular picture of the hibiscus nicely shows the details of the petals.

This cattleya just started to bloom. I think its name is Arctic Star.
 I got it maybe 3 years ago at Hauserman's, the wonderful orchid place in Chicago. It reliably blooms this time of year. In addition it often blooms during the summer, outside.
It will bloom for almost a month.

This picture gives you an idea how big the cattleya gets. It must be getting to close to 3 feet across. I have no idea when to divide these lovely plants. They really are proving to be one of the more reliable orchids, at least for me. They do go outside from May to October.

That is it for this week.
Have a safe week.
Stay warm.
Philip and Julia