Sunday, June 17, 2018

June 17, 2018 I have no complaints

It was just a week ago that I was complaining about the lack of rain. I was spending too much time watering everything.
I have stopped complaining. Actually for the third time in the last month, we had a good rain while I was completely asleep.
It was last Saturday night, after the blog had gone to press.
I got up on Sunday morning to find out we had a very good rain that night. It then continued to rain for quite some time into Sunday. We had a church picnic scheduled for Sunday. That probably must have made it rain.
We had a good time at the picnic nonetheless. We were in the Coralville City Park shelter, watching the baby ducks perform in the rain.

Thursday we had another prolonged rain. It was one of those gentle rains gardeners and farmers dream about.

Between the two rains, according to the weather data accumulated by Iowa State University, we had over...count them up...5 inches of rain. As measured by my buckets I do not think it was quite that much. But even I think it was over 3.5 inches for the week.

So the only use the hose had this week was to sprinkle Christopher, on Saturday when the temperature got above 90.

Between getting the garden ready for the Project Green show next Saturday, and having Christopher and family visiting, I will sleep well tonight.
Actually I will probably be up at 4:30 to be out in the garden by 5:15.
The other reason for that early start to the garden day is that it is hot again. 95 is the ballpark for the last two days and then next two. It is suppose to cool off somewhat for next weekend,
Yesterday we went and found some discounted coleus. My they can be the splash you need in some areas that are lacking of color.

Actually the Asiatic lilies have started and the first daylilies opened. I think it is going to be a splendid year for daylilies. I do not think the Green people will see it. I will make sure they know to come back in two weeks.

Here are some of the Asiatic lilies. I do appreciate how they can stand up by themselves.

This lovely lily is at least related to the tiger lilies. It has those spots and makes seeds up and down the stem.

The butterfly weed is blooming, adding a wonderful touch of bright orange to places in the garden.

I got a flat of quite nice moss roses. They are now in with the short iris and various succulents.

Here is a section with various succulents and those moss roses

This is the first daylily to bloom. I am not sure of its names. I am trying to get my hosta labeled. I will work on the daylilies after that.

Here are more Asiatic lilies. These are called Lollypop.

There were three waterlilies blooming today. Two were hiding.

Julia's Recipe
Chicken Pasta Pesto

I am not sure where this dish came from, but we have been making it for quite a while. It is very easy if you have pesto on hand, either some you made yourself in the summer when there is fresh basil all around or some you bought. Apparently Buitoni is the ticket for store-bought. Of course, I am not a purist (although I make my own pesto) because I freeze it, and it loses its vibrant green color when frozen. So take your pick: store-bought or homemade and frozen.

Here are the players, mostly: baked chicken breasts (grilled would be fine too. Or poached/sauteed skinless boneless for that matter), 1 lb. of bow tie pasta, 1 cup of pesto, and some olive oil. Not shown: salt, pepper, parmesan cheese.

First, I baked the bone-in chicken breasts (sprinkled liberally with salt and a bit of pepper), in a 375 degree oven for about 1 hour. The chicken breasts weighed in at more than 2 lbs total! Some kind big well developed chickens at my local co-op. Grilling or poaching would be faster.

While the chicken breasts were cooling off, I brought a big pot of water to a boil and added some salt and then added the box of bow ties. I cooked according to the box, but really you just taste.

I heated up the pesto in a little skillet with some olive oil, so it was not cold.

When the pasta was done, and before I drained it, I ladled out some pasta water in case the pesto was too thick (which it was, as it turned out).

Next I cut up the chicken into biggish bite-sized pieces, about 1" square.

After I drained the pasta, I put it back in the pot, added the chicken, added the pesto and stirred. Pesto (at least in my experience) is sometimes gloppy and uncooperative in terms of spreading around and coating everything. So I added a little pasta water until the consistency was where I wanted it to be.


Then I turned the pot's contents out into the attractive serving bowl and that was it.

I will warn you: you will probably need to salt the dish on the plate. Somehow it always seems to be under-seasoned.

Here it is, on the plate, with some extra parmesan.

This recipe makes a lot. Feel free to cut the recipe in half.

Odds and Ends
I am still waiting for most of the red caladium to sprout. I have two spaces waiting for them. In a few places in the garden I think I might post signs saying "future home of red caladium".

The night blooming cereus has some very tiny buds at the moment. I think maybe in about a month. Set your watch.

After supper I was checking something on the front porch. Some movement caught my eye, over between the houses, right off the porch. I looked and there was a midsize deer. It was not in our yard but in the neighbors path, next to our yard. I went around behind the house. I certainly did not want to chase the deer into your yard. Coming up from behind the house I chased it back to the street and away the deer went.
I will put out more deer repellant tomorrow.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

June 10, 2018 work work work


I was, once again, up with the early birds on Saturday morning. Actually I was up a little before the early birds. The quiet time of the night ends before five in the morning these days. The full bird shift is out by 4:50, as the dawn begins to break in the east.
There is so much to do.

The garden walk is in two weeks. Our garden is one of a number of gardens in the neighborhood on the Iowa City Project Green Garden Walk. That is Saturday June 23, from 10-3. Please come.

Katie and family, including Christopher, arrive next weekend. We are having to get the house ready for a little person, who now can walk around.

In the garden, I am spending even more time watering. The rain that has been all around Iowa the last few days, has not made it to Iowa City this week. The hot sun can bake plants quickly.

The promising bits of red and yellow on the radar this week just seemed to always dry up before they arrived in Iowa City. Yesterday morning about 7:15, there was actually thunder. As I fully expected the rain to be mostly elsewhere, I could not avoid thinking of the thunder as cosmic laughter.

So here was the radar at 7:18 yesterday morning. It looked promising.

I have in fact been reduced to taking pictures of promising storms on the radar.
As a result of all that red,  we did get a light rain for maybe an hour. I do not think it was more than a tenth of an inch. But as Julia pointed out, it was something, and there were puddles.

Did I mention I now have the front yard hose hooked up too? There were a few years this decade when we never got that hose out all year.

Actually with the garden walk coming in two weeks, I have been planting annuals all around. They can be nice. At the same time they need watering more than the perennials.
They do look nice, particularly after they have a nice mulch added.

All the plants are now getting in their respective places. Here you see the cactus.

The cactus have migrated home from the office and how pretty much take over the one shelf that gets afternoon sun.

I think it will be some time before they begin to bloom. Who knows.  I might even have to figure out what kind of fertilizer they would like.

The caladium are underperforming. The white variety, called Candidum, is up. I am sprinkling it around the garden. I think it needs a good downpour to really take off.

The  orchid cactus have been blooming, even though it is at a somewhat slow pace. There is maybe 1-2 flowers per day.
I have yet to see that riot of buds on particular plants that sometimes appears. They did get outside rather late this year.

The waterlily foliage in the pond is growing so fast that it leaves little room for the flowers.
Maybe they were taking shelter from the hot sun.

This was yesterday, when there were three flowers at one time.

The peonies are mostly over. But this one provided dramatic color this week.

The lilium are coming. Here is another Asiatic lily, this one called Lolly Pop.

Bonus pictures

This is what greets you as you walk west on the sidewalk approaching out house.

This is hosta Victory. It took a few years to get going. Now it is enormous.
It is one of those statement plants that just creates a focal point.

Julia's recipe
Mocha Panna Cotta

This is a recipe for a cold custard, and it is pretty much straight from Jacques Pepin. Philip was watching JP on public television, and he made this dessert. Philip thought it looked good and pretty easy, and he was right. No baking, very little stove action, cold and smooth and creamy, as a summer dessert should be.  Panna cotta, according to wikipedia, is Italian for cooked cream, except it isn't cooked so I don't get it.

Here are the players, plus a very pretty peony in a vase: unflavored gelatin, instant coffee, sugar and 1/2-1/2. Not shown: water!

Philip started by putting on the teakettle to heat up some water. He put 1/4 cup boiling water in a mug. He sprinkled one envelope of gelatin over the water and stirred a bit so that the gelatin would dissolve.

JP advised dissolving the gelatin by sprinkling it over 1/4 cup of tepid water and then putting the cup with the water and gelatin in a microwave for 30 seconds. Philip says that he thinks if you have a microwave, you should use it to dissolve the gelatin.

We do not have a microwave. There are so many things I don't understand - breathing, airplanes, mean people, television or telephones or computers - that I decided I did not want a machine in my kitchen that I did not understand. Hence, no microwave.

Gelatin softening in one mug; in the other, he put 1 teaspoon (the kind you eat cereal with, not a measuring spoon) of instant coffee and added 1/2 cup hot (does not have to be boiling) water.

He poured the coffee into a bowl and added 1/3 cup of white sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolved. Then he added the gelatin, stirring to make sure that the gelatin was mixed in and not sitting at the bottom of the bowl in a lump.

Then he added 1-1/2 cups of 1/2-1/2.  More stirring.

After the mixture was thoroughly stirred up, he ladled it into 4 little bowls and put them in the refrigerator for about 2 hours. That's it!

As I said at the outset, the dessert is silky smooth, and creamy and kind of coffee flavored. If a person had a few shortbread cookies on hand, they would be the perfect accompaniment.

Here it is, set, spoonable and ready to eat.

There are many variations, to accommodate all food issues and taste preferences. Although we have not tried it, I understand that agar (a seaweed derived gelatin-type thickener) works instead of gelatin. You could leave out the coffee and use more cream, with a teaspoon or so of vanilla. Or add some finely chopped chocolate to the hot coffee (actually in order to melt the chocolate, you might want to make the coffee with boiling water). Or use coconut milk instead of cream. Or almond milk or rice milk with vanilla or a little almond extract. I think the sugar may be the only ingredient for which there is not a substitute.

Odds and Ends

I have labels for most of the plants in my garden. Not everything is labeled. Most things were labeled at one point.
I get the lebels made in New Orleans. I have gotten them since before Katrina.
I just got my order of new labels this week. Now I have one more thing on the garden to do list. I have to put out the labels, which of course requires finding the plants, which at the moment..wait for not have labels.

What will be blooming in two weeks? Well maybe some daylilies. The daylily stalks or scapes are emerging.

This is Elijah. Some how it is fitting that one of the earliest dayliles is named after a prophet.

While these will not be blooming in two weeks, here are the big zinnia seedlings. These will be blooming in August, giving color when color is fading.

That is about it for the week.
It will be another early morning tomorrow, as I start going from bed to bed, trying to make it just right.
Several beds will need to be gone over more than once, in the next 13 days.

What is going on in your garden at the moment?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

June 3, 2018- Summer is here


The bird shift in Iowa City goes to work now about 4:45 a.m. The fact I know this bit of information  means I was up that early. I need to start writing at that time, before it is light enough to go work in the garden. It is Saturday morning and time to reflect on the garden as June arrives.

It has been hot, with four days this week in the 90's. There were two days where the official temperature was 97. It is sufficiently hot that you did not want to be out in the garden after mid morning.

Then there have been the bugs. Gnats have been around for a few weeks. The mosquitoes are here too. They will bite me, but not Julia. It has something to do with Mediterranean blood, or so I am told. (The bugs do not like the taste.) And when I get certain bites, it seems like they itch for days. Oh, April, how little we appreciated you at the time.

Saturday morning there was a little cool outside. It was 66 degrees with a band of rain coming, maybe by mid morning. This week it going to stay in the 80's. This is good. (The rain never did materialize.)

We did have several nice rains this week. They came every 3-4 days. They measured at least a half an inch in my unscientific bucket measurements.
There was one early Wednesday morning. I had planted some zinnia seeds the evening before. With the rain and the hear, they had sprouted by Saturday morning.

It is time to get serious about mulching. I will mulch annuals and daylilies. I try not to much hosta. They can get bugs that like all the plant material near the base of the plant.

Let me take you to some of the best pictures of the week.
#1     The color of this poppy is out of this world.

Here is one of the dogwood flowers on our new little tree. I am pleased with that little tree, which is actually close to 8 feet tall at this point. It was at least 7 feet on arrival last August.
I am prepared to declare that it is worth paying the extra money and getting a tree from a regular nursery, rather than a box store. I think it had a 2-3 year warranty, which I gladly paid for.

#3  Here is the first Asiatic lilies. That does mark some point in the season.

#4 Little white orchid
This is one of the little orchids blooming at the moment. It is called falcata neofinetia. It actually blooms several times each year.

#5 Orchid cactus continues
This lovely plant continues to have wonderful flowers. There must have been about 8-9 flowers this year. I think 2 of them are still to come.

#6 Allium about to bloom

#7 A late lupine

#8 Poppy closeup

There is no voting this week again.
But I do like to hear from you. Tell me which pictures you like, or what is going on in your garden.

Bonus Pictures

It was a two waterlily day, yesterday.

Sometimes when a flower is covered by a leaf you want to move the leaf.
The pond, like the rest of the backyard, is littered with linden tree seeds. They have been particularly heavy this year.

Here is the Asiatic lily group.
They do add a splash of color.
Those lily splashes will be with us for the next two months.

Julia's recipe
Chicken/asparagus/mushroom stir-fry

About 3 weeks into asparagus season, the question of what else one might cook with asparagus surfaces. At that point, we have eaten poached asparagus and roasted asparagus, several times. We have cut up leftover asparagus and used it as part of an omelette filling. What else? Chicken/asparagus/mushroom stir-fry, that's what.

This recipe is ancient. I cut it out of the Des Moines Register, probably in the spring of 1977. I know we were living in the little brick house in Riverside, IA at the time. It's pretty fast (under an hour), and it has nice flavors and textures, and it uses asparagus as an essential ingredient.

Here are the major players: about 10 ounces of skinless, boneless chicken breast, mostly thawed out, cut into 1" to 1-1/2" chunks; 2 cups of sliced white button mushrooms; a little less than 2 cups of washed and trimmed asparagus, cut on the bias in about 1-1/2" pieces; 1/2 cup of washed and trimmed scallions, cut on the bias in about 1" pieces. Plus a marinade made of 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1-1/2 tablespoons of grated fresh ginger, and 1 tablespoon of smushed garlic. Additional ingredients: salt, pepper, cornstarch, chicken stock or water, vegetable oil.

It really is sensible to break off the tough end of an asparagus stalk wherever it breaks. The asparagus will tell you where the tough part ends. Trust the asparagus. I don't ever peel asparagus or cut off the little purplish bits along the stem. Too fussy.

Sometimes I buy whole mushrooms and slice them. Sometimes if I'm feeling a bit peaked, I buy sliced mushrooms. It's okay.

After mixing the marinade and cutting up the chicken (mine was partially frozen which facilitated chunk cutting, but completely thawed chicken is fine too), I put the chicken in the marinade and stirred it around a little and let it sit for about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, I heated 2 tablespoons of oil in a big skillet and added the mushrooms and the chicken, which I fished out of the marinade with a slotted spoon. I kept the marinade.

Stir-frying is not so much stirring or frying, really. I cooked the chicken and mushrooms on medium high heat stirring now and then until the chicken was no longer pink, maybe 5-7 minutes. I sprinkled the meat and mushrooms with a little salt and pepper as it was cooking.

Then I added the asparagus and the scallions and continued cooking on medium high heat and stirring now and then for another 5-7 minutes. I sprinkled in some more salt and pepper.

While the asparagus and scallions were cooking, I put 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into a little jar (with a lid) and added about 1/2 cup of cool water. If you have 1/2 cup of chicken stock on hand, by all means, use that. I screwed the lid on tight and shook it up to mix. No lumps!

Then I added the leftover marinade to the pan and brought it to a boil and boiled (gently) for a minute so any chicken-y essence in the marinade would be cooked at a boil. Then I added the cornstarch mixture and the sauce thickened up quickly. Voila. No gluten! No dairy! But of course there is chicken.

We served with American rice (not basmati). Philip added some soy sauce at the table; I did not. Personal preferences. We had a nice green salad and a surprisingly good early season watermelon. We ate with chopsticks because we can, although salad can be a challenge.

This recipe fed the two of us with leftovers for lunch later in the week. If you are feeding a crowd, the recipe can be expanded by simple arithmetic and works just fine.

Odds and Ends

Pictures can be deceiving.

Here is the corner by the house garage where there are all the lupines so far this year. That is daylily Ruby Spider right on the corner.

But if you use the panorama function on the camera you can show this result.

I planted the first caladium in the ground today. I got three varieties in April. The white ones came up first and now go in the ground first. The others are coming but, my, they have been slow.

The Project Green garden walk will be on June 23. That is three weeks from yesterday. The list of things to do before then is somewhat smaller.

The cactus are mostly in their place.
The ropes are set at the right height.
A few more annuals have to be planted.
2-3 beds still need weeding.

But the days are longer, and this week promises to be cooler.
Did I mention that Christopher, our grandson is coming for a visit? That will be in less than two weeks.
June will be a busy month.
Come by if you have a chance.
The Summer Garden is just around the corner.