Saturday, December 04, 2010

Baking Sourdough Bread

I realized, as I was poking through my posts that I haven't written about bread in awhile.

Some of you are bored already and some of you are dying from your gluten allergies. Sorry about that, but I must carry on!

I've been baking bread, steadily, crazily and continuously all year long. Somewhere in February, I decided to take the plunge and create my own sourdough starter. After days and days of making a slurry of flour and water in little jars and throwing away half of the weird smelling goo daily, it finally started rising, and no longer smelling weird and funky. A month later, I made my first batch of bread. The first batch was kind of funny, but so freakin' yummy that we couldn't stop eating it. I bought a set of bannetons (Bread molds or forms made of coiled reed to help the dough hold its shape while rising.) and learned how to use them. I then created a second starter, this time it was a rye starter. You know, for rye breads.

White sourdough from Bread Baker's Apprentice. Rings of flour are due to the banneton being heavily floured. Pretty!

And I went to work on my slashing and steaming techniques.

Look at the gringe (ear) on that loaf of rye sourdough! Sexy!

Next thing I knew, I had bought yet another ridiculous bread baking book (Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman and no, I'm not being compensated, it's just an incredible book. Not for the beginning bread baker, though.) and was making bread that took even longer to make than the Bread Baker's Apprentice loaves.

Crazy? Oh yes. Yes indeed.

Next thing I knew there were sourdough bagels,

English muffins,

multigrain boules

and loaf after loaf of different sourdough recipes. They weren't all successful, but almost all were fantastic. Now, our every day bread is made of sourdough. It might be a whole wheat multigrain with rye flakes, flaxseed and millet or a nice rye (Hey, it turns out that I like rye bread! It's just caraway seeds that I object to in my bread!) loaf. It all depends on what I'm in the mood for that baking day.

It's also been terribly therapeutic.

The act of taking wild yeast (Captured from the flour itself, not from the air as a TV chef would have you believe. Wild yeast grows on the food source it likes. For example: wheat.) and flour, water, and salt and making something as basic, yet as lovely as bread is rather soothing. The babies may be crazy, but look at this bread!
Pain au levain. Sexy French sourdough bread.

Making it has been fun, and I've learned an awful lot. I even put some up for sale for a good cause and have given away dozens and dozens of loaves (Which is the only reason I'm not the size of a whale, at this point!) to friends and family.

It's a helluva hobby. Considering how far I've come in the last year, I'm kinda worried what next year's leap will be. Will I start grinding my own grain? Planting an acre of wheat? Aiee!

Well, instead of worrying about it too much, I think I'll go have a slice of the Jewish Rye with caramelized onions I have sitting in the breadbox. It's calling to me, you see.


Friday, December 03, 2010

Emptying the House and Doing Good Locally

Eric is about to take off for a week's vacation (It's his turn, after all. I took off for a week to go visit my mom for her 65th b-day celebration. To which I still owe you pictures. Ack!) and I will be all alone with the screaming children.

To maintain at least a modicum of sanity, I have determined that this would be a good week to work on de-cluttering the house*, starting with my old maternity clothes, infant gear and whatever gets in my way in the garage. Helping to motivate me was the Evening of Sharing we just attended at Caitlin's school. There were assorted organizations there asking for volunteers, money or gear and I decided it must be kismet. I have stuff and a burning desire to get rid of it and they have a burning need.

I don't have the patience to run any sort of a garage sale and my friend Christine is no longer local to coax me into it. Instead, any large, potentially valuable items will go up on Craigslist (Crib, anyone?), but for that I appear to need to take photos before posting. This leads to procrastination on my part, because I just can't get excited about taking pictures of my old washer. However, I am motivated to sell it off somehow, if only just to get some floor space back in the garage. (Possibly because I'm also afraid that Eric and I both carry Hoarder Genes and if we don't get rid of some stuff, it will be goat trail time!)

Also, I want to buy a larger vehicle to haul the loud, young people around in. A vehicle that will put them farther away from me. If I could drop a soundproof plexiglass sheet in between their area and the front seats, I would. Maybe install some knockout gas nozzles aimed at their seats, too. Yeah. That's the ticket! Anyway, any loot that I sell off I'm earmarking (Earmarking: it's not just for Congress!) for the new vehicle. I suspect it's going to be a loooong time before I get any new keys in my hands, but I thought if I had a plan, it would be more likely to happen.

Have you had any success selling off your gear on Craigslist and if so, what tips would you give me to ensure a successful sale? I'm not willing to ship anything, so e-Bay is out. Too much of a headache. If I get too overwhelmed I'm most likely going to set it all out by the curb, bit by bit, with a sign saying, "Free!". That always seems to get anything to go away.

Except for the mice.

Dang it!

* I find that I can open almost any drawer or closet or cupboard and put my hand on any number of items that I can get throw out. I keep asking myself as I run across these things why have I kept them so long? Why is that dead plant still sitting there in that pretty little pot? Let's just dump it in the compost and put that pot in the garage. Next season I can put a sempervivum in it. Why do I still have this 10 year old nail polish? Aging it isn't going to improve it. So I'm taking back my cabinet space, one handful of "stuff" at a time. I got a little thrill when I actually started putting bread in my breadbox. I know, that's just off the hook, right?** Right!

** I need to get out more, don't I?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Smells Like Christmas!

We just bought and brought home our tree today!

From Costco, of all places. What can't you buy there? Seriously! (They should start paying me to shop there, I love them so much. Or get a restraining order. Can't decide.) It was about 8' tall and Eric had to haul it in on his own, leaving a trail of dead pine needles up the stairs and across the living room.

That's OK, though, because December is Pine Needle season. Every day until we compost that puppy, it will drop needles and I'm OK with it because I can't get over how gorgeous it smells. My house smells like a forest. A lovely, dark green, pine-scented forest.

We'll decorate it tomorrow with the kids and attempt to keep the twins from smashing the decorations or pulling the tree down on top of themselves.

That may be tougher than you think, too. Those two are crazy! Other people have cat and tree stories. Ours will be about the twins who will cackle evilly and whisper their diabolical plans back and forth and then set forth and destroy everything in their path.

If only we could harness that power for good instead of evil....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving! Now with more cookies!

I went to two different craft stores, three different kitchen stores, three grocery stores and then finally found what I was looking for in a hardware store. Then again, it's the hardware store in Boulder, so maybe it's not such a big surprise that they carried turkey cookie cutters.

Among about a million billion other items as well. However, that's neither here nor there. (Mostly it's there.)

Instead, I went on a wild bender and bought turkey, bear, maple leaf (Oh, Canada!),  airplane (For Logan at Eric's insistence. I'm sure that it's just for Logan. Uh huh.), kitten and flower shaped cutters. Hey, they were 69¢ each! How could I resist? Clearly I couldn't.

First, I baked a set of just leaves and turkeys for Thanksgiving down at Grammy and Grampy's house. I figured it could be both dessert and a craft to keep the kids busy. Then, since we invited a handful of friends over on Friday, I clearly needed to make a second batch of assorted critters for them to decorate.

Decorating is the best part! I don't care how old you are, last time I threw a birthday party for Caitlin where we had cupcakes and cookies to decorate, it was the adults that went nuts with it.

I was going to need a lot of different colors for the cookies, so it's a good thing I messed up the amount of icing I prepared. I had only meant to make 1 lb, but wound up putting almost 3x the amount of reconstituted egg whites into the bowl than I should have. Whoops! Almost 3 lbs of confectioners sugar later:

Finally, at 10 pm last night, it was time to make the doughnuts ice a sample cookie. After I finished the first one, I remembered that Bridget had created a tutorial on the design I wanted to do. So I started over again on a second cookie.

There! That's more like it! Feathers!

Eric watched me as I outlined, flooded and detailed the cookie and was very impressed.

Now that I've done it, I find it's actually pretty easy, but like everything else will get better with more practice. Good thing I've got a lot of icing!

It's also a good thing that I have plenty of volunteers to eat the cookies, too.

Just in case you're worried I'm not bringing anything else to the table but cookies, I've also made Heavenly Potatoes, cranberry-apple chutney, and multi-grain whole wheat sourdough bread for dinner. I didn't want to slack off. Heh!

Here's wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving, with all the trimmings!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is This What Normal Feels Like?

As some of you may have's fall outside.

Yet I am still running around and doing stuff, both in the garden and in the house. I have not yet succumbed to my annual Dying of the Light doldrums.

I'm amazed and thankful. I blame the Vitamin D I'm taking.

Holy moly! This stuff actually seems to work! I've been taking it since May 24th, so it isn't a fast fix, but it does seem to work. Getting my thyroid level adjusted probably helped, too.

Normally, I'm tired and grumpy and sad when the days get shorter. I haven't felt that way. In fact, I've enjoyed this fall. Having beautiful weather way into November is probably a big part of that, but I am grateful. So grateful! I watched the trees change color throughout the neighborhood without even a wisp of sadness. I was so busy rushing in the garden to get my work done before the first frost that I didn't have time to feel sad.

Since then, however, I still haven't slowed down. I'm turning out a frightful number of sugared confections in the kitchen, too. Marshmallows and caramels and cookies! Oh my! Mostly I'm recipe testing for Xmas presents, but even so!

Just yesterday I was mucking about in the yard and finally covered my raised beds in a 4"-6" layer of lightly chopped leaves. I whipped out the leaf blower and sucked up the enormous pile my lawn guy left for me. Then, when I ran out (Amazing, considering the size of the pile I was working with in the yard!), I blew the leaves in my back yard into nice, fluffy piles and then sucked them up, too. It took a few hours, but now my beds are covered (I'm certain the mice will be happy in the cozy beds.) and all I'm missing from my sheet composting experiment is a few bales of straw.

Just for grins, let's revisit my 2010 Garden Goals, shall we?

2010 Garden Chores List (Not necessarily in order)
  1. Move big elderberry to corner. DONE
  2. Dig up 6 agastache and relocate to front yard. DONE
  3. Remove and relocate 2 Chinese grasses to front yard. DONE
  4. Relocate caryopteris. DONE
  5. Move "Dawn" viburnum down to the left ~3'. DONE
  6. Fill with Russian sedum as ground cover. Covered with mulch instead.
  7. Feed crab apple tree on monthly basis through summer. DONE
  8. Order and spread mulch. DONE
  9. Take cuttings of sempervivums for new pathway. DONE
  10. Install 2 kinds of thyme (Woolly and variegated) in new pathway to help with roof runoff issues. DONE
  11. Relocate butterfly bush to front yard. DONE
  12. Move compact burning bush somewhere else. DONE
  13. Relocate plants from future pathway to side gate somewhere else in the xeric yard. DONE
  14. Clear out plants from around sprinkler heads. DONE
  15. Fix broken sprinklers. Repeat ad nauseum during entire length of summer. DONE
  16. Replace all old fashioned sprinklers. Only when they break.
  17. Move asters from back to front yard. DONE
  18. Weed sidewalk garden. DONE
  19. Weed xeric garden. DONE
  20. Relocate plants around xeric garden to fill empty spots. DONE
  21. Ditch irises from the front yard. Yes, all of them. Offer them for free to neighbors and meet new people. Neighbors LOVE free plants! DONE
  22. Move blue fescue to sidewalk (SW) garden. DONE
  23. Plant 3 new grasses in SW garden. DONE
  24. Order 6 shrubs and 3 grasses for part shade garden in back yard. DONE
  25. Rip out and relocate 3 peonies, Autumn Joy sedum, Blue Hills sage, large catmint, and 2 kinds of garden phlox. DONE
  26. Rip out Keys of Heaven, bindweed, bee balm, clematis tanguica, lamb's ear and other assorted weeds. DONE
  27. Sift wheelbarrows full of compost. DONE
  28. Install Java Red weigela, 3 Miscanthus 'Morninglight' in newly weeded sunny part of back yard. Maybe this will keep me weeding that section more frequently? DONE
  29. Move bronze sedge from shady part to sunny part. DONE
  30. Finally plant new scented penstemon purchased at DBG plant sale. DONE
  31. Rip out weeds and morning glories volunteering all over raised beds. DONE
  32. Plant cool weather seeds for "fall" veggies (e.g. spinach, peas, beans, zukes [45 and 50 day varieties, just to see if it's possible], lettuce, pak choi, cilantro, dill [very old seeds, will they work?], green onions, and carrots,) by Aug. 2nd. Realize that I probably should have started this in mid-July, but hope for the best. DONE
  33. Install new sprinkler line down to cover sunny corner of yard and keep new plantings happy. DONE
  34. Remove potting bench and its mess off deck. DONE
  35. Sort out pots and stuff, send bad pots to McGuckin's for recycling (Check with your local garden center - they may take all of your old pots for recycling, too!). Sorted, but not accepted at gardening center. I missed the drop off date by two weeks! Argh! I'm going to hold onto the pots until next year. Maybe they'll offer the program again in the spring?
  36. Clean deck and organize potted plants on deck. DONE
  37. Begin making mental list of plants to live on deck next summer. DONE
  38. Install bronze/purple ajuga as ground cover in part shade garden. DONE
  39. Install 6 new shrubs (Pictured at bottom) and 3 new grasses. DONE
  40. Learned a new mulching/sheet composting method I plan on trialing this winter. Must steal bags and bags of leaves and get a few bales of straw. DONE except for the straw.
  41. Begin planning 2 more raised beds for raspberries and rhubarb. Wonder if I can sucker husband into making two more beds? He likes raspberries.... Vetoed by He Who Has To Do The Building
  42. Determine that only crazy people garden like this. DONE
  43. Lounge in hammock and drink lemonade. DONE
  44. Wait three years for new garden to mature. Tic, tic, tic!
  45. Begin making 2011 garden chore list. In progress!

Wow! Except for where I was thwarted by Himself and the gardening center, I nailed it this year! Woo!

I think I've turned over a new leaf. How's by you this fall?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Things That Make You Go Hmmmm: Bubble Gum = Plastic

Did you know that bubble gum is made from plastic and rubber? It used to be tree resins (which sounds odd enough, but then again, aspirin came from tree bark, and that's worked out well), but in order to save money, it's now made from plastic.

No kidding.

So, if you spend a lot of time making sure your kid is drinking from BPA free water bottles and carries a waste free, metal lunch box, why would you let them chew plastic?

Because you didn't know, of course. But now you do.

Beth Terry mentioned this in her blog, Fake Plastic Fish, but I missed that article. Give it a read. It's eye opening.

Knowledge is power. Be powerful.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Hatchet in the Kitchen

Now that it's chilly outside and my gardening is severely curtailed (When did it actually become autumn?!), all of my excess creative energy is being devoted to baking.

We're in deep, deep trouble at Chez Hatchet, folks.

In one day, I had Swiss cream cheese setting up on the counter, apple butter cooking down in the crockpot and panettone-inspired muffins baking in the oven. I also have lovely iced sugar cookies on the counter and homemade marshmallows awaiting hot chocolate to swim in. Fresh bread is always readily at hand and I now have cranberry-apple chutney ready for Thanksgiving dinner (The flavors will meld together in the fridge this week.). I've picked up a handful more icing decorating tips, icing colors and came really close to buying 50 animal cookie cutters, but they were plastic, so I didn't. All I really wanted was a turkey, but I can make do without it.

I'm also testing out recipes for Xmas gifts, so some of the madness is just that: testing. The rest is just an outlet for creativity. And KA Flour (Now I feel a burning need to make pumpkin scones, just because I followed my own link. Ack!) keeps sending me their version of kitchen porn: their catalog. I'm so weak! So many of their items are terribly, terribly tempting! Also, there are recipes on every 3rd page! I...I have to try out those recipes!

Good thing I don't feel the burning need to eat all that I'm making! I keep giving it away. For my own safety, of course.

I made a yummy thing for dinner that I'd been wanting to try for awhile: Mark Bittman's recipe for Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter and Sage. I hate sweet potatoes and marshmallows (Sorry Mom!) and really loved this. Now to get Eric to try it!

Stir-Fried Sweet Potatoes With Brown Butter and Sage
Recipe adapted from The New York Times, from 2008

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and grated, 4 to 6 cups (I used a single large sweet potato, for about half the recipe)
Salt and pepper
1/2 stick butter, more to taste
4 cloves garlic, crushed
20 sage leaves (Good thing the frost didn't kill the sage plant out front! If you're allergic to sage like my friend Sierra, you could probably substitute basil, rosemary or thyme here.)
1. Put oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add sweet potatoes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring only occasionally, until they change color and begin to brown, then stir more frequently until they are tender but not at all mushy.
2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and sage; shake pan occasionally. When butter turns brown, turn off heat.
3. Use tongs to remove sage and garlic from butter. Serve potatoes drizzled with butter and garnished with a few sage leaves. Garlic can be served alongside, though it will not be super-soft.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

I ditched the garlic instead of trying to eat it since it was all chewy/crisp, which isn't how I like my garlic. I must admit that I really liked the buttery, crispy sage leaves! Mmmm! I'll definitely make this one again!

Well, I guess I'd better go check the chicken parts that are simmering in the crockpot. I'm making some broth for chicken soup. Should be yummy!

So...what are you cooking up this fall?

Updated to add: He liked it! He liked it! He never likes sweet potatoes! We have a winner!

Friday, November 12, 2010

My First Foray Into Cookie Decorating!

My first* attempt at cookie decorating was a resounding success! Plus, the kids had fun, too!

Oh and the cookies even tasted yummy. So this was a win all the way around.

First, there was my lovely assistant, Caitlin. She missed the dough mixing portion of this process, but was happy to show up for the cutting out and decorating parts.

I made Bridget's recipe from Bake at 350 and altered it for our elevation (i.e. added 3 tbsp of AP flour for a total of 16.2 oz, removed 1 tbsp of sugar for a total of 6.6 oz, and increased the oven temperature by 15 degrees from 350 to 365.). It worked like a charm (Although next time I'm going to try the reverse creaming method that Cook's Illustrated recommends. Some of my cookies had air bubbles.). Then, I followed the directions for rolling out the dough between 2 sheets of waxed paper as taught by Cheryl at the University of Cookie. Seriously. It's like I was meant to find these bakers! After rolling the dough out, I popped it into my freezer for about 7 minutes and then called to Caitlin for her assistance in cutting out some cookies.

We baked them off while the twins slept and then it was time to mix up some icing. I admit that I just bought a box of Royal Icing mix from the store. Next time I think I'll buy some powdered egg whites as Gail from One Tough Cookie suggests. I didn't have a lot of icing to begin with, so I kinda faked it and then split it into 3 colors. Little did I realize the sheer amount of complaints I'd have over the 3 colors. Once Logan had the purple, he wasn't happy about relinquishing it to anyone else. Emma was happy as a clam to just squeeze 3/4ths of the pink onto her first cookie. Only Caitlin and I were interested in multi-colored cookies and a little artistic expression.

My decorating team.

Logan works the purple icing with a death grip.

My first cookie didn't look anything like I'd really imagined it would, but as far as a first attempt went, it was pretty yummy! I got the hang of outlining cookies, playing with dots and figured out why round toothpicks would be better than flat toothpicks (Pointier ends!). It also made me understand that having a lot of icing to play with would have been ideal because then I could have messed around with the concept of flooding. Next time!

A peace cookie to celebrate Veteran's Day. Yes, peace can be a little messy and may not look like what you'd envisioned originally, but it's a good thing in the end.
Emma wanted to squeeze out the entire contents of the pink bag all over her cookie. I helped her out by spreading it around with a small palette knife.

Also, her idea of "eating" the cookie is to lick all of the icing off with her fingers. Logan smashed his first cookie, decorated the larger portion of it, and then had to be cut off from the purple icing. He was a sticky purple fiend in the end.

Don't mind my drippy nose. I'm a little sick!

Luckily enough for Eric, he made it home in time to decorate two of his very own cookies.

Caitlin went to town and made some fun cookies.

I found that once I started making my second cookie, that I didn't want to eat anymore. The prettier they became (by my standards), the less I wanted to eat them. Instead I had to nibble on the last bits of broken cookie bits. Slathered with a little icing, of course.

Now I know what I'll be bringing to Thanksgiving dinner at my MIL's: baked cookies and a pile of icing colors for the kids to go nuts with and decorate! (I'll probably also bring a loaf of bread and maybe even a pumpkin pie. I can't totally slack off!)

* I know. You're shocked, aren't you? I've made cookies before, but I've never tried making cookies for actual decorating purposes with Royal Icing and decorating tips. I had to do a bunch of research, search out all of my existing decorating tips and even pick up a few new ones. I was overwhelmed by the talent of Bridget at Bake at 350 and followed piles of links from her site all over the place. It's winter time and I'm trapped indoors. Clearly it's time to obsess over something that isn't plant related!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Potty Training Twins, Act II

I've been remiss and haven't told you about a few significant events that happened here at Chez Hatchet. My big sister, Dawn and her husband Matt, came to visit in October. I've got a few pictures of her pregnant self! Clan Hatchet went to the zoo with Grammy and I have some fun pictures of that visit (Oh, look! The lion is licking the lioness. He likes her! Oh...he really likes her....) and I'll get around to writing those up.

Any day now.

But we hit a major milestone. On October 30th, I declared Emma officially potty trained!

She went to bed in her undies on the 29th and woke up once or twice to pee in the potty in her room and yelled for help to get dressed again. Then she went back to bed and woke up dry. She hasn't worn a diaper since. Woo hoooo! Half my diaper laundry load just went POOF! We were all very happy and celebrated by buying her a big, foofy girl's dress. It's dark green and black with stylized roses all over it - it's one of those Christmas-y dresses. She loves it and wore it for days and days. Hurrah!

Now Logan, on the other hand...

Well, as I said before, he's just not into it. And by "just not into it", I mean he screams like you're trying to set his butt on fire every time we try to get him to sit on the potty. Bribes still don't work. Threatening is pointless. As is begging. We've offered cars, candy, muffins and sleepovers at Grammy and Grampy's house. No dice. Apparently he was attacked by a potty in a former life or something.

I can't figure it out. He knows what to do, but absolutely refuses to do it. He can get his clothes off. He can back up to the potty. We tried the Cheerios in the potty thing; watching Daddy; offered to let him pee standing up and we've just gotten melty, screamy Logan in return.

So we're backing off. According to our pediatrician, we should just leave him entirely alone about the topic. Don't even mention it. Just keep changing diapers and take the pressure off entirely for the next couple of months. Hopefully he'll suddenly want to be potty trained. We're thinking about putting just Emma into a kid's program at the local Y for a few hours, then letting him know that he can go, too, if he uses the potty.

We'll see how that goes.

Any ideas? Any tips you'd like to offer? I can't believe how easy Caitlin was in comparison, but I've been saying that since the twins were born. We had it easy and never knew it!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bread for sale! (For a good cause, of course!)

Today, Caitlin's school is participating in the Great American Bake Sale for its 9th year and I made a few loaves of bread for the cause.

By "few", of course, I mean seven. Mainly because every bake sale needs the Crazy Bread Lady and I got to be that mom this year. A pair of whole wheat loaves, a pair of Vermont Sourdough and 3 loaves of Five-Grain Levain (Chock full of flaxseeds, coarse cornmeal, oats, millet and whole wheat. Yum!).

Then, this morning, Eric and Caitlin dropped off the wrapped and tagged loaves to Caitlin's school. The mom/teacher/woman-with-a-badge who PROBABLY wasn't going to steal the bread made appropriate oohing and ahhing noises and then asked if we "always ate like this"? But of course!

Daily dose of external validation achieved!

Why are we doing this? Well, according to the Share Our Strength website:

  • 14.1 million children in America live in poverty. That’s 5.5% more than a year ago. (For a four-person family, that means getting by on less than $420 a week.)
  • Nearly half (49.2%) of American children will receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits at some point in their life.
  • The weak economy has put millions of previously secure American families at risk.
  • Effective federal nutrition programs that provide nutritious food to families in need are still underutilized. 10 million eligible kids in this country are not receiving school breakfast. Only 1 of every 6 kids eligible for free summer meals actually gets them.  That means 16.3 million kids who qualify for these meals don’t get them.  Millions of Americans who are eligible for SNAP (food stamps) do not use the program.
We often hear about disasters and hunger in foreign lands, but seldom hear that we have these same problems a lot closer at hand. By participating in the bake sale, the Hatchet Family can help fight hunger right here in the States. Now I can bake and save lives. I'm a super hero!

At least for a day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Time for a Makeover!

OK, it's just a blog makeover, but that's always a good place to start!

What do you think?


After spending many hours on and off, messing about with colors and photos and widgets:

That was fun! Now maybe I should write a little something, huh?

The Story of Electronics

Another good movie from the folks that brought you The Story of Stuff. This is The Story of Electronics. I'd love it if companies would take back our old electronic gear. Ask YOUR rep to co-sponsor the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act. Make your voice heard.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Renovate Your Front Yard


October 2, 2010
October 24, 2010

You, too, can go completely bonkers and decide to tear up your existing garden and re-model it whenever you want. You just have to have the fortitude to carry it out. A plan would help, too (That would have been a good idea. Yup. Sure would've been!)*. Plus some good weather.

Oh, and a strong back, good tools (Did I mention that I snapped a spade right in half and had to get a new one?) and someone to watch over your children for you while you obsess over the garden.

I'm just sayin'....

What did I do and why did I do it? Well, the time was right and Eric was available to watch over the twins while I worked for 8 or 10 hours a day to get the garden in shape. I knew that I needed to beat the first hard frost date (It was October 25th this year.). The sprinklers needed to be shut off, all plants that were going to be moved needed to be moved and everything needed to be snug under a covering of mulch in order to survive freezing temperatures.
Four cubic yards of mulch.
I must admit that I didn't know if I'd be able to get the whole thing done before the freeze came, but October in Colorado can be amazingly beautiful. Warm, sunny, a little breezy and the perfect weather for planting perennials. This way the gardener doesn't have to roast in the sun and neither do the plants. They get a few weeks to settle in to their new locations and set down roots before it gets really cold and you don't have to deal with rain getting the soil all muddy and unworkable.

The key thing I learned is that you should never, ever, EVER use landscape fabric in a garden where you may want the plants to spread and/or naturalize. Doesn't matter how big you think that hole you slit in the fabric was, the plant is going to out grow it and then you'd be left with a half choked plant before you even realized something was wrong. That and the fact that the bark mulch you throw on top of the fabric will eventually break down and turn into what? Compost. Where all of the seeds from your plants will be happy to grow, for at least awhile, until they suddenly die off en mass because they aren't actually in the soil and can't put down a serious root structure.

Therefore, I have spent the last 4 weeks ripping up yards and yards of weed and plant encrusted landscape fabric, shaking the compost back onto the naked soil, tossing the plants I didn't want onto the compost heap and relocating the plants I did want to keep. And boy, oh boy! were there a lot of those! Yarrow reseeded itself with wild abandon all over the front yard. I ripped almost all of it out. There were at least a dozen lavender plants that had happily volunteered around the yard. I relocated most of them. There was a Russian Sage blocking the view of my pink shrub roses. It had to go.

I gave piles of plants away to the folks in my neighborhood. I composted thousands more. I threw down millions of invisible seeds everywhere when I shook the composted bark mulch back onto the soil. Yarrow will probably be springing up all over the place next year, but I'll be ready to rip it out mercilessly!


Oh yeah! And I installed 5 newly purchased Salvia greggii 'Rose' (aka Autumn Sage) plants that I'd picked up on sale from the local garden center. They're sort of magenta in color. A rosy-purple. Hummingbirds should love them!

It was as I was attempting to install each of those that it struck me that I was working on one of those little puzzles made up of those little moveable tiles. You know, the ones where one little tile is missing and you have to slide all of the other tiles around and around until you correctly form the picture. (What are those things called, anyway?) In order to install one Salvia, I had to rip out 3 goldenrods, move 5 Agastache 'Apricot Sprite', rip up yards of fabric, pull off plants to keep and plants to toss, dig 6 holes, amend each hole with compost and finally plant all of my plants back in the soil again. Try that on a 50' x 25' scale and it'll take you awhile!

Yes, I did do all of this work on my own until the last 2 days when I had Eric rip out the final Russian sage, some evil weedy grass, a few more yards of fabric along the back (Where I'm going to install a year.) and load compost into the wheelbarrow for me. The neighbors got to know me pretty darned well by the time it was over. I was cheered on by plenty of passersby and complimented on all of my hard work. It made me feel a real sense of community, actually, and made me proud of my work. After all, I made this garden for the hummingbirds and for me, but it pleases me that so many others also get a great sense of enjoyment out of it year after year.
Full garden: October 24, 2010. Click to enlarge.

I'm now really, really looking forward to Spring. It's gonna look AWESOME!

Edited to add: OK, now you can click on the garden photos and get the enlarged image. Then, you can click AGAIN to get the super duper sized image. You know, in case you wanted details. Turns out the new photo editor thingy in Blogspot removes your ability to click on the images if you decide to add a caption to them. Whoops!

* Mostly my "plan" involved ripping up the landscape fabric, removing weeds and then finding and relocating shorter plants to the front, removing excess yarrow and coneflower, installing the 5 new Autumn sage and then creating little vignettes with groups of plants. If all works out as I envisioned it, there should be drifts of columbines throughout the garden now, as well as 'Boulder Blue' fescue repeated in groups of 5 across the front, taller plants were removed from the first few feet nearest the sidewalk and anything over 2' tall were removed from the main spray path of the sprinklers. Next year we may switch the whole thing over to micro-drip irrigation instead of overhead rotating sprayers. It would make more sense and use less water, but there were only so many changes I could make this year. I relocated a good number of lavender in drifts throughout the middle section and added a couple near the pink roses. Next year I plan on moving 2 more butterfly bushes from the backyard and putting them in between the Zebra grasses and pulling a couple of 'Autumn Joy' sedum from their current locations and adding those near the front right corner. Assuming that the one in the pot survives the winter in the pot....

And if there's any space left, I may toss in some bright green zinnias and move some Prairie Smoke plants over from the sidewalk garden. While I foresee a great deal of hand weeding in my future, there shouldn't be near as much physical labor involved in massive renovations. Bring on the spring!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I am so CLOSE...

to being almost done with re-working my front yard that I can almost conceive of tasting it.

Here's what it looked like on Oct. 2nd. You can clearly see that I've had my work cut out for me.

Tomorrow I'll take a picture of what it looks like now from the same angle. I couldn't possibly have done that before it got dark, could I?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I have a hawk in my yard. What do YOU have?

That's right.

A hawk.

I think it may be a juvenile Cooper's Hawk. What do you think?

He flew into the back yard and landed on a tree while I was making tea to go with my breakfast. I squealed and sent Eric to get the camera and the long lens. I showed him to the twins and kept hushing them so he/she/it (I respect its privacy.) wouldn't fly off before I had a chance to get a couple of shots of it.
Where did all the snacks go?
All of the little songbirds scattered when it showed up and stayed gone for a least an hour. I can just imagine the bird conversation afterward:

Bird 1: Are you goin' back to that feeder now, Bob?
Bird 2: I dunno. I think it's gone, but I'm just gonna wait a little longer to be safe.
Bird 1: Yeah. Good plan.
Bird 2: Yup.
Bird 1: [Unhappy pause] Yup.
Bird 2: [Stomach growls.]
Bird 1: [Hopefully] Do you think we could get Mikey to go check?

After a few moments, it noticed me taking its picture.

And then he was gone.

Maybe I should just start referring to my yard as the nature preserve? Hatchet's Nature Preserve.

Of course, that makes it sound like I'm making jam out of bunnies. Maybe I shouldn't go there....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Logan says...

I was outside gardening yesterday when Logan managed to sneak out the side gate and came to get me. He grabbed me around the legs and said, "Mommy!"

Me: Logan! [Hugs]
Logan: Mommy! [Leg hug, dimpled cheeks, secret grin.]
Me: Logan! [Hugs, goofy grin.]
Logan: Mommy! [Head-butting leg hug, dimpled cheeks, big grin.]
Me: Logan! [Melting in a pool of "awww", full body hug, hair ruffle.]

I think I may have to keep him.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Smell Like a Monster

The cutest video since...well, the original Old Spice video. I love Grover and you need something to smile at. You're welcome!

Also, this is a fantastic song, so you need to watch this, too. Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for your Eyes, by Kristin Andreassen. Awesome sauce!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

More Critters in the Garden

Just the other week I was wondering why I hadn't seen any praying mantids around my yard. Apparently it wasn't time to see them yet. Now is the time to see the full adults.

How do I know? Because in the last two days I've seen two different types in my front yard! (Also, I think I squished a male a few weeks ago. It flew close to my head and freaked me out. In my defense, I was near the wasp nest, so I was primed to kill anything that came too close to me. I'm sorry little guy!)

Well, from the research I've done, it looks like they're both the European mantid, only one is green and the other brown.
Clicky to enlarge all the pics!

Tuesday's mantis was discovered while Eric was repairing the sprinklers. Yes, repairing the sprinkler line that I punched not one, not two, but four holes in with my pitchfork while ripping out plants in the front yard. This was just after we had the sprinkler guys by to fix the part that was too much for Eric, down in the junction box. We were checking to see if they worked properly and Whoops! There goes a geyser! The next morning, after Eric repaired the hole that I knew about, we turned the sprinklers on again, and Whoops! Another one!

Repeat 2x more. Eric was not amused. Sorry honey!

I discovered today's mantid on my Zebra grass. Funny thing about the giant grass in the front yard: I love the way it sounds when it sways in the wind, but it makes me jumpy. All sudden, jumping sounds make me think Mice instead of Grasshopper or Mantid.

When I looked closer, though, it was a mantid! Woo! Apparently all of the ones you see at this time of year are a) female and b) totally preggers. Those fat abdomens are just waiting to lay some eggs! On the bright side, now I know what all of that weird, tan, foam-insulation-type stuff is around the yard! It's the egg case for praying mantises!

Of course what I'd really like to see is one of them noshing on a grasshopper or three. I have quite a few of those, all over the backyard.

In the front yard, though, I have honey bees everywhere.

Happy little bees! I have to tell you, they really like the catmint that blooms throughout the season.

Speaking of bees, I just received a gift of locally produced honey from a neighbor as a thank you gift! As I mentioned previously, I'm in the process of ripping out plants and re-setting them, which means I have a whole lot of plants that I'm giving away in my front yard. The beekeepers dropped by to say thanks for the free plants recently (e.g. irises, strawberries, caryopteris, Keys of Heaven, and yarrow) and over the years. It was so nice, it made my whole day!

My work on the front yard has hardly begun, but I've had lots of positive reinforcement from the neighbors as they drive by. Getting the honey was just icing on the cake! I love working in the front yard for just that reason. Well, I'd better get back to work! I've got yards and yards of landscape fabric to rip up and plants to relocate.

How are things looking in your garden?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Emma says...

Scene: Hatchet and Emma are in the bathroom where Emma has just gone poop. Hatchet notices a ball of hair on the floor (probably from a hairbrush) and tosses it into the potty.

Emma flushes the potty and says, "You will never find your hair now, Mommy! Hah hah hah!"

My child just gave me an evil laugh and the Threatening Bad Guy Speech. This child is destined for wonderful things, isn't she?

Ha ha haaaa!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

In the Garden

I don't really want it to be fall, yet I can't help but appreciate the cooler weather and the fact that it's time to get some serious gardening in without melting!

After months and months of work, I might actually be done (for the season) with the sidewalk garden bed. Fortunately, I finally remembered to take a before and after shot! Here it is in early June, covered with weeds and irises and weedy irises:

Here it is after all of the ripping, shredding, weeding, re-planting and mulching, today:

It doesn't look like much right now, does it? A little less weedy. A lot more mulchy.

I only kept the Beautyberry, Prairie Smoke, Phlox subulata, spiderwort and Basket of Gold alyssum. I brought around a whole bunch of plants that have been languishing in the shade in the back yard: agastache 'Apache Sunset', Chinese grasses, pink asters, peonies, 'Blue Hills' sage, tall garden phlox, Siberian catmint and columbines. I moved a few plants over from the xeric bed as well: a long suffering heather, a pair of Rocky Mountain penstemon that were growing among some rocks and a few winecups. The only new plants are those 3 little grasses I added on one end. I'll give that a whirl and see how it looks next year!

My xeric garden looked a lot nicer in June than it does in October.

So, of course, I'll have to start weeding, moving plants and adding new ones. I've already started here:

where the Shrub of Doom used to live. The yarrow seems to be trying to take over, so it's time it met up with The Pitchfork. I've put out signs offering all that I'm ripping out for free to the neighborhood, but anything that is left over in a day or so will be compost! Oh and while I was ripping away I found a shed snake skin. No snake came to visit, but I know it's out there some where! Maybe after I've finished messing around with all of the plants I'll see it again. I wonder if it eats voles?

The cherry tree garden looks a little bare after I weeded it and discovered vole holes:

And that they had gnawed off the bottom 6-8" of the cherry bark where it meets the soil. (Evil bastards! They will pay for this!) Also, next year, I'll be keeping a sharp look out for voles and other critters that want to take up residence in my garden beds. Hopefully I won't have the same wasp issue next year as I did this year. The columbines and bleeding hearts should fill in nicely next year, too.

The new stone steps now have two kinds of thyme happily growing in the cracks, attempting to keep the soil from washing away after every rainstorm. I can't help but like how finished they make the steps look and this is only after a couple of months! By next year I wonder if I'll have to start giving the thyme a trim? I sure hope not.

I even added some sempervivums just to see how they'd do. We'll find out next year how well they'll over winter! I hope to get more cobweb varieties in there, since they're so cute.

My containers are looking pretty good and the succulent plants were a big success this year. I totally got to forget about watering these pots for days or weeks at a time and they didn't die! That's a damned good container planting!

I couldn't help but notice that the Autumn Joy sedum is trying to take over the entire pot, so I'll probably move the three of them into the sidewalk garden. Then I'll replant the 3 pots with yet more sempervivums, since that way I'll have something to look at all winter on the front steps!

I missed out on the Botanical Garden's fall plant sale because of the twins' birthday party, but I've made up for it by getting a bunch of plants on sale at the local garden center. I even managed to talk them into cutting 20% off the sale price of a Double Delight tea rose that was looking kinda limp. It was in a 5 gallon pot, so I felt like I made out like a bandit! (It's the same rose that I had planted long ago and moved around 3 different times. This last time, I may have killed it, but in the off chance that I didn't, I planted the new rose nearby the old one. It even has a bud on it! I don't know why I'm excited about that, but there it is -- I am.) Once I watered it, it perked up immediately. I dug a lovely large hole for it and threw in a huge bucketful of compost. That sucker had better be happy next year!

I also picked up 2 weigela 'Minuet', 2 sempervivum, and 5 Salvia greggii 'Rose'.* (I'm not sure if 'Rose' is an actual variety name or just the color description.) The flowers are a lovely deep magenta/purple color and I think they'll look smashing backed up by some of my volunteer Agastache cana. I'll just have to dig them up from where they have spread themselves around the yard and in my pots.

Just in case you didn't know, fall is the best time of the year for installing new trees, shrubs and perennials. They have until the first hard frost to establish a good root system and will be a lot bigger next year in time for blooming season. Also, most garden centers are trying to get rid of their stock so that they don't have to over winter as much product, so now is a great time to save some money! Suddenly, that rose that I really wanted is a lot more appealing when it's 50% off. Plus another 20% because I asked so nicely! The magic words: "Is that price the best you can do?"

No, seriously, give that a try and see what happens.

It's amazing how messy it can look when you move plants around while re-vamping the garden, but by next season, everything will fill in and blend together. As usual, I'm looking forward to it!

* Eric tried to suggest that I might have a....problem as I was shelling out money for yet more plants. Personally, I think I can stop any time I want.


Any day now, I'll stop gardening when I feel like it.

Any day now...

You know, like once it starts snowing.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...