Toad in the grass


Eggs and bacon, on top of spinach and greens. Squeeze of lemon, pop the yolks, mmmmmm

My college roommate introduced me to a dish called Toad in the Hole- a fried egg in a hole torn in a slice of bread. I don’t know how I grew to adulthood without knowing about this concept- combining eggs and toast in a happy little unit.

It has taken me another 20 years to find out about cooking an egg on a bed of sauteed greens- the same homeliness of the egg, with the virtuous feeling of eating a pile of spinach. I have been calling it Toad in the Grass, which I realize is a horrible name, but I have seen it elsewhere as “baked eggs” which seems like an even more horrible name.

This batch is made with spinach and beet greens from my garden (the beets were supposed to be micro greens, but I kind of forgot, and now they’re macro).

Saute the greens in olive oil and the water left on the leaves from washing them.

This is about two cups of mixed spinach and beet.

When the greens have reduced by about half, crack an egg or two on top. Cover and let cook until the eggs are mostly done. Then turn on the broiler and cook the gooey stuff on top. I added parmesan cheese this time, but I don’t always.

T

The eggs look kind of like eyes, maybe call it green monster? Another horrible name.

I also had 2 slices of pre-cooked bacon (you should cook bacon in the oven- it works really well) that I threw on top. Sooooo yummy.

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Fracking junipers*


I asked the tree trimmers who had worked for us before to come do an estimate of pruning the big old tree in back, the big old (slightly younger) tree in front, and ripping out the juniper bushes entirely. As I remember, when they came out last time, they pruned both ashes and the old apple, and removed an upright juniper, and the whole thing cost about $55o.

Umm… this estimate is higher. By a lot
$1600 for the ash in back, $600 for the ash in front. $450 to take out the junipers.
Seriously. $450 for the junipers?
I plan to get another estimate for the big trees, because this seems high. They did come highly recommended, and I was happy with the work they did before, and I am not going to climb up in my 50 year old ash tree and chop things up. But still. Cadillac prices.
I came to a conclusion in the shower, where I do my best thinking, and decided that for 450 I can rip out my own junipers.

Day 1  I started Saturday, tentatively at first, sitting in front with loppers, looking for the trunk, hoping I could just get in there and saw it down. Then I stood up and went around behind the northern-most bush, and saw that where the kids had tried to chop out a playhouse, it was pretty easy to access bigger branches. Lop lop lop, throw into a pile. After a while, I broke out the pruning saw, to get the branches that were too big to get with the lopper.
I discovered 3 wasp nests, unoccupied, and a bird nest, also unoccupied.

Little bird nest.

On the first afternoon, I got most of two shrubs cut up, waiting for the main trunk to be cut as close to the ground as possible. The temperature was about 75 degrees, not too bad for working outside, but my arms got scratched up, and I got dust and stuff in my eyes, even with safety glasses, and there were little pieces of prickly stuff everywhere. I kept thinking, “$450… $450”

DH suggested buying a chain saw when I was halfway into it. I may have growled at him.

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Day 2 had record breaking temperatures. High temperatures, in case you are wondering. I loaded the pick-up, then discovered the waste yard was closed on Mondays. D’oh. Then I crawled into the house, and waited for it to cool off, investing the time in looking at wholesale bulb catalogs and drawing plans for the new bed. I also took a nap.

Day 3, the weather was cooler, but not by much. I drove the pick-up to the city waste yard, dumped the trimmings, then reloaded twice. The third time I stopped for iced coffee and a brownie, then stocked up on epsom salts.

Day 4: We sawed up the last of the shrubs, loaded up the truck, this time with help from DH, who didn’t have to go into work until late.

We also rented a small electric chainsaw. The stumps are just too big for the pruning saw. It cost about $40, and made the stumps go much more quickly.

Thank you Kate, for taking pictures…maybe we’ll have a conversation sometime about flattering angles.

I’m glad we rented, because safety equipment came with it. If we had bought a saw, I know we would have half-assed the safety part. Sure, I would have worn safety goggles, but the kit from the rental place had chaps, and goggles, and a hard hat with hearing protection.

I’m coming after you, stumpy!

At the end of day 4, the only thing left is clean up- the remaining stumps and branches, and sweeping.  The next time I get mulch, a thick layer will go onto this area, and when the weather cools in fall, I’ll transplant things into it.

My thought throughout this project was “We’re saving $450” every time I cussed, and complained, and found little tiny prickly juniper needles in my bra (in my bra!) I would think about the money I was saving. What is a project you could have hired out, but didn’t, or you did it yourself, but would never do it again? What would you do with $450?

*my original working title for this post was a different F word, which expressed how I was feeling toward the bushes. The boy saw it when I was working on it, and attempted to cover my eyes, to protect me. He thought someone bad on the internet had written that word, and he wanted to protect me, bless his heart.

A little birdhouse for your soul


Last year, I wrote about my half-assed attempt to mount birdhouses in my garden, on posts from the thrift store, with rebar and duct tape.
Today, I have a more fully-assed attempt, where I actually used wood and a drill, and screws to build a kind of trellis structure. No duct tape at all.

I have drilled 1/2 inch holes in the bottoms of the posts, and driven 1 foot rebar stakes into the ground, at the right distance apart from the holes. Trust me, I measured! I stepped on some plants in the meantime, but I did measure.

I laid out the pieces on the ground before screwing them together- here you can see where the hole is drilled for the rebar. Having a 2×4 on both sides of the base makes the whole structure sturdier.

I had some wood left from taking apart the playhouse (no worries- there will be a new and better shed playhouse in the future) so I used it to brace the posts. Screwing it onto both sides makes the structure stable by triangulating it. I let the length of the wood determine the size of the structure- the posts are roughly 42 inches tall, the leftover wood was roughly 50 inches long, I used three of the posts for the structure. The fourth might become  a bottle tree. Too tacky?
I painted the top cross bar and the posts bright blue, but not the base- the weathered gray wood will become kind of invisible against the ground.

I used “Surebonder Clear 9001” glue to attach the birdhouses, which we painted 5 years ago? A really long time ago, and they have been sitting around. I realize the glue won’t be permanent, but I am not too worried about it.

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming, silver buffalo berry bush and lilac in background.

I decided this space needed a structure because it is so green- shrubs, self seeded annuals, weeds, perennials. I like having a frame to make it more formal, but not in a “pinkie-up while you drink your tea” kind of way. Formal like having a frame around a picture- any structure works for this, a flowerpot, a trellis, a headboard.

There has been a forest fire to the northwest of here- we are not at any risk, other than from the smoke. The smoke has made it really unpleasant to get out and garden. It is better today, so I hope to get some stuff done.

Funky or Fugly?


See, the pink fading into brown, and then the baby poop green? I just don’t know.

I’m making a baby blanket out of Noro Silk Garden sock yarn. I love this yarn– it is from Japan, and has lovely color gradations- I made a cowl and leg warmers from a colorway with copper and greens and blues. I am working on a scarf in a colorway with deep purples and teals.

This baby blanket makes me wonder…on the one hand, it has bright pink and turquise…fading into brown. Then on the other hand it has purple and indigo and green…and green…and another green…a green that can really only be described as “macrame green.” Or avocado green- some kind of green from the 70’s.

I’ve been working on it a while, and I go back and forth between thinking it’s super cute…and thinking it is ghastly.

There is a kindergartner whose brother takes a Tae Kwan Do class while my kids do, and Erin, the kindergartener, keeps track of my progress. She is very interested in the baby, and the process of the blanket. She has serious doubts about the color combo, though.  She’s polite, and she’ll say she likes the pink, but then she gets a crinkle in her forehead. I get a crinkle in my forehead, too.

The pattern is from Knitting Wrapsody and it has an interesting construction- it starts with a square, which is divided into quarters, then triangles are picked up along each edge, then more triangles are picked up along those edges, then a rectangular border. Because of the way the colors fade into each other, sometimes the stripes on the picked up edges… clash. I don’t know. every time I look at it, I change opinions. So, look at the pictures- funky or fugly?

Alice really likes it- you’d think I made it out of catnip.

Strawberries- you can grow that


One of my peak experiences in gardening was not in my own garden, and in fact, I didn’t do any of the cultivation. Friends of mine in college lived in a house with a strawberry bed, next to a flagstone path. One beautiful June, I would go to their house, sit in the sun on those red sandstone pavers, and eat perfect, ripe strawberries.

Of course, I had to have strawberries and a flagstone path at our house, when we finally bought one.

just a few more days…just a few more days…

I actually have planted strawberries in many locations- before I got married, and moved every year or so, after I got married, and …moved every year or so. It may seem ridiculous- planting a fruit that takes several years before it produces in house and apartments that I knew I would be moving out of. Maybe it is ridiculous, but it seemed like a good investment in karma.

Strawberries do produce sparingly the first year, but after that, they spread and produce more. They reproduce by sending out stolons, or runners, with baby plants on the end.  I let the “daughter plants” take root and grow, so I always have some plants that are 3 or 4 years old, and about to peter out, some 2 year old plants that produce well, and some baby plants that are getting established. Most gardening books recommend cutting off the stolons the first year so you get more fruit.

New vocabulary word for the day- stolon.

A few years ago, I was at my sister-in-law’s house, and she was transplanting strawberry plants out from under a huge pine tree. Apparently, the birds that stole her berries perched on the tree, and ummm…seeds grew…in perfect packets of fertilizer. Yeah, you know what I mean, bird poo. They didn’t get enough sun under the tree to produce very well, but it made a perfect nursery for baby plants.

Strawberries are heavy feeders, so I give them compost, and mulch them pretty heavily, except where they have grown into the gaps in the path, where I can’t get mulch to go.

I plan to transplant these guys out of the gaps in the path, and may try them in containers.

Here in zone 5, the front range of Colorado, they ripen in early to mid June, this is later than you can get them in the grocery store, but oh so much tastier. And organic. And with a very small carbon footprint. Here’s where I get preachy and link you to a story about strawberries from California.

If you order plants in winter, you can get a bundle of 25 for around 25 dollars. They go a foot apart, so that is a lot of space to devote to  strawberries, but you can tuck them around other things- for example, there is a giant rosebush in the same bed with my strawberries, as well as iris and a mock orange. They are also available this time of year in nurseries. In fact, at the grocery this weekend, they had hanging baskets of them in the doorway.

I have had slug issues in the past, but this year has been so dry, I don’t expect them. I’ll put out saucers of cheap beer just in case.

I figured out why bike panniers are so expensive


We have a reservoir with a community beach very close to our house- totally within biking distance. (I know, everything’s in biking distance if you have enough time) but this one really is- literally a ten minute bike ride.
We always drive though, because of the baggage factor- towels and lunch and sunscreen and sand buckets. (actually, the kids usually bully other kids into letting them use their buckets. Ugly, but it works)
We are also within a mile of a grocery, a small hardware store, a coffee place and a thrift store. And a farmer’s market.  I shouldn’t be driving to those places either. But again, the baggage problem.
Backpacks are okay, but they make me hot and sweaty, and commercial panniers cost more than I want to spend, so I decided to make some.

What separates panniers from just a regular tote bag is that panniers are bags that have a rigid, or semi-rigid side, that hook onto the rack on back of my bike. The interwebs have lots of tutorials on how to make your own, using army surplus bags or cat litter buckets.  Not exactly the look I’m going for, though.
I got a yard of natural denim, and 1/2 yard of super cute oilcloth. Actually the oilcloth came first, I got it on impulse because it was so super cute, then thought of it for the pannier project. The oil cloth will make the bags splash proof, but not really rainproof. It doesn’t rain here much anyway, and honestly, when it’s raining, I’m in the car. Wimpy, I know.

Look how cute it is!

I spent about $15 on fabric, and another 5 on hardware. The bags will wind up being fraternal twins, rather than identical, because as I made the first one, I figured out an easier way of constructing the second. It also winds up being smaller, though.

I thought of ways to make these with pre-made canvas tote bags- it would probably be cheaper as well as taking less time. I had plenty of time to think about this as I changed the burnt out light bulb on my sewing machine. (is that the difference between really expensive machines and cheapo ones like I have? On a $1300 sewing machine, do you just flip open the side and pop out the light bulb? On mine, I have to unscrew a thing on the back, pull the plastic panel off the front, get my fingers in there and unscrew the light bulb, and there is a plastic flap right at cuticle level that scratches every time the bulb goes around. It’s awful!

This is a very basic bag with a flap, and parachute clips to close it. The key to making the bag work as a pannier is to add another layer of fabric so there is a pocket for a rigid piece of plastic or thin wood to screw the hooks onto. In my case, I sewed the bags from scratch and added the layer of oilcloth as the extra layer, but it probably could be done with tote bags you have sitting around the house.

I found thesereally good instructions for doing the hardware.

Mirror clip, machine screw, split washer, nut and acorn nut.

I used a piece of 1/8th inch thick hard board that I had in the garage from another project (as always) that I cut to 12″ by 12″ and slid into the pocket. Then I attached mirror clips, from the hardware store with machine screws and nuts and stuff. I actually wrote down what I needed, as found on the link above, on a post-it and biked to the hardware store. Then I found a guy in an apron and thrust the post-it at him. “I’m making bike bags” I grunted. He found all the bits and pieces for me.

Bag number 1 fits great- now to finally change that bobbin and finish bag number 2- then it’s off to the farmers’ market.