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The First Tomato

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The most important competition among gardeners everywhere centers around who can produce the first tomato of the season. I think, hands down, I am the winner for 2015 for the outdoor grown tomato.

My performance is almost unfair! Why? My red, ripe tomato was produced on a 2014 plant. A little unfair but let me explain. At the end of the 2014 season I had a healthy and robust plant that was still producing blossoms. It had dense and green foliage. I largely ignored it and hoped for a “tomato” miracle.

Then came the first freeze at the end of January. The good looking and hardy tomato plant died! In my ignorance I failed to notice several small tomatoes, two of which showed signs of ripening. Shown below is one. No taste test yet, it is very firm so I am guessing it will not be as good as a true outdoor, Sun kissed, 2015 planted tomato! Competition brings out both the best and the worst in people. So, nah nah nah nan nah! I win!

I still plan on having a juicy ripe 2015 tomato before the end of the first week in May! Be prepared for more bragging!

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It may not be big but it is pretty.

I do have three tomato plants in the ground with fingers crossed! A freeze could set me back! The birds and I are “fixin” to go to war! I need to put up bird netting to protect my strawberries or starve my wife’s three cats as a ploy to get their help! That tactic may get the bird lovers up in arms! How about withhold some of their food so they looked menacing to the birds?

Sugar snap peas rarely make it into the house..,.they are garden snack payments to my bride for her efforts to keep everything alive! Thanks Hun! And also For so much more!!!!!! Wink-wink.

TTFN – from the frozen north- Williston North Dakota!
Bishop

For Bonnie

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I commented on a blog I follow this morning, “The Iris and the Lilly” by Bonnie Michelle with a bit of a lament on how cold it was in Pennsylvania. She takes wonderful photos and writes a great blog. I have included a link to her post below. After chiding her on how different the weather was here she challenged me to post a bit of my trip, So, Bonnie, I hope it warms you a bit.

https://theirisandthelily.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/caterpillars-contemplating-their-transformative-nature/

I flew into Los Angeles on Friday the 13th – it wasn’t scary, it was one of those perfect weather days. 78 degrees F, a little breeze and the clearest skies that I have encountered in several years of visits. I left the airport and decided to drive the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1) north to visit my mother in the Morro Bay area, Los Osos to be exact.

I jumped on the PCH and fought the usual traffic until around Sunset Blvd. The traffic moved well. On the left the views were stunning! Santa Catalina Island was clearly visible. the drive north offered stunning views of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. I have always loved seeing the silhouette of Anacapa Island. I took my open water scuba certification on the leeward side of the island. Such great memories!

I drove along with the window down, watching the surf, the tourists and the locals enjoying a day as close to perfection as it gets in southern California. The best yet was finding K-Earth 101 on the radio. Now I was flooded with nostalgia – ah, some amazing memories….Most will be quietly enjoyed with a smile and a nod of the head……linked closely to the music, the sound of the surf and the stunning visions along the route. Unfortunately just north of Malibu the PCH was closed and I was diverted through one of the many canyon roads over to Highway 101….not an unpleasant diversion but I did want to see Zuma Beach and Pt. Magu. Oh well, it was OK.

I drove through the strawberry fields in the Camarillo and Oxnard area, had lunch with my oldest daughter Melissa in Camarillo and then back on the road. I kept the camera close but didn’t stop to capture anything. The hills were as green as I have ever seen them. Once through the hills at Gaviota when Highway 101 leaves the coastline, the view changed to rolling hills, cattle grazing and vineyards everywhere. I was tempted to stop and shoot a few but decided I wanted to arrive at Mom’s at a reasonable hour so I pressed on. Strawberries dominated the fields visible as I passed through Santa Maria.

I arrived in time to take mom out to dinner. We had a good visit and I retired early, still on Texas time. Up early the next morning I wandered around and was surprised to find a couple of young bucks feeding adjacent to the Sweet Springs Nature Preserve a short block from Mom’s house. I almost missed them as I wasn’t looking for nor expecting them.

Young buck wandering off to join his buddy off in the brush.

Young buck wandering off to join his buddy off in the brush.

I then drove in the direction of Montana De Oro State Park and stopped for a few more photos.

Morro Rock and the surfline beyond the dunes.

Morro Rock and the surfline beyond the dunes.

Another view of Morro Rock and a bit of the estuary.

Another view of Morro Rock and a bit of the estuary.

After a another great day visiting with mom we dined at her favorite restaurant….BK….She had her usual, a Junior Whopper and a Mocha Frappe….Quality dining.

Sunday I had to leave early in the morning and had high hopes to capture a  view of Morro Bay from high up the hills along Highway 46 heading over to Paso Robles. The stunningly clear weather of the day before gave way to the standard morning fog that settles in over Morro Bay. Oh well, one of these days I will get the shot. I saw it once but, it’s a long story, I wasn’t allowed to stop and get the shot.

Not far off Highway 101 along Highway 46 is this ranch house.

Not far off Highway 101 along Highway 46 is this ranch house.

Cattle grazing on the greenest grass!

Cattle grazing on the greenest grass!

A rustic barn along the Highway.

A rustic barn along the Highway.

Down in the mist is Morro rock. The image I will capture one day will show the rock lit up in golden light of an early morning.

Down in the mist is Morro rock. The image I will capture one day will show the rock lit up in golden light of an early morning.

On the western slope heading into Paso Robles was a tidy barn near a ranch house.

On the western slope heading into Paso Robles was a tidy barn near a ranch house.

Leaving Paso Robles on Highway 46 on the drive back to Bakersfield I took a winding detour on the Bitterwater Road that leaves and rejoins Highway 46 in 30 mile loop. I was hoping to find some interesting sights. The primary surprise was the early emergence of the wildflowers.

Brilliant California Poppies

Brilliant California Poppies

California Poppies dominate the scene.

California Poppies dominate the scene.

A single bloom

A single bloom

The hillside with splotches of color.

The hillside with splotches of color.

Ah….a great trip.

FYI – my wife is caring for my strawberries in my absence, snacking on the sugar snack peas and keeping the bees fed with sugar water. I hope she sends me a couple of photos while I’m gone.

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

 

Spring Must Be Near

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I haven’t been faithfully keeping up with the posting here but I would like to offer up several excuses. I will give you the option to decide which one or, if you choose, you can pick several.

  1. Work – I am a consultant, albeit par-time by my choice, but I sometimes don’t say no often enough….. Yes, dear I do hear but may not always listen.
  2. I get to surfing the web becoming distracted by; seed catalogs, bee keeping supplies & information, fishing spots & advice, Politics…..ugly politics goading me into writing letters to the clueless, Facebook, Trivia Crack, Blog reader…..I think you get the picture.
  3. I am actually spending some time in the garden…..the weeds never take a day, an hour or even a minute of of their evil plan to overtake my garden.
  4. Football – can’t use too much of that now but then there is the Six Nations Rugby starting up this weekend – First round!
  5. Lazy….the fire in the fireplace lulls me into that comfortable kicked back, laid back and mellow mindset.
  6. There is a box with many thousand photographic slides that need to be digitized….I sometimes go through a few when other duties call. Distracted again.
  7. I have a bowl chucked up on my lathe that needs to be finished. I need someone to give me a “Roundtoit”
  8. Wifely pressure to do something more productive, i.e., the tax return, organizing my business files, storing my beer making gear somewhere other than the dining room(we only use that room twice every year – I have till next Thanksgiving don’t I?).
  9. Procrastination – I suppose their is an element in most of the above.

Ok, enough of that. Garden news. The strawberries are beginning to produce. I hope I can harvest quicker than the squrrels and my wife eat them “au naturale”. Hmmmmm…….Hun whatever makes you happy. The strawberry towers seem to be safe, at least for now, from the furry marauders but not from my sweetheart. I added 100 new strawberry plants to the towers this fall. This year’s harvest will be small compared to next year’s.  Once they become established I should/could be overwhelmed.

Some nearly ready and more on the way.

Some nearly ready and more on the way.

Good looking and almost ripe.

Good looking and almost ripe.

My blueberry plants are beginning to bud out now and if the buds are an indication I should a nice little crop this second year growth. I have 4 plants in containers and two in ground plants.  I also inspected my lemon and lime trees…..no evidence yet of budding and blooms….I am a bit concerned. If nothing by March I could be longing for my Meyer Lemon Curd at this time next year.

The bowl that needs to be FINISHED! The rim is undercut and I need to ad some more depth to the undercut before finishing.

The bowl that needs to be FINISHED! The rim is undercut and I need to add some more depth to the undercut before finishing.

My bees seem to be wintering well. I am hoping for 30 lbs. or more of harvestable honey. I have tried to be very good to my bees but apparently I made one mad yesterday evening. The little bugger stung my arm! Oh well – the life of a beekeeper!

More soon.

 

TTFN

Bishop

Winter Gardening Alternative

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My garden here in Houston has been pretty much saturated by the constant repetition of wet winter storms over the past several weeks. Last week had the additional challenge of a “hard” freeze. I happened to be out of town so my wife and youngest son covered the sensitive shrubs and trees. Thanks Hun!

I laughed a little when my wife said it was very cold! Why? I spent last week in North Dakota! According to the locals it wasn’t too bad. Several mornings up north it was only -18F and it never hit double digits on the plus side! For this Houston boy that is cold!

I went out to “wade” through the garden and found a few sections with standing water. The strawberries and sugar snap peas are doing well! I fed the bees- filled the feeder and ducked back inside. Inside I decided to learn more about my sourdough bread making.

The gardening alternative;

I made two loaves but went with the slower process of creating a sponge and letting it sit overnight. The sit and rise process for the loaves was another 3 plus hours. The results? Mixed! I cooked each loaf separately. The first loaf was pretty dark! Oops, the recipe called for 425, I read 475! That explains it! The second loaf looks great. Taste? More like sourdough. When I go with the quicker method and use yeast, the sourdough flavor just doesn’t come through as well.

The second loaf.

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The first loaf still made some great French Toast!

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On a grumpy note. My wife’s “pet” squirrels are eating my strawberries before they are fully ripened! Something bad needs to happen to those tree rats! My wife would prefer that our cats chase them out but I may need to employ alternate means.

TTFN
Bishop

Winter Chill

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We have had a good stretch of what we call cold here in Houston. Lows in the mid 30’s F. The bees are staying warm in the hive and only venture out when the sun warms the hive. The damn weeds don’t seem mind the weather and even if I don’t want to, I know I have to keep the attack up!

Mornings are spent enjoying my coffee, watching the flames in the fireplace and experimenting with sourdough bread making. Today, at least from appearance sake, I have a success. Some of my less aesthetic looking loaves have tasted great! The sourdough aroma is awesome!

I use my bread machine for the heavy lifting. It seems to work well most of the time. The only variable is the dough consistency. I am learning to better gauge the liquids needed. The base recipe is close to the right volumes but if it errs, it is a bit dry! I have learned to resist the temptation of adding too much. I have learned to add just teaspoons of water and do it slowly!

Recipe
1/3 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup sourdough starter
3 cups of all purpose flour – sub a cup of whole wheat if you choose
1 tbsp sugar or honey
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil – I use butter cut into small chunks
2 tsp dry active yeast

Put machine on dough cycle. When complete dump out onto a greased smooth surface and stretch it out. I watched a few videos on how to fold and shape the dough – that is up to you. I made a nice elongated loaf. Let rise for an hour or so, score the loaf and bake 35 minutes or more at 400 degrees F until done. Thump it and if it sounds hollow you are there. I also put a pan of water in the oven for steam.

Before;

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After;

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The garden still calls to me! Lots and lots of strawberry blossoms and berries are developing. The 100 new strawberry plants are looking great, sending out new leaves and looking very healthy. Carrots are fattening up, beets are building roots and the snap peas are blossoming!

TTFN
Bishop

Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam – A Sensuous Kitchen Experience

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The title….The title is an apt description of the jam making experience but I will keep the blog descriptors “G” rated. What was actually going through my mind – is open for interpretation. I found this recipe in the same place I found the Meyer Lemon Curd recipe in the “Food in Jars” blog I mentioned in the post published on December 27th…..wait, wasn’t that yesterday? Life has given me lemons, more correctly, Meyer Lemons, and lemonade is not high on my list. Three alternatives made to date; 1. Limoncello – still a few weeks from completion, 2. Meyer Lemon Curd – a double batch, and now 3. Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam. Three decadent treats and the decadence is not restricted to flavors.

I will attempt to recreate the “cooking” experience as safely as I can. It has been a nasty, drizzly and cool day here in the Houston area. I stepped outside into the drizzle and hand selected 5, plump Meyer Lemons for the primary ingredient! Don’t try to read my mind, I will tell you that Led Zeppelin lyrics did not pop into my head until just a moment ago, so lets put that one to rest. I also used local honey…not mine but very similar in flavor.

The first non-cooking thought that hit me while stirring the batch was triggered by the aromas caressing my nose…. it was the mix of honey and, what must have been the volatile oils from the Meyer Lemon peels. The aromas were like the spring blossom time for citrus, most notably, from a midnight ride many years ago on my motorcycle down Sunset Blvd. The trip started on the UCLA campus and ended at Will Rogers Beach in Santa Monica. I have written in the past about the intoxicating scent of those Sunset Boulevard citrus blossoms on that cool and clear night. Just an amazing memory of the scents burned into my memories. My passenger that night I’m sure has similar memories of that scent filled ride, along the sweeping turns, cool and scent filled night leading down to the beach. Mmmmm – great memories triggered by the aromas buried in my gray matter.

As I was day dreaming and replaying that ride down the windy Boulevard the aromas coming off the batch of jam began to change. My first impression was that of a citrusy – Jasmine perfume scent. I had some, uh hum…. interesting thoughts….if a women was wearing a scent like this, the temptation to nibble and nuzzle her neck would have been overpowering. Plucked from somewhere deep in my memory banks was a connecting thought….pair this perfume aroma with the fresh scent of Herbal Essence shampoo and the beast within would have been testing the chains! – Careful Bishop…. I wondered if it was just my maleness fueling the thoughts when my wife popped into the kitchen and noted the perfume like aroma coming off the pot on the stove. She provided confirmation that my olfactory sensors were correct. Her comment pulled me back to the task at hand…..Jam!

The boiling process went on longer than the recipe called for. In hindsight, based on how thickly the jam set up, 15 minutes of boiling is probably correct time. I went well beyond that based on my sense of the thickening. During that time the aroma changed from arousing….(can I use that word?) to something very pleasant. The new aroma made me think more about hot, buttered and toasted sourdough bread lathered with this jam…I am very basic in my desires! I went from carnal to primal over the course of about 25 minutes.

I wound up with almost two pints of jam, probably a little darker in color than expected. If I had cut off the boiling time at 15 minute’s it may have been several shades lighter. I am assuming some “carmelization” took place. The jam is very well set and very tasty. I have many more lemons to pick so my next batch may be a little different….in results, but I hope that some same memories are triggered, memories that still make me smile. My lemons could not have been any fresher, once picked they were washed and in the boiling/simmering pot in less than 8 minutes….that may help explain the abundance of volatile lemon oils in the kitchen. Note to self……lets go ultra fresh again.

Honey Sweetened Meyer Lemon Jam

Yield: 3 to 4 half pints, plus a little for your morning yogurt

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds meyer lemons
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 cups honey

Instructions

  1. Wash the lemons and place them in a saucepan that can hold them in a single layer. Cover them with the water and bring to a boil.
  2. Once the water is bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the lemons for 25 minutes, until the skins are tender but still hold together.
  3. Remove the pot from the heat and let the lemons cool completely.
  4. Place the lemons in a blender carafe and add two cups of the cooking water.
  5. Blend at low speed to break up the lemons. Take care not to puree them entirely smooth.
  6. Pour the lemon mix into a low, wide pan and add two cups of honey (choose something mild in flavor so that it doesn’t overpower the lemons).
  7. Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to medium-high.
  8. Cook, stirring regularly, until the jam thickens and sheets off the back of your spoon or spatula. You can tell it’s nearly completion when it hisses and spits when you stir. My batch took all of 15 minutes of vigorous boiling to achieve set, but times will vary.
  9. When jam is finished cooking, remove pot from heat.
  10. Funnel jam into prepared jars. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for ten minutes.
  11. When time is up, remove jars from canner and let them cool on a folded kitchen towel.

By on February 19, 2014 in jams, jellies, marmalades

 

My little dwarf Meyer Lemon tree on an earlier day.

My little dwarf Meyer Lemon tree on an earlier day.

In a few more weeks I should see my bees working the Lemon blossoms....Mmmmm so good!

In a few more weeks I should see my bees working the Lemon blossoms….Mmmmm so good!

TTFN

Bishop

Meyer Lemon Curd – So Damn Good

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I apologize if the curse word that shocked movie audiences in 1939, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) to Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) still offends….. I resisted using language from the “Thug Kitchen” a fun and irreverent look at eating healthier. Here is the trailer for the book…..be prepared – it is not G Rated!!!!!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ar7g_26QWu0      I thought the trailer was a joke…..it is tongue in cheek and the book is very real and has some great recipes!

Back to the curd…..It really is that good! I made a double batch. A doubled batch yields a little more than couple of pints and includes 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar and –  Oh yeah lemon zest and lemon juice! I processed two of the 8 ounce jars in a boiling water bath so I could ship one of the jars to my great grandson up in Wyoming. Unfortunately, processing changes the color just a bit and the texture is not near as silky smooth as the fresh stuff! Given a spoon and left alone for a short time I could finish a jar on my own!

Yum - A plate of Lemon zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar and one generous cup of lemon juice. In the background is my sourdough starter bubbling away.

Yum – A plate of Lemon zest, 12 egg yolks, two sticks of butter, two cups of sugar and one generous cup of lemon juice. In the background is my sourdough starter bubbling away.

Do you think the lemon zest looks like shredded cheddar? My daughter Ashleigh did! We had a good laugh!

The patience in cooking was rewarded with a silky smooth and decadent lemon curd. Before dropping the utensils used in the process into the sink, I had to play Momma kitty and lick everything clean…..Yes I know, some may say bad form, but frankly, I don’t give a damn!

Ready to ladle into the hot and sterile jars.

Ready to ladle into the hot and sterile jars. My canning funnel has been well used!

 

Trying my best to not make a mess!

Trying my best to not make a mess!

Meyer Lemon Curd – USE MEYER LEMONS!

Yield: 2 half pints – single recipe

Ingredients

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 Meyer lemons, juiced (you should get a generous 1/2 cup. Make sure to strain it, to ensure you get all the seeds)
  • zest from the juiced lemons
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into chunks

Instructions

  1. In a small, heavy bottom pot over medium heat, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.
  2. Add the lemon juice and zest and switch to stirring with a wooden spoon, so as not to aerate the curd.
  3. Stir continually for 10-15 minutes, adjusting the heat as you go to ensure that it does not boil.
  4. Your curd is done when it has thickened and coats the back of the spoon.
  5. When you determine that it’s finished, drop in the butter and stir until melted.
  6. Position a fine mesh sieve over a glass or stainless steel bowl and pour the curd through it, to remove any bits of cooked egg. Whisk in the zest.
  7. Pour the curd into two prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. If you want to process them for shelf stability, process them in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (start the time when the water returns to a boil).
  8. According to So Easy to Preserve, it is best to process only in half-pint jars or smaller, as they allow better heat infiltration.
  9. Eat on toast, stirred into plain yogurt or straight from the jar with a spoon.

Here is the link to the recipe – http://foodinjars.com/2010/01/meyer-lemon-curd/

A very good canning blog by Marisa McClellan. Check her stuff out

TTFN

Bishop

 

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