Archive for January 2010

Outdoor Winter Pretties

The 18 degrees Celsius last Wednesday (or was it Tuesday?) was a big tease. Because on Saturday, we had another snowstorm, during which I trudged to the Washington Gardener Seed Exchange. Totally worth it, by the way, but that's a post for another day!

For a few days, my heart was lifted with thoughts of spring and gardening. My hopes were crushed by frigid days and wet snow, but Nature does have her way of reminding me that not all is gloom.

My horticulturalist friend who works at the National Arboretum told me what this plant was, and I promptly forgot the name after he told it to me. It's Mahonia something or other, at least, after doing some research. It's pretty common around here, and it's nice to have some sort of blooms in mid-January!

This is just some grass or somesuch that I saw while on a four-hour wander through Rock Creek Park last weekend. I thought it was pretty.

Imagine interest in a specific category of plants as a fence separating a parking lot from a meadow. Imagine me on one side, knowing that I'll become interested and start gaining knowledge of grasses and plants that are grasslike if I just hop that fence and wander through the meadow. But I'm too busy hopping other fences (just like I learned in parkour class at the gym). The grasses and grasslike plants will have to wait for me to care and learn about them until I'm done with others!

And, of course, winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is in its glory right about now! On my way to volunteer for the Full Moon Hike at the Arboretum after work this past Friday, I snapped this one doin' its thang in a pot in front of a shop on 14th Street near where I go to Weight Watchers.

I'm assuming this is a variety of evergreen holly. I saw this bush just meters from Brookside Gardens, where the Seed Exchange was held. It was snowing, my feet were wet, and my hip hurt (it started from that gym class I had two weeks ago, but it hurts only after I walk five or six miles, so that's only a few days out of the week). The contrast between the deep green leaves, bright red berries, and pure white snow is striking!


Maranta Does More Fun Things

Good plant. I like you. You like me. It's like Barney but with less pedophilic hugs and more fungus gnats.

I still don't understand how parents can allow their children to watch that show.

In lieu of an indoor update (again), here's Maranta leuconeura var. erythroneura making me proud (again), so soon after it flowered!

M. leuconeura has grown a lot since I got him back in June, mostly in the past few months since I potted him up. (In fact, each plant I bought from the Beltsville Garden Club at that community sale has done excellently.)

It's sending out a few aerial roots from nodes. I couldn't get the camera to focus well, but you get the idea.

And...! Look! An offset! Beyond the prettiness; beyond flowering; and beyond steady, healthy growth, having a plant reward me by saying "Hey, I'm gonna make another plant for you" just makes me ridiculously happy. See: Scilla violaceae.

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Youth Garden Creepy Crawlies

I have been saving pictures for this post since July. But I never really got around to putting them together, researching the critters in the photos, or writing anything. And I kind of don't want to. I'd rather learn more about plants than bugs.

So here are some fun pictures of critters encountered while volunteering at the Washington Youth Garden. What finally kicked me into gear on this was looking at an Arboretum visitor's Flickr album of insects and other creepy crawlies from the Youth Garden. She has some wonderful photos there!

Looking at these makes me want to feel once more the bright sun beating down on my sweat- and dirt-covered arms. I can't believe I am saying this: I miss summer!

I think this was taken with my mobile phone on my first day of volunteering in May. That's a worm snake I found on my pitchfork while dumping a load of leaf mulch into a wheelbarrow. These guys don't like the light, and they are extremely strong for being so little! We set him free; the second one we found ended up living among the eggplant, if I remember correctly. The hands and torso belong to another volunteer whom I just ran into about 10 minutes ago in the cafe I'm currently sitting in in Adams Morgan.

This isn't a snake--it's actually a worm! It was huge.

This spider was also featured in the Flickr album mentioned above. It was larger than I think the Flickr lady said--maybe two inches. Or maybe its bright colouring just gave it a larger presence. Either way, all of us stopped weeding and mulching the paths for a while to come look at this guy.

Pretty butterfly. It looks like the butterfly that the Flickr lady calls the Great Spangled Fritillary.

This was taken in October, during the second round of cool-weather crops. This should be celery, but instead, it's this caterpillar's lunch. I moved it to the fennel--apparently, fennel, being related to celery, is another host plant for this particular caterpillar.

And this is what I found on the fennel when I went to drop off the caterpillar. I won't even try to identify this bug, but I enjoy the colouration.

Praying mantis on the rosemary! I harvested some of that rosemary and hung it up to dry in my "kitchen." I use it for crock-pot soups/stews sometimes--it's excellent!

The treasure of the Youth Garden volunteers--this adorable pup demanded our attention while his master tromped through the Arboretum trying to find his son who wandered off. We were more than willing to oblige the little fonfer!


Squash Biscuits

At what point in a cook's life does a recipe seen, read, copied, or whatevered become his or her own? "Oh, Juanita's spinach dip is to die for! ... What? She just follows Martha Stewart's recipe?"

I'd wager Juanita's famous and completely theoretical recipe (although, certainly, a Juanita somewhere might have a famous spinach dip gleaned from the minds of Martha's best and brightest interns) had its origins somewhere else, but she modified it, perfected it to her taste and the tastes of her friends/loved ones/whatevers.

Does it, at that point, become hers? Is it hers the second she modifies it by including diced jalapenos for a little kick but follows the recipe exactly, otherwise? Or is it always Martha's recipe?

Okay, hold that thought.

I made squash biscuits tonight. I felt like doing something new, so I flipped to "squash" in the Fannie Farmer 1896 Cook Book's index (I love this book!), and the first recipe was squash biscuits.

I didn't use the butter or milk called for by the recipe, I didn't prepare the squash the suggested way, and I had no "yeast cake" to dissolve in lukewarm water. Instead of all that, I used a little bit of olive oil, twice as much baked-'n'-scooped butternut squash, a buttload more water than the recipe called for, and a packet of yeast (in addition to following the recipe's 2.5 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt). I didn't let the mixture rise overnight--just an hour, on the assumption that our modern-day yeast is more active than her olde-tyme yeast-cake yeast. The dough had just about doubled after an hour, so I thought that was fine. The recipe just says "bake" after that, with no other instruction. (It also says "yeast plant" earlier in the section, but that will have to be a different rant.) At the beginning of the bread section, it says "experience is the best guide for testing temperature of oven. Various oven thermometers have been made, but none have proved practical."

That set me back. That's how I have to use my oven, even in this cracked-out modern world. The knob thing that is set to 350 F? Yeah, no, that's a big fat lie. It's actually 700 F! It goes to "Inferno" setting no matter what the dial says, so I always keep the door open and watch food in there like a hawk. It might take an hour and a half to bake a quiche, depending on what's in it, but if the door is closed, no matter what temperature the dial is on, whatever's in there will be blackened within minutes.

Anyway. I thought it was cute that thermometers were so shitty a century ago. It gives an interesting perspective on the things we take for granted.

But referring back to the beginning of the post, I would, of course, say I got the idea for these biscuits from the Fannie Farmer Cook Book, but only this first time, probably. By the second time I make these biscuits, they'll be so different from the original recipe (because I can't follow a perfectly good recipe without modifying it in some fashion to make it "better") that it would be misleading to even mention it. I don't think Fannie would mind, really, but being in the journalism field makes me wonder about sourcing "ideas," whether or not you have added your own touch on it so that it is significantly different from the original "idea" (read: recipe).

Hat-tip to FF1896CB on this one, anyway!

I made 10 nice-sized biscuits from this recipe. Each biscuit should be 3.5 points in the Weight Watchers system (about 150 calories or so, maybe). That, some fruit or something, and a cup of coffee should be a good breakfast, right? Right. I'll probably eat half of them before the day's out.

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New Colour Scheme?

What do you guys think?

I spent a few hours working on some new colour schemes... These are the only that seemed somewhat worthwhile. I like the current Centaurea montana header image, but I think it's getting a little full of itself.

Despite the layout being basically the same, each of these has minor tweaks that took, like, so much time it's ridiculous. Do you know how hard it is to get "The Indoor Garden(er)" in the header to be on two lines? Most of the time I spent on these I was trying to figure out how to get the head and the description on the same line--it's impossible. I swear. If anyone can figure it out, I'll roast some pecans for you!

Click the images for larger versions.

What colour scheme should The Indoor Garden(er) switch to?


Maranta Reaches Maturity

You know, I promised an indoor update to celebrate my 200th post. But I can think of nothing better for such a thing than spotlighting small beauties and successes.

Back in June, I bought a few plants at a kind of fair in Silver Spring.

The "Tiger Kitty" Begonia is doing well in my office; the Rex Begonia is making a comeback and growing leaves, finally; and the pregnant onion is going a bit crazy emphasizing the "pregnant" part of its name.

But the fourth plant from that purchasing spree beats those others like a personal propulsion device fueled with aluminum nanoparticles mixed in ice operated by Superman would totally win against, say, a kite made out of used toilet paper being flown by a telephone pole in some awkwardly unbalanced competition of global circumnavigation.

Because my Maranta prayer plant is flowering.

It tried once before, but then something happened and it didn't work out. But every few hours, I think, this thing just pops out a new flower. It started with one wrinkled one and a closed bud on the stalk. Then, later that day, I noticed the bud opened and the first flower was gone. This pictured flower is the third or fourth; it and the few following it have all kind of disappeared from the segmented flower stalk thing, although there are a few more waiting in the wings. I would like to think that they're retracted, but they probably have just gone to "a better place" (that is, they probably have fallen off the plant and onto the floor).

Having tried to find information on Maranta flowering, the closest I could come to is this how-to on plant production. It notes that Maranta leuconeura "Erythroneura" is the red-ribbed variety with purple flowers (probably mine). It says nothing about pollination, but then I found another site that explains the, erm, "explosive" pollen release onto the back of the female bits in the flower. I'm sure there's a phrase for that on Anyway, before the flower even opens, the male reproductive offerings are sprayed onto the back of the female bits, which are kind of spring-loaded, preparing the flower for pollination. Then the flower opens, a bee buzzes by and tries to get some goodies, and the spring is released. The stigma hits some other flower's pollen on the bee, getting those eggs all fertilized, and deposits its own pollen so other flowers may get fertilized when the bee stops by.

I like when pretty plants have pretty flowers, small though they be, as well as interesting sexual behaviours.

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On Bagels

In Nova Scotia (at least, at my Enfield-born-and-raised friend's house), "bag" is pronounced "bayg," and "bagel" is "bahh-gel" with a hard G.

I don't know why I shared that. It's just that I always found it funny, and I still tease my friend (for whom I am the best man in his upcoming wedding).

But I was inspired to make these bagels (or "bahh-gels," depending on where you're from) by Nick at Macheesmo. I have been staring at his Cinnamon Raisin Bagel recipe for weeks, but I didn't have the right flour, then I didn't have yeast, or raisins, or what-have-you. So I always ended up cooking something else (sweet potato gnocchi, anyone?).

But last night, I said "Screw it" and just made the bagels with what I had: dried onion flakes and poppy seeds. I only had all-purpose white flour, not "bread flour" (that's not the same stuff, is it?). My "sponge" was less soupy mixture and more almost-full-on bread dough. My bagels were large, my holes small.

But hey, I made my own bagels. I'm super stoked about that! They're even tasty without any jam or cream cheese! (But they're eight to nine points each on Weight Watchers... A cup of white flour will do that.)

Plants later. I promise. (An indoor update for my 200th post--gods. 200.)


Feed Scraping Saga

After having been alerted by Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener magazine on Sunday night that my posts were being used on other sites, I was a bit upset. I understand--they're just using my freely-available feed, which I hadset to "Full," providing the entire text and images. (I now have it at "Short," which allows only 255 characters in the feed.) But these scrapers used my feed in such a way that it appeared that my knowledge, permission, and effort were involved in posting my content on their sites. Having a blogroll or feed widget is one thing--concatenating bloggers' posts in a structured format that makes it look like original blogged content by these bloggers (especially when pictures are scraped, too) is something else entirely.

I was only scraped on two sites that I have found: The Garden Depot Inc. and Hikool. Other blogs such as Garden Rant, All Andrew's Plants, This Garden Is Illegal, and Plant Zone, as well as others that I follow, were also scraped on these sites.

I alerted Andrew from All Andrew's Plants that I saw his posts on Hikool, as well, and he put together a great post that helped me a lot. Susan Harris, my local Garden Ranter, also helped me after I e-mailed her. She let me know to bug the sites' hosts--Garden Rant was scraped by The Garden Depot Inc. blog.

I have yet to fill out any DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) forms--Hikool removed my posts after I left a comment on about 20 of them, as Dave suggested. Hikool does not have contact information listed on their site, so commenting on my own post was the only way to get ahold of them. They did respond promptly via e-mail in what I consider to be a pleasant manner. Whoever responded ("Hikool Staff") suggested I have some wording saying that I don't want my feed used for commercial purposes and that if someone is reading this post not on my own blog, then whoever is hosting the content is guilty of copyright infringement, which I think is a great idea.

I don't want my feed used for commercial purposes and if someone is reading this post not on my own blog, then whoever is hosting the content is guilty of copyright infringement.

I am still waiting on The Garden Depot Inc.'s blog to remove me from their feed scraper. The Garden Depot Inc. is a garden-supply company based in California, so they actually have contact information on their main site. On Sunday, shortly after I found out about the scraping, I e-mailed this guy Blake, who I take is the owner, but I have not heard back. I have contacted the site's host and am preparing a DMCA form for them. I called and spoke with someone at the company this afternoon. He didn't know the company had a blog and told me that "We hired some guy to do our Internet for us." I told him that the guy is stealing content from other bloggers without their permission. The guy on the phone said he'd look into it and we hung up.

Currently, my posts are still up on The Garden Depot Inc.'s blog. So are Susan Harris'. I'll call this "Blake" fellow again tomorrow one final time before filing copyright infringement paperwork.

Something to look forward to in the week ahead. And for y'all, I have an indoor update in the works!


Garden Photo Contest Submissions

Washington Gardener magazine is having a garden photo contest.

Those of you who have stalkerish tendencies might remember me twittermocking Horticulture magazine for having an entry fee for their garden art competition. Washington Gardener has an entry fee, too, (only $10 for subscribers [e.g., me]), but I will not mock them. I have met Kathy Jentz, the editor, and she's a nice lady. I don't know the Horticulture people, so I feel completely free to scoff at the idea of paying to be in their garden photo contest.

I'm not inconsistent at all. Or, depending on the day, I am. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds," as it is said. I, for some reason, thought it was Ben Franklin who said that, but the Internets tells me it was Ralph Waldo Emerson. They're pretty much the same person, right?

Anyway, on to the plant photos! These are my 10 submissions (including titles and descriptions) that I will be sending in to Washington Gardener--nine are in the "Small Wonders" category, and the tenth is in "Garden Creatures." "Small Wonders" includes close-ups of flowers, parts of plants, stuff like that. "Garden Creatures" includes, well, creatures in gardens. I thought it would be interesting to see what you readers think is a good photo, and why. I'm hoping to win, but it was a bit difficult to whittle down to these 10 from the thousands of photos I took in 2009! Almost half of them, unsurprisingly, were photographs of plants I grew at Mr. Yogato, but you'll read all about them in the captions. After worrying that titles would be part of judging, I was assured that the judges care only for the image. Be warned, however, I am a bit wonky today, so some of my descriptions are, well, rambling, adjectival, flowery, a bit overenthusiastic and metaphorical.

Let's start with the "Small Wonders" submissions.

Photo title: "Soybean Of The Morning"

Description: GerminatingEnvy” soybean (from Seed Savers Exchange) on my windowsill. Picture taken in early morning on February 7, 2009. These soybeans were the inspiration for the song “Soybean, I Love You” and the start of my blog, The Indoor Garden(er).

Photo title: "Blue Promise"

Description: With little else growing on March 27, 2009, at 4:12 PM, these Scilla siberica were a welcome and awesome sight. The cute, tiny, but striking flowers brightened the bleak landscape surrounding them, giving a hint of what was to come in the weeks ahead.

Photo title: "Fanning My Purple Passion"

Description: I love purple flowers. These Centaurea montana “Amythest In Snow” were stunning en masse at Garden District's outdoor store during the overcast day on April 11, 2009, at 10:40 AM. I liked this picture so much that I redesigned The Indoor Garden(er) blog to play off of the colours in the photo and used it prominently as my header background.

Photo title: "Stealing The Spotlight"

Description: These marigold flowers were some of the first plants introduced by me into the barren concrete planters in front of Mr. Yogato. They survived, if not prospered, but their mark on the garden could not be ignored on May 21, 2009, at 5:14 PM. This particular flower nigh shouted "Pay attention to me! Ignore the less-worthy flowers in the background (which doesn't deserve to have such beauty as myself anywhere near it until it gets a new coat of paint)."

Photo title: "Open For Beauty"

Description: This Datura moonflower was the year-round star of the show at the Mr. Yogato garden. With copious blooms, amazing resilience (until the drag queen incident and then a hard freeze), and a never-ending need for pruning, these dangerously beautiful (they're poisonous, dun dun DUN!) flowers brightened night-time visitors' enjoyment of their frozen yogurt. Pictured on May 22, 2009, at 10:53 PM.

Photo title: "Perniciously Pretty"

Description: This Persicaria perfoliata (also known as Polygonum perfoliata or Mile-A-Minute) is an unfortunate invasive plant in the Mid-Atlantic area. But I love it. I have to give it props for its tenacity and its vexatiousness. The stunning vibrant berries, the hints of red, and the rumours of its edibility make one think “Oh, this sounds like a delightful plant!”... That is, until one tries to harvest it and discovers its mean, prickly side! Pictured on June 19, 2009, at 2:50 PM.

Photo title: "Perfection"

Description: This Clematis was photographed on June 21, 2009, at 4:04 PM. This photo is what makes me want to buy a house so I can have a trellis and a yard. The only thing I can say about this flower is simply this: gorgeous.

Photo title: "Sunshine, Lollipops, Et Cetera"

Description: This is an “Evening Sun” sunflower, seed purchased from Seed Savers Exchange. Grown in the sidewalk concrete planter at Mr. Yogato, this is the only picture I have of this cheerful 6'-tall beast of a plant—others admired it so much, they decided they'd like to make use of it elsewhere, leaving behind only the stalk. The expressive flower and the exuberance of life behind it just makes me sing, and of course, I sing Lesley Gore's almost-oppressively-cheery song “Sunshine, Lollipops, And Rainbows.” Who couldn't, when faced with such unabashed planty glee in existence? Photographed on July 12, 2009, at 1:06 PM.

Photo title: "Overshadowed Radiance"

Description: This Ipomoae batatas (purple-leaf ornamental sweet potato) flower deserves not its fate—to have such beauty, but to be unnoticed and hidden by the leaves for which the plant is known and marketed. Living in the shadow of its less striking but more raucously attention-grabbing cousins, this flower may only be appreciated by those who relax and take a deeper look at the beauty underneath. Photographed on October 9, 2009, at 12:41 PM.

And now on to the one "Garden Creatures" submission.

Photo title: "What?"

Description: This cute innocent little deer was caught munching on a lawn at 10:53 PM on July 8, 2009, near the Naval Observatory. She fearlessly let me get amazingly close to her before scampering off.


Carbtastic Fun With Food

I had a few cooking binges while at my friend's condo in Ottawa. The chocolate macaroons were the yummy result of one; a second bout yielded cumin butternut squash ravioli, cinnamon butternut squash baked ravioli, and sweet potato gnocchi.

I had never made ravioli before, but I've made the gnocchi and some squash empanadas before, so I didn't think it would be too hard. I wanted to make things vegan--the friend I visited used to be hardcore, but not so much anymore (she kept trying to slip me seafood, telling me that it isn't meat, so being a vegetarian, I'm allowed to eat it. She is tricky tricky!). Finding a vegan ravioli dough recipe is difficult, and having all the ingredients without having to go to the store is even more difficult, so I adapted this one. I didn't have/didn't know what semolina flour is, but I guessed after a quick search that it is used as kind of a binding agent. So, instead, I used 3 cups of regular all-purpose flour, a bit more water than the recipe called for, the same amount of oil, and a prepackaged serving of apple sauce that my friend kept trying to make me eat at breakfast and I kept turning down. I thought that would help as a binding agent because I've read that it can replace eggs as a binding agent in vegan recipes. Although, refinding that information was pretty difficult. Either way, the ravioli dough worked out well (even without a rolling pin--I had to use a metal water bottle to roll it out).

The sweet potato gnocchi (on the plate on right) is, again, Nick's recipe from Macheesmo. I didn't bother trying to make them look pretty this time--four hours into preparing all these random dishes, and I was just like "Screw this." The ravioli wasn't a recipe so much as two batches of cooked butternut squash: one batch had basil, celery salt, cumin, and pepper; the other had cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and a bit of vanilla. The sweet ravioli (on the cookie sheet with the parchment paper) were baked little pockets of deliciousness. The more savory ones (on the plate at top) were boiled for dinner. You can ignore what's in the pan on the left--that's just my veggie stirfry that I made for lunch while preparing all this other goodness.

Of course, I only thought to take a picture with my phone. I don't know why I didn't get a picture with the camera, but once I thought about it, dinner was almost over.

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