Category Archives: Garden Stuff

The Mystery of Ferdinand the Frog – SOLVED!

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ferdinand2

Well, at least we THINK we solved the mystery.

A little backstory:

About four years ago we were suddenly plagued by this extremely loud chirping/croaking sound coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the backyard and only at night. It seemed like it was coming from the trees, and each night we’d go out and gaze up into the canopy of our fig tree and our neighbor’s trees for whatever bird was making such a racket, but to no avail.

I researched bird sounds of Southern California and could find nothing that matched the sound I was hearing. For a week I poured over websites and listened to recordings of dozens of birdsongs. I finally gave up, reaching no conclusions.

Then, oddly, I heard the sound once during the day. I leapt from my desk, hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever it was now that it couldn’t hide in the shadows. Instead of coming from the trees, however, it sounded like it was coming from the pool, and the sound was echoing up into the air.

And then I spotted him. A tiny frog, no bigger than a quarter, clinging to the side of the pool, singing his little heart out.

My instinct was to squash him because he was SO. DAMN. LOUD. But I reconsidered, and called hubs outside so he could see the devil for himself.

Adam was instantly smitten and gave him a name – Ferdinand. Well, shit, once you name something it’s really hard to kill it.

So, that first summer, every night Ferdinand came out and sang his lonely song, looking for a mate. Sometimes he’d jump into the pool and swim alongside us. Mostly he kept out of sight. We couldn’t figure out how he’d arrived at our house. It is very dry in the Valley, and not hospitable to frogs in any way, really. We figured he hitched a ride with the pool man.

In the fall, his song stopped, and we thought that was the end of that. We surmised he’d probably gotten eaten by a cat or a bird or a squirrel or something.

But the following spring, he started up his song again. A little online research uncovered that frogs hibernate. Who knew? He sang his lonesome song again that summer, pining for a mate that would never come. I imagined him as a lonely traveler, with nothing but his banjo to keep him company. A little something like this:

mermaid

Or perhaps even this:

kermit-banjo

This went on for three or four summers, I can’t quite remember. We came to love his sound, signaling the beginning of warm weather and leisurely nights swimming in the pool. It was always fun to spot him, and we got one really good picture of him, clinging to the side of our Jacuzzi.

ferdinand

But he went quiet in the middle of last summer, and we haven’t heard his call this spring, so we’re pretty sure he’s in froggy heaven now. And we never did figure out what kind of frog he was or where he came from.

Until now.

Hubs happened to see an article yesterday about an invasive species of frog from Puerto Rico the coqui frog – that is suddenly making an appearance in Southern California. They’ve hitched rides in the nursery containers of tropical plants. Which reminded me that I once saw a tiny frog in a nursery pot at the Home Depot in Signal Hill….

Hmmmmm…could Ferdie have been a coqui? If you listen to recordings of their call, they sound an awful like what I remember Ferdinand sounding like.

Here’s a recording of a coqui:

And in this (poor quality) video you can hear Ferdi in the background:

And he resembles the coqui in both size and coloring.

Coqui Frog-005

What do you think?

Do you think our little Ferdie was the scourge known as the coqui frog? Apparently, they’ve been a very unwelcome addition to the nightscape of Hawaii, which is usually quiet and peaceful. But in Puerto Rico they are loved. I guess it’s like the difference between a flower and weed – it’s really up to the interpretation of the person dealing with it.

Nonetheless, we’ve alerted the people in SoCal who are keeping track of this frog’s proliferation into the Los Angeles area. I think we might be their first instance of a coqui frog spotting in the San Fernando Valley.

So, the mystery of Ferdinand the Frog is most likely solved. We still miss the little bugger. We really grew to love his sound, and how he connected us with the wildness of our own backyard. Even here in the depths of suburbia, we have so many species of birds, insects, plants and amphibians to marvel at. Learning about them is a joy – it makes me feel more connected to the world and reminds me how we’re all just sharing it together.

 

An Afternoon at Descanso Gardens

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Wow! I did not realize it until I logged in, but this is my 100th blog post. Happy anniversary to me! Having this outlet for my writing has been such a reward, and I want to thank each and every one of you who has come by over the last couple of years to say hi.

happy 100

Okay, that isn’t what I originally sat down to share with you, but in some ways it is related. Last August I started on the journey of The Artist’s Way. I’ve talked about that book ad nauseum on this blog, but it really was and has been rather life-changing. It renewed my creative spirit and ignited a fire in me to chip away at this writing thing, which is how I came to finally pay attention to this blog. It also reminded me that it is essential to take time to unwind and replenish my personal resources. In The Artist’s Way this is accomplished through weekly Artist’s Dates – two hours each week spent alone doing something completely for fun.

I’ve been neglecting those Artist Dates, and I can see the difference. I feel more depleted than I have in a few months, and the creative ideas are fewer and far between. I decided this weekend it was time to renew my commitment to those dates.

Normally, an Artist Date is done alone, but my husband looked like he could use an outing, too, so I decided this weekend to invite him along. One of the places I have always wanted to visit in Los Angeles, but haven’t, is Descanso Gardens. I’m an avid gardener, so it surprises me that after eight years I still haven’t bothered to make it over there. So this Saturday, we packed ourselves up in the car, fired up our pedometer apps, charged up the camera battery, and set out for this little urban oasis.

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Descanso is Spanish for “place of rest”, and the name could not be more fitting. Located in La Canada Flintridge in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, Descanso Gardens covers 160 acres of both cultivated and natural gardens. The price of admission is an affordable $9/adult, but if you buy a membership for $70/year, admission is free. Which is a bargain, especially if you live across the street. Talk about easy motivation for a daily walk.

We tried to arrive on the early side, as we figured it would be busy on a Saturday in April. The parking lot was pretty well filled we when arrived at 11am, but we managed to find a spot easy enough (not so for those arriving when we left at 2:30pm).

Once inside visitors are given a map of the grounds, which turned out to be helpful. The gardens are surprisingly large, and many paths wind around the different areas – it would be easy to get turned around.

Dragonfly emerging from nymph stage in the lily pond
Dragonfly emerging from nymph stage in the lily pond

We began our walk in the Rose Garden. We stopped at a small, round pond containing water lilies where a guide was asking people to see if they could spot the resident frog. Instead of a frog, what we did spot was a dragonfly morphing from it’s nymph stage into adulthood – pretty cool! I had never given any thought to the life cycle of dragonflies, and this chance encounter led me to looking it up when we got home.

Water lilies in bloom
Water lilies in bloom

The Rose Garden is huge and April is the perfect time to experience it. I’m sure it’s a challenge to keep a cultivated garden like this looking nice during our serious drought, and the staff here do a good job with limited resources. There are endless varieties of roses in every shade, and it’s a popular spot for weddings and other events. In fact, they were setting up for a wedding when we strolled through.

Rose Garden
Rose Garden
I've decided that fuchsia and yellow is my favorite color combo... These roses were unbelievable.
I’ve decided that fuchsia and yellow is my favorite color combo… These roses were unbelievable.
Crow's nest complete with barbed wire
Crow’s nest complete with barbed wire

We then wound our way around the lake, spotting birds and even stopping at the bird outlook to see the nests they have on display. Check out this crow’s nest – if you look carefully on the right you can see they even used bits of barbed wire! Crows are hard-core, man.

Duck, duck, goose... Birds love the lake. Check out all the species that have been spotted over the years.
Duck, duck, goose… Birds love the lake. Check out all the species that have been spotted over the years.
Mountain View outlook - stop and rest a spell.
Mountain View outlook – stop and rest a spell.

We circled the lake and enjoyed a stroll through the Oak Woodland and the California natives area. While the Rose Garden was quite busy, people were fewer on these paths. We stopped for a few moments’ rest at the Mountain View outlook. I can imagine sitting here watching the colors of the mountains and sky change with the setting sun while enjoying a nice glass of a California varietal Viognier. That would be, um, incredible.

Meadow of California natives
Meadow of California natives
Hummingbird Sage
Hummingbird Sage – I totally want this for my garden.

We then began our walk through the Oak Forest. Okay, I’m going to gush a little bit. I never really thought about or noticed oak trees until I moved to California. They are now, hands down, my favorite trees. My god, their size, their strength, their grandeur, their elegance, their grace – these trees are breathtaking! The fractal branch canopy is a feast for the eyes and one of my most favorite vistas in the world, I think. I could lie in a hammock and look at it all day.

Oak canopy
Oak canopy
Oak Canopy
Oak Canopy
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Path through the Oak Forest.

IMG_1399-001We then came up on the Boddy House and Surt Haaga Gallery. This 12,000 square foot building is the former home of Manchester Boddy, who founded Descanso Gardens and sold the land and estate to Los Angeles County in 1953. The home was completely restored in 2007 and is a wonderful place to duck into on your tour. We particularly enjoyed the vertical gardens containing California native plants.

 

Boddy House Study
Boddy House Study
Boddy House Living Roo
Boddy House Living Room

Near the house is the Lilac Garden, and I was delighted that a few of the trees still had blooms. There must be at least 100 lilac plants here, and although it is near the end of the season, there were still a few bunches on the branches, and I spent a heavenly few minutes inhaling their fragrance. That smell will always remind me of Indiana and my mother, and the huge lilac bush in her front yard that was in bloom when school was ending for the year. It brings to mind field trips to Indiana Dunes, last day celebrations, and the imminent arrival of the lazy days of summer vacation.

Oh, lil
Oh, lilacs, I do love you so…

We then enjoyed the Japanese garden, which has lovely water features and a fun orange bridge.

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Japanese Garden
Japanese Garden - almost mistake this bird for a statute it was so still.
Japanese Garden – almost mistook this bird for a statute it was so still.

On our way out I couldn’t resist the gift shop, which is full of all kinds of interesting garden paraphernalia including plants, planters, seeds, books, lotions, jams, prints, postcards – you name it.

All in all, we walked about 1.7 miles, took a couple hundred pictures, enjoyed endless gorgeous views, saw some wildlife, experienced our first dragonfly birth, got some fresh air and sun, and thoroughly enjoyed three hours of time we would have otherwise spent watching TV or cleaning the house. I’d say time well spent.

If you live in Los Angeles and haven’t had a chance to visit Descanso Gardens, I highly recommend it. Like the name suggests, it’s a great little place to rest and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. And for me, it was exactly what I needed to relax and recharge – a perfect daycation in the city!

 

Winter in my Southern California Garden

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Winter is my second favorite time of the year in my Southern California garden. It can’t beat spring, because it is just…well, it’s spring! Spring is cool mornings and warm breezes and an explosion of growth and color and texture and it’s all just magical.

But winter does not follow far behind in my esteem. Winter holds the promise of spring. And while we may have a night or two with temperatures plunging below freezing, and I may lose a plant or two as a result, there are still things growing out there, telling us all that if we wait just a few more weeks the world will suddenly be resplendent.

Sometimes anticipation is sweeter than fulfillment.

52 weeks
52 Weeks in the California Garden by Robert Smaus

It’s usually about this time of year that I pick up my Garden Bible. I found this book at a garage sale about three years ago. I paid exactly $1 for it. Of all the books I own, this one is probably the most valuable and has given me the biggest bang for my buck. My one buck. It‘s written by the garden editor of the Los Angeles Times, and it simply lays out, week by week, what gardeners in California should be doing in their little patches of earth. It lists chores, what to plant and when to plant it. It offers clear advice on what grows well here, and why. It is a book that has helped me become more methodical in my gardening, and the results show.

Care to take a little tour?

BACKYARD

My backyard is a concrete jungle, save for a small strip of dirt. I decided there wasn’t any reason that tiny patch couldn’t be an awesome veggie garden – and it is! Especially in winter, when it’s not so scorching and dry. I’ve got it on a drip irrigation system so I just pretty much let it do it’s thing. I’ve stapled nursery flats along the bottom, because my neighbor’s pit bull, Skittles, likes to dig. Right now, I’ve got mint, Brussels sprouts, kale, rainbow chard, broccoli and cauliflower growing out there. There’s also some volunteer lettuce peaking up through cracks, from the lettuce I let go to seed in the summer.

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FRONT YARD

Most of the gardening at my house happens in the front yard, out of necessity. I’m a big advocate of growing edibles in the front yard, and try to choose those that are most ornamental. These spring peas are awfully pretty crawling up a spherical trellis Hubs picked up for me from a garage sale (garage sales are garden goldmines!).

Delicate - and prolific - spring peas grow well in winter
Delicate – and prolific – spring peas grow well in winter

January is the month to plant bare-root roses in California. It is also the month they start to wake up. I only have four bushes – one of them miniature – but they provide just enough blooms to collect for a twee little burst of color on my desk.

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The last blaze of sunset glory
The last blaze of sunset glory
A tiny, pink, miniature rose
A tiny, pink, miniature rose

January is also the month where succulents take center stage. I have several varieties in my garden, due to the ease of propagation and their drought-tolerant lifestyle. Many of them are coming into bloom now, including the aloe and the ice plant. I’m not even sure what this little guy is – again, I bought it at a garage sale – but it sure is pretty!

IMG_0845Many of the perennials are dormant in January, but there are one or two that are coming alive, such as this gorgeous canna lily, which boasts the most colorful leaves in my garden. Later in the year it will bloom with a magnificent and soft orange flower.

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Last, but not least, we can’t forget about the birds! I have a few feeders and birdhouses in my garden, as well as not one, not two, but THREE birdbaths. I finally got around to cleaning them and filling them with fresh water yesterday. I can’t wait for the birds to discover them. Watching them play in the water always brings a smile to my face. And in this particular birdbath, they have a turtle friend. He’s very shiny and colorful and came from the dollar store!

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I hope this helps those of you who may be experiencing the winter blahs right now. And if you’re in my neighborhood, stop by for a garden respite! I’ll make you some kale chips!

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A Season of Beginning

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 9/23/14)

Fall is descending upon the garden here in Southern California. It doesn’t look like the fall of my youth, with the crisp, ripe air, the crimson, flaming trees, or the crackling logs on the fire. There are no frosty mornings or quiet, introspective, rainy days. No woolen sweaters or hot mugs of apple cider. You would sweat to death here.

But fall is here nonetheless. I can tell by how leggy the salvia has gotten, by how the mint, once a mad dictator claiming all neighboring lands as its own, has become dry and brittle and easily breaks like a tortured hostage. The squash vines have grasped their last fence post, their plump fruits ready to be plucked from their dirty brown hands. The hollyhocks have collapsed, unable to bear the weight of their beauty any longer, and the tiger lilies, once ferocious, have crawled back into their dens for the season.

It’s time to cut back in the garden. Time to prune back the perennials and pull out the basil. It’s time to weed the beds and cover them with a blanket of protective compost so they can have a cozy winter’s nap.

I think fall is the perfect time to cut back in my life as well. Take a cue from nature and trim back the excess growth that doesn’t serve me, only sucks away energy that could be put to better use, making my healthy parts stronger. It’s time to shed the old habits that don’t serve a creative purpose, and to let in some light and some air.

Fall is also a time of planting in Southern California. There is no better time that right now to put new plants in the ground. While visible growth comes to a standstill in the ensuing months, there is a festival of activity happening in places the eyes can’t see. Our warm, nourishing soil is prompting roots to grow, and once tender seedlings firmly establish themselves over the winter holidays. Come spring, they have a strong foundation on which to grow, and burst into life, wowing us with their color, their shape, their fragrance, their taste, and all their innumerable glories.

Now is the time for me to plant my ideas, to nourish them and let them establish themselves inside me in the coming months. Before long, those ideas will have taken root, and can burst forth and dazzle, seemingly effortlessly.

If we take the time to do important fall chores – to cut back, to clean up, to plant, and to nourish – we will have created the foundation on which to be resplendent.

If you need me, I’ll be in the garden, preparing for the beginning.

capote

I’ll Take Your Crap, Thank You

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(originally posted in www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 8/12/13)

Those that know me know that I have an affinity for junk.  I’m the person that slows down when passing a pile of discarded crap on the side of the road, because you never know what kind of little treasure might be waiting there, disguised as trash.  These are basically the only types of items I like to put in my front yard garden – stuff that can be transformed into something interesting, but nothing of great value that will upset me if it gets stolen or destroyed by the elements.  I’ve found cement pedestals that have become plant stands and birdbaths, doll beds that have become flower planters, and stairway balusters that have become the bases for bird feeders and houses (and will one day be the body of a dragonfly sculpture, just as soon as I can find some discarded ceiling fan blades to be the wings).

I often find larger treasures such as weathered doors and old shutters that I’ve not been able to dash off with, simply because I owned a compact car.  Well – I’m delighted to say that is now a thing of the past.  We’ve finally secured an SUV so that I can pick up whatever damn thing I please.  🙂  I LOVE the new ride.  We were looking for something that we wouldn’t mind getting dirty or scratched, and found our perfect match in a friend’s busted-up, 2005 Cadillac SRX.  That’s right – I’m now the proud owner of a luxury automobile, albeit one that has a big dent on the front passenger side.  I think that makes it even better.  I can ride in my bubble of perfectly controlled climatic bliss while the computer tells me exactly how many more miles I can drive before my next fill-up, AND I can shove a dirty, cobweb-encrusted park bench in the back if I so choose.  The damn thing even beeps if I back up too close to the object I’m about to abscond with.  I’M IN HEAVEN.

It didn’t take long to find the first project.  While at a friend’s house for a dinner party recently, I noticed his neighbors had just set out a fresh pile of dinged-up furniture.  I’ve been waiting patiently to snag something to make a potting table of sorts, and I found the perfect specimen in an old, beat-up girlie dresser that was missing a drawer and hardware.  My husband, being consummately accepting of my junk addiction, loaded her up in the back of the Caddy for me (I was wearing a nice dress and carrying a plate of chocolate-covered figs, after all), while my patient and tolerant passengers ate their knees on the way home.

I spent the weekend sprucing her up.  I repaired the drawer runners with some wood glue, sanded her down and gave her a fresh coat of paint.  She also got some new drawer pulls from Home Depot.  The whole thing set me back about $12.  She’s now sitting on the front porch, my garden tools safely stashed in her drawers while some of the more attractive pieces show themselves off up top.  I’m pretty happy with how she turned out.

GARDEN BENCH

Lemme know if you have any junk you want me to take off your hands, I’ll be right over!

A Touch of Whimsy in the Garden

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 4/1/13)

flower1I have spring fever, y’all!  Spring was never my favorite season – until I became a gardener.  Now I have to stop myself from going out there every hour to see what has changed and if anything has noticeably grown, because at this time of year the plants and flowers are just exploding.  It’s all I can do to concentrate on anything other than plants and planting, to the extent that Adam actually had to ask me to other night if I could please talk about something other than gardening…and it effectively shut me up.  Every time I had a thought or something to share, it was inevitably about how big the corn is getting, how many snow peas we might harvest for dinner tomorrow, or wondering how tall the hollyhocks are going to get and whether they will need staking.  Now he knows what to say to get some peace and quiet.

Now that the garden is in full spring swing, I thought it would be fun to add a little whimsy here and there.  I’ve always got ideas percolating about how I can turn some junk I found at a garage sale or on the side of the road into some little treasure for my front yard garden.  With all this gardening enthusiasm I’ve had of late, I’ve put that energy to good use by finally getting to many of these little projects.  I’m pretty pleased with how they’ve all turned out so far.

Chandelier Bird Feeder

I saw others like this on Pinterest, so when I happened across a dirt-encrusted chandelier at a garage sale for $20 (it still had the antique store price tag on it, where it was listed for $395!) I knew it needed to be the new upscale restaurant in the yard for my bird friends.  A little cleaning and spray paint was in order, and I made the feed cups from some Trader Joes chicken breast cans which I attached with a little epoxy.  I think it adds just the touch of whimsy I was hoping for, and the birds definitely seem to like it (especially the house finches you see here).

birdfeeder

 Gnome Home

Another Pinterest creation, I’ve been thinking about adding a little “gnome home” to the tree in the front yard since last summer.  I finally dug up the soil around the tree and purchased the miniature door on Amazon.  It’s about the most adorable thing out there.  I planted some alyssum and some dead nettle, and decided to keep the oxalis weeds growing there, too, since they are awfully pretty.

gnomehome

Oh the Places We’ve Been

Another project I’ve been daydreaming about since last year was adding a signpost to the front yard with signs pointing to some of the places we’ve visited over the years.  The most challenging part of the project was choosing which places to include.  I learned a neat trick from another blog about how to add the lettering, and Adam borrowed a post-hole digger from the neighbor to install it for me.  Of course, no signpost is complete without a birdhouse on top (which I snatched for $1 from a garage sale in Indiana while I was home visiting the folks).  Now when I look out the kitchen window I’m reminded of some of our adventures, and the birds have yet another place to perch.

signpost

I hope this inspires you to create some whimsy of your own!  If you need me, I’ll be in the garden.

Garden to Plate

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 9/7/11)

After waiting patiently all spring and summer, I’m happy to say it’s finally time to harvest the corn!  As a first time gardener, you just can’t go wrong with corn.  It definitely gives the biggest bang for the buck.  It’s pretty easy to grow and it grows fast plus it’s magnificiently tall and creates a wonderful green border in front of my ugly wooden fence.  And in my particular case it was almost entirely free since I got the seeds gratis from the Sowing Millions Project.  The only real expense was time spent, which was pretty pleasant all around.

However, I really didn’t pay too close attention to exactly what kind of corn seeds I was sent, so color me surprised when I discovered that I had purple corn.

cob

Turns out I have Inca corn, with is a South American strain of corn.  Ever had it?  If you’ve ever eaten Peruvian food you probably have.  The first time I ate at  Peruvian restaurant here in LA I was taken aback by how BIG the corn was – and chewy.  The first couple of ears we pulled off we prepared on the cob – you know, like they do with sweet corn in Indiana where I’m from.  That’s pretty much the only way to eat corn there.  Well, that is not an appetizing way to eat this kind of corn.  It’s dry and chewy and most of it ends up coating your teeth like paste.  We decided that since we’re about to have about, oh, 50 ears of corn ready to eat we best come up with some new recipes for this corn.

I found this wonderful recipe online for South American tamales, or humitas.  I found it on this wonderful blog called Laylita’s Recipes.  It’s the same place where I found the recipe for Dulce de Higos after we came back from Ecuador.  Laylita’s blog is a treasure trove of South American recipes, complete with stories from growing up and preparing these dishes with her family.  Love it!  Here’s the recipe I used, with a few tweaks:

Ingredients:

  • 6-7 fresh ears of corn, with husks
  • 3 cups grated or crumbled cheese, mozzarella or a fresh farmers cheese (I used a mix of both)
  • 1 cup diced white onions, about ½ large onion
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • About 1 cup corn meal
  • ¼ cup of heavy cream (I used half and half)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt

SidesAji de tomate de arbol or tree tomato hot sauce (I couldn’t find tamarillos at either the Mexican market across the street or at the Mexican chain grocer Vallarta, so I made a roasted tomatillo salsa)

Preparation:

  1. Remove the husks from the corn; try to keep each husk intact, the large ones will be used as wrappers for the humitas and the smaller ones will be broken into long strips to tie around the humitas. (I found it helpful to cut off the bottom of the corn so that the wide husks wouldn’t tear down the middle when you peel the corn)
  2. To help make the corn husks more pliable place them in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain the water and save the husks until ready to use.
  3. Remove the silky hairs from the corn and use a knife to cut the corn kernels from the cob, if you don’t have a steamer save the cobs to use as a steamer.
  4. Place the corn kernels, 1 cup of cheese, diced onions, crushed garlic, ground coriander, corn meal, cream, eggs, and salt in the food processor, mix until the corn is pureed.
  5. In large deep pot place about 2 ½ cups of water and a steamer, the water should be just below the steamer, if you don’t have a steamer arrange the cobs on the bottom of the pan instead and cover them with some of the leftover husks.
  6. To fill each humita use 2 of the large corn husks per humita, place them on top of each other, fold the left side of the husks, then fold the top half over the bottom half, this creates a semi-pocket, fill it with a spoonful of the mixture (how much mixture will depend on the size of the husks, the larger the husks the more filling you can add) and stuff some of the remaining cheese in the middle, now fold over the right side of the husk and tighten it up a little bit, use the thin strips to tie around the wrapper and keep it closed. (okay, this was really, really hard for me, and I cheated a bit and tied them with kitchen string because the husks were just too delicate for my large, clumsy hands)
  7. Place the humitas in the pot on top of the steamer, I like to keep them slightly inclined with the open end on top. Place any leftover husks on top and cover well.
  8. Place the pot on the stove over high heat until you hear the water boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 35-40 minutes, the cooked humitas will be slightly firm to firm when they are done.
  9. Serve warm with aji de tomate de arbol or tree tomato hot sauce. (I used roasted tomatillo salsa and a I also made a yummy Peruvian green sauce which I found a recipe for here)

Adam and I decided these were super yummy and perhaps I’ll make them again so I can practice my tamale-rolling skills.  So there you have it – from garden to plate!

collagefood

In a Jam

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 8/5/11)

Well, the figging continues.  Figs, figs, figs, figsfigsfigsfigs everywhere!  Another round of figs has ripened on the tree and we took in a harvest of I would guess about 10 pounds.  Yikes.  What to do with that many figs?

Well, first I made my dulce de higos, or sweet Ecuadorian figs (recipe found here).  I hope y’all are coming over to eat them because we’ll never, ever eat all of them.

Second, I made wine soaked figs, recipe found here.  We had had a little party last weekend, and I had some half-empty bottles of red wine so, well, necessity was the mother of invention here.

Third, I made my first foray into the world of jam-making and canning.  I’ll admit I was scared, but now that I made it through relatively unscathed (there was a bit of scalding-hot splatter, so not entirely unscathed) I am anxious to get to the next batch.  This time I made two:  a quick, microwave type of jam you can make in single can sizes.  It’s spicy orange fig jam and it is utterly delicious!  The second I made the old fashioned way which produced about a dozen cans.  Aptly, it is old-fashioned fig preserves.  I thought I’d start with that as the base and try different types of jam for the next batches.

The moral of the story here is that if you like fig jam, you best let me know and I’ll be sending you some.

jam

In other news, the corn I’ve planted is going gangbusters and will be ready to harvest anytime now.  This is the first time I’ve grown any kind of vegetable and I’m ecstatic by how well it’s doing!  I feel like I’m at home in Indiana.

corn

I’m also hard at work trying to make the front yard look nice.  We rent, so we don’t want to spend a ton of money on plants and things, so my thrifty self is hard at work on this project.  I just made two small beds by the front gate with plants salvaged from a restaurant in Long Beach (they were pulling them out of their planters and putting them in bags as I was walking by they gladly let me take them) and the bricks are salvaged from our backyard.  Just the beginning.

yard1

yard2

Here Figgy, Figgy!

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 7/5/11)

We have an embarrassment of figs here at my house.

I don’t think I ever even ate a fig until I moved to LA.  Figs were something that made brief appearances in songs around Christmastime, not something I’m accustomed to having on my plate in the summer.

But now we have an enormous fig tree in our yard, with my hammock from El Salvador hanging underneath – I’m so excited to finally be using it!

tree

About two weeks ago we started getting our first ripe ones.  From what I can tell, it seems we’ll have fresh figs from now until mid-fall.  At least 100 pounds of them.  Question is – what the hell do you do with all those figs?  I certainly don’t want them to go to waste.

When Adam and I went to Ecuador last November, we stopped for some street food at an outdoor market in Otavalo.  A black, bubbling concoction served with cheese on a roll.

dulce de higos

Turns out they were figs, and they were beyond delicious.  As soon as we got home I tried to find the recipe, which I finally did online at http://laylita.com/recipes/2008/09/23/dulce-de-higos-or-figs-in-syrup/ and is reprinted below.  At the time it was hard to find figs, but now that I’m pulling about 20 a day from our tree, I’ve made it twice in the last two weeks.  It takes three days to prepare, but it is worth it!

figs from our tree

Ingredients:

  • 20 fresh ripe but firm figs, washed
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • 1 ¾ lb brown sugar
  • Cinnamon sticks, cloves and other spices – optional
  • Water

Sides – Slices of cheese, bread (we found Hawaiian bread particularly tasty with this)

Preparation:

  1. Make a crosswise cut on the thin side of each fig.
  2. Place the figs in a bowl, cover them with water and let them soak for 24 hours.
  3. Rinse the figs, place them in a saucepan, and cover them with water, about 8 cups.
  4. Add the baking soda and bring the water to a boil over medium heat, cook for about 15-20 minutes or until soft.
  5. Remove from the heat and let the figs soak in the water they cooked in for another 24 hours.
  6. Drain all the water from figs and gently squeeze each fig to remove as much water as possible.
  7. Place the brown sugar and the spices in a large saucepan, cover with about 6 cups of water and cook on low heat until it is completely dissolved.
  8. Add the figs and simmer until the syrup begins to thicken, at least a couple of hours, stir occasionally.
  9. Serve either warm or cold with a slice of quesillo, fresh mozzarella, queso fresco, farmer’s cheese or the cheese of your preference.

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Guerilla Gardening

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(originally posted on www.createdbychance.blogspot.com on 6/1/11)

Seems my love of finding new uses for old items has extended to the garden.  Or at least my love of all things free.

Recently Adam and I were watching the Today show, and chef Rick Bayless was a guest.  He was talking about the Sowing Millions Project that he’s involved in with the company Seeds of Change.  They committed to giving away 100 million seeds (you just pay the shipping).  Give away?  Free, you say?  Well, gee, I’ll try anything if it’s free.  So I went to the website, signed up for my free seeds, and promptly forgot all about it.  About six weeks later, after we moved into our new place, a big, unmarked manila envelope addressed to me showed up on my doorstep.  I love getting packages in the mail, and the best part is when I don’t expect them, so the giddy anticipation of finding out what was inside was delicious.  I carefully opened the package to find…dozens of packets of seeds, of course!

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There were sunflowers and corn (LOTS of corn) and eggplant and different kinds of radishes and lots of different kinds of lettuce and beets and on and on and on.  I have little (okay, no) experience with vegetable gardening, and my backyard is mostly cement, but I’m proud to say I’ve done quite a bit of container gardening in the last few days and I also dug up the soil next to our fence and planted two rows of corn and two rows of sunflowers.  The daily excitement of watering them and seeing how much they’ve grown since the day before makes me feel like a little kid.  I can’t wait til they’re all growed up!  Pictures to come when there’s something a little more exciting to show you than just soil.

Speaking of gardening and free stuff, I’ve become addicted to trolling the free section on CraigsList looking for plants and pots and just about anything for the garden.  Having lived in an apartment for over a decade, I have no outdoor accoutrements.  But one man’s trash is often my treasure, especially if it’s going to live outside.  A little scrub, a little paint, and a little love is usually all it takes to make something usable and nice again.  And I can’t believe the stuff people give away for free.  A couple of nights ago I happened to see a posting for some free palm trees and aloe vera plants that someone had dug out of their yard and were sitting by the curb.  My conversation with Adam went something along the lines of:

Me:  You wanna get some free palm trees and free aloe vera plants?

Adam:  Sure.

Pause.

Adam:  Oh, you mean now?

Me:  Duh.

So at 10pm we hopped in the car, basically in our pajamas (amateurs!) and drove to this house which wasn’t too far from ours.  However, the street had no lights, and my flashlight didn’t work, nor did we bring gloves or wear appropriae shoes (I had on flip flops – amateur!).  So hoisting a 5 foot tall, 100 pound palm tree covered in sharp spikes into the trunk of my car was amusing to say the least.  We made so much noise the owners came outside, although they were cool and informed us that one of the palm trees in their yard was in the movie The Ten Commandments.  Even trees in Hollywood get their 15 minutes, I guess.  They watched as we struggled with the palm.  Okay, we watched as Adam struggled with the palm, and I nonchalantly picked which of the 30 or so aloe cuttings I wanted.  Adam finallygot the palm in the trunk – incidentally, most of it sticking out the back end, and we gingerly and laughingly made our way home.  Okay, maybe I was the only one laughing.

Our plan is to plant the palm in a big pot, so we can take it with us wen we eventually leave, but Adam thought we needed to plant it somewhere right away so it didn’t die.  So at 11pm we were in our front yard digging a big hole to put the body, I mean plam tree, in.  It’ll be a little embarrassing when the gardener comes by (again, amateurs!), but so far it’s hanging in there.

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Some of the aloe have made it into planters, but many are hanging out in a pot full of water at the moment.

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Of course, the pots either came from garage sales ($2) or from the neighbor’s trash (free!).

Did I mention I love free stuff?