So Long November

It’s rainy this last day of November 2016. We needed it. 

A lot happened in November. Some of which is good, some bad, and some I’m just not sure what to make of. One thing is for sure, Novembers seem to go by more quickly each year. I feel like we should be only halfway through.

I did a pretty good job of writing consistently — some for NaNoWriMo, some for NaBloPoMo which is what this post of part of. I got more than 30 posts for November in wildly variable lengths and quality. But that’s better than this time last year.

And that’s a wrap. Time!

NaBloPoMo November 2016

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Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden III

In my balcony garden I’ve established that you’ll have better results if you use larger containers. It’s a good idea to use plants that won’t grow too large too (though you can sometimes break that rule). And full sunlight is best for most edible plants, but a few tolerate some shade.

Tomatoes and peppers especially need lots of soil and sun. 

Greens might be a little forgiving with some filtered sunlight. They’ll perform better — grow larger with larger leaves — in larger pots, but some will survive in less-than-ideal containers. Swiss Chard is nutritious and pretty easy to grow.

I tried some lettuce and arugula this year. I only planted a little because I wasn’t sure how it would grow in a container garden on my balcony.

LettuceLittle Gem. I think I meant to grow more than one lettuce and then didn’t. Little Gem is a small variety of romaine. It had a mild taste that would work well with any kind of lettuce mix. I let it get some shade. It may have thrived better with full sun and with more room too. Even with a little shade it still bolted in the heat of summer though not as quickly as my Japanese Giant Red Mustard plants. I should probably have started the lettuce seeds earlier in the season. 

Arugula – I planted two types of arugula. I love that taste of arugula so I was happy that it grew for so long. It seemed to be okay with a little shade too.

One type was, Arugula Rocket Salad (Roquette) which has nice peppery leaves that look a lot like the arugula I might buy in a grocery store. I love the taste of arugula. These grew larger than the other variety. So I guess that’s good. It resisted bolting for a while. I think it started to bold, but has slowed down now. It’s still growing a few small and tasty leaves. 

The other, Arugula Wild Rocky Organic (at least the seeds started organic and I mostly grew the plants that way). This is a fast growing arugula with a strong flavor that I happen to really enjoy. The leaves grew smaller and finer than the other variety. This made the plant look almost frilly or lacy. It adds pretty texture in a salad with other greens. It grew similarly to the other arugula as far as growth and bolting, but more of this variety bolted. But I’m still getting a few small leaves. 

Overall for container gardening I’m not sure the lettuce was worth the fuss. Space is at a premium. I may try it again though because I love the idea of walking out and picking a salad or a few leaves for sandwiches. If I do, I really need to plant earlier.

I love the taste of arugula, so I enjoyed picking a leaf or two for snacking as I did other gardening. I didn’t grow enough to make whole salads for the family, but it was enough for a few leaves added to mixed salads. Since it grew for longer, it was enjoyable to have in my balcony garden. (And it’s not dead yet.)

Arugula – two varieties Rocket Salad (left) and Wild Rocky (right). Picked this morning.

Next I’ll cover herbs.

(Corrected the caption since I had my right and left backwards. You’d think I’d have mastered that by my age. Oops.)
This post is also for NaBloPoMo.

NaBloPoMo November 2016

Calling Wildfire in Gatlinburg

Firefighters are struggling to put out wildfires in Gatlinburg and Sevier County, Tennessee tonight. High winds may return overnight after a calmer day. Sevier County includes the popular Great Smoky Mountains tourist spots Pidgeon Forge and Dollywood. 

The fires may have started last week. But a mix of dry weather and extreme winds last night spread flames so quickly that many residents and tourists had little to no warning before buildings began to burn.

I spent my teen years near Nashville, Tennessee. Like so many area families, my family spent many long weekends in and around Gatlinberg. It was always a beautiful area. 

In August of this year I drove through to my High School reunion and stopped for a wee bit in Sevierville. 

It’s hard to see videos and pictures that show so much of the beloved vacation spot in flames or blackened. 

My heart hurts for all the families who had to leave their homes with no time to save more than themselves and the clothes on their backs. Many of them had to leave pets and animals behind. 14,000 people were evacuated.

I’ve always told my daughter that if we ever had to evacuate our building due to fire, we may have to leave the kitties behind. Not that I would want to, but I’d want my daughter to get out in an emergency. I hope I could always make the right choice myself, but can’t say for sure what I would do. (I’d want enough time to save our kitty.) So my heart just breaks for all those families who had to make such difficult choices.

And I’m especially sad for those who have lost their life, are injured, or lost a family member. Right now only three fatalities have been reported. I hope that’s it.

I know it might be cliche to say, “thoughts and prayers,” but sometimes thoughts and prayers are all we can do. I’ll send a lot of them to Tennessee. I’m sure there will be more in the coming days.
— update —

Fixed the spelling in my post. Sorry about that. 

Also note that I read reports yesterday of the fire starting last week (November 23) in the Chimney Tops area and then spreading explosively on Monday into Tuesday. Other reports say the fire started on Monday. Certainly addition spot fires started on Monday as the hurricane force winds sent flames and sparks flying into dry brush and trees. Addition fires may also have started from downed power lines. I’m sure investigators will reveal more information in the weeks to come. 

Many prayers to all involved. 

Consider donations to the local Red Cross, rescue and emergency organizations, and area animal shelters. Folks in the general vicinity may make immediate donations of clothing and supplies. 

This post is also for NaBloPoMo.

Genetic Creamer

In other strangeness, I noticed these words on our coffee creamer today, “PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGENIEERING.”

I like pumpkin-spice flavored coffee creamers this time of year, but they are leaving stores in favor of winter holiday flavors like peppermint mocha. 

I saw Limited Edition Amaretto and thought it might be worth a try. I didn’t look closely at the label until this evening. I was curious if the Almond flavor was “natural” or artificial. It is both. And Genetically Engineered too apparently. 

Now I’m curious as to which ingredient or ingredients are genetically engineered. I would not have thought that genetic engineering was necessary in a coffee creamer. Though I’m not sure what I expected. Most flavored coffee creamers never really promised to be all-natural and from the earth (although it’s not exactly from Mars either).

I always think of products (especially fruits and vegetables) as being GMO or not GMO, so maybe this is the label for that? I guess I’m glad they let us know… I don’t think I mind. (But I’m still thinking about it.) So are the almonds genetically engineered?

Maybe I should just pick up a carton of actual cream next time. Or have tea and no cream. Or just enjoy this tasty, genetically-engineered coffee creamer and not worry about it. 

I wonder if actual Amaretto is genetically engineered these days too.

 

Produced with genetic engineering and a really cute coffee-cup shaped barcode.

This post is also for NaBloPoMo.

General Updates

We’re still sad about our kitty. Sadness comes and goes in waves. 

Since Fidel Castro and Ron Glass passed in the same week, it makes me wonder if there isn’t something brewing in the universe. At least I can always remember what year our furry friend passed. 

If our kitties each had a superpower, Fletcher’s would be his friendly, chilled-out attitude towards everything and Mojo’s would have been his love of cuddling and getting petted. He aggressively sought kitty strokes. He’d even meow at us to sit down and pet him. 

Dave reminded me that twelve years ago I never would have claimed that Mojo liked to cuddle. He changed a lot over the years (so did I). We’ll continue to miss his cuddle especially as we get back into our everyday routine after the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Awesome friends sent us an Edible Arrangements bouquet in honor of Mojo. It was a super nice surprise and helped improve the overall mood at home.

Our other cat is taking it all okay. He didn’t mind one bit that Fidel Castro died. I think he’d have liked Ron Glass though. And he seems down about losing his buddy Mojo. 

Normally the kitties go through playful times. There’s lots of pouncing and chasing each other (and imaginary critters) as they tear around the living room. But Fletcher hasn’t done that in a few days, so I think it sunk in that his friend isn’t coming back. 

Fletcher is getting lots of extra kitty strokes and cuddling and treats and hugs. Hopefully, we’re helping him cope as he’s helping us cope. Mojo was our friend and his for over 16 years.

Between vet trips and mini-Thanksgiving trips and unexpected crying, last week was a busy one. I think I accidentally missed a day for NaBloPoMo and didn’t write anything for NaNoWriMo for a few of the days. Just when I’d expected to have some extra time for writing. Poof! I could not keep my eyes open. Gah. But life happens. 

I had a few technical issues with posting from mobile devices. A few posts I thought I’d posted before midnight showed up as after midnight (so had the next day’s date). That may have happened when I made edits. And I think at least once, my mobile device wasn’t connecting so it saved a post locally but didn’t post it live when I though it did.

I’ll try for an extra post or two today and tomorrow.

I have no idea how many total words I have for NaNoWriMo. I’ve been writing on different devices, so I need to consolidate and add it all up (then feed it into the machine to make it official). I definitely won’t be at 50,000 words, but that’s okay. I still wrote lots of days. I know I did better than last year. And I made some progress with the story. So that’s good.

I had a mini-cleaning frenzy in my kitchen. I think that’s a good thing.

Thanksgiving foods were all extra yummy, and it was nice to spend time with family and relax some too. No matter what else, we still had a lot to be thankful for this week. And I’m enjoying the leftovers.

Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden II

In my previous notes on balcony gardening (here), size matters in container gardening which is pretty much the only way to garden if you want to grow stuff and don’t have a yard or land. Container gardening is also helpful if you have a yard but poor soil or no sunny spots where you do have soil. 

Containers allow you to put your plants in the sun on a patio, balcony, deck, or front porch or even move them (within reason). You can extend the growing season by bring cold-sensitive plants indoors for the first couple of hard frosts.

Along with craving large containers full of soil, some plants are hungry for sunlight. Sun is especially important for tomatoes and peppers. Most edible plants need full sun. But there are a few plants that don’t mind a little shade. 

Greens and some herbs can be a little forgiving if they don’t get all-day sunlight. I usually put the tomato and pepper plants where they will get the most sun, then let the other plants fend for themselves with the scraps of sunlight that fall elsewhere.

I tried two kinds of greens this year along with some lettuce and arugula. I didn’t grow tons of any of them. This year was mostly an experiment to see what will grow and what we’ll enjoy.

Greens

Japanese Giant Red Mustard – This is a variety of mustard plant with a reddish tinge on the large green leaves. It’s pretty. One pot looked more like a decorative plant then an edible. The flavor has a spicy mustard kick which I enjoyed. Leaves can be eaten raw in salads or sandwiches or cooked like Southern greens (which will mellow out that kick). 

These seemed to want larger pots. While they want good light, they will bolt in heat. So strong, hot sunlight can make them bolt faster. Bolting is when a plant sends out a flowering stem that will go to seed. Too little sun and they won’t flourish. But a bit of shade from a tomato plant, for example, can stretch the growing season. Once Mustard goes to seed the leafy parts stop growing and get bitter. But the seeds can be used for seasoning or grinding into mustard paste or powder. 

I might have liked Japanese Giant Red Mustard more if they grew well for longer. They were fine through most of spring but were done by late spring and early summer. On the upside some of the seeds self-planted and are now growing in one of the nearby tomato pots. I’ll see how they do. They aren’t very big yet, so they may not get big enough by the time cold weather kills them. 

Swiss Chard – Bright Lights Variety – This is a variety of Swiss Chard that comes in different color variations. Red, yellow, white, and purple stems have green leaves some of which can be tinged with red. Swiss Chard is in the same family as beets and generally tastes like spinach. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Once they get really big, the stems are best cooked. Or you can cut the stem out and use the leafy parts raw. 

Swiss Chard was by far the best surprise of my leafy greens experiment.

I planted these from young plants in early spring and they are still alive and didn’t bolt. They’ll grow bigger in larger containers, but I left one in the small plastic container it came in and it’s not dead yet. So these are hearty plants! (Maybe they’ll just never die.) 

I’ve purchased Swiss Chard in the grocery store, but find that it doesn’t last long in the fridge. That makes growing this nutritious plant extra nice, I just snip a few leaves for sandwiches, adding to salads, or chopping into soup or rice dishes. Plus its absolutely beautiful! 

Swiss Chard can be fairly cold tolerant (I think), so I’ll see how long it lasts with winter soon upon us.

Young Swiss Chard and a mustard plant that had already bolted by late spring.


it’s not dead yet. Swiss Chard picked today.


Additional posts will cover herbs, lettuce, and arugula.

Size Matters: Notes from the Balcony Garden I

There’s a little spark of life still shimmering in my balcony garden. So I’m keeping a few notes on what worked well. Next spring I may need a reminder.

By default the balcony garden is a container garden. Some plants are better suited to container gardening than others. Size matters — both the size of the container and the kind of plant.

Overall, I used larger containers this year than last. That makes a difference. Plants like to stretch out their roots and get comfy. Not only do plants— peppers, tomatoes, leafy veg or herbs — grow larger and produce more fruit  in larger containers, the soil will not dry out as quickly on a hot day. That can be a big thing.

Once some plants totally dry out, they may not come back. Also, blossom end rot (not a good thing) is more likely if the soil dries too much between waterings.

I don’t have a hose on my balcony, so I carry water in large jugs or let Mother Nature’s rain give the plants a good drink. Plants in larger containers can take more total water per watering, but they need watering less often. After a good rain, many of them can go for days with no extra water. (My arms get a good workout when it’s dry out.)

Tomatoes really benefit from a large container. Comparing last year’s plants to this year’s, I got more yummy tomatoes from fewer plants. So if the choice is more plants but smaller containers or fewer plants and larger containers, you’re probably better with larger containers.

Home-grown and vine-ripened make such a huge difference in the juicy, sweet and tangy taste of a tomato. Grocery store tomatoes never come close (except a few heirloom varieties if you can find them). Farmers markets can have good ones, but around here, those aren’t cheap.

Tomato varieties that don’t grow as large are probably going to work better on a balcony, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try.

Patio Tomato is a variety of tomato plant specifically hybridized for containers and small spaces, but I’ve never been quite as thrilled with the taste or the quantity. Celebrity Tomato plants grow well in containers, produce more fruit, and taste excellent.

Cherokee Purple tomatoes taste great, but want tons of space. My plant last year was fairly healthy but grew only four nice tomatoes. It was a lot of work for four tomatoes. I’m better off buying Cherokee Purple tomatoes at a farmers’ market. I left them out this year.

Sun Gold cherry tomato plants can get quite large. Huge even. Stretched upright, my plant this year would have reached all the way to the balcony above us. I had to tape part of it to the wall to keep it from taking over. I’m sure it might have been happier in the ground (or in an even larger container), but it still produced a lot of super tasty cherry tomatoes. That was fine. So, I think cherry tomato varieties are a little more forgiving for containers.

Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Peppers (hot or sweet) generally grow pretty well in containers (larger is still better). But there isn’t as much difference in taste between home-grown and store-purchased. So I love other things about growing peppers — like being able to just walk out and pick a pepper. It’s nice to see them grow and know that I used only a little soap and vigilance to keep pesty bugs away. Picking them at the peak of ripeness can still provide some amazingly sweet and flavorful peppers. I also like growing hard-to-find peppers that I know I’ll eat.

We liked Gypsy Peppers again this year (though one plant seemed a little different and may have been mislabeled).

Cow Horn Peppers were a huge hit for the hot stuff. They grew lots of beautiful, twisty, flavorful, larger, hot peppers. I would so grow these again.

Garden Salsa peppers weren’t quite as impressive, but they were fine for a pepper with less heat.

Dragon Cayenne was another good one. The smaller plant seemed fine in a not-huge flower pot and the little peppers had nice heat and flavor.

We generally like jalapeños and did again this year. They like a larger pot for good numbers. They still grow okay in a smaller pot, but the quantity is greatly reduced.

Cajun Bell peppers looked almost like habaneros, but weren’t as hot. They were thin-walled, and not as convenient to slice as some of the other varieties. I may or may not grow them again. But they were cute.

.

Hot stuff – Cow Horn peppers.

Next I’ll cover leafy greens and herbs.

Thanksgiving 

On this day of eating lots of food with friends and / or family, I wish everyone much good food and plentiful friends and loving family. May we all have much to be thankful for today and all year. And may we have the wherewithal to give thanks. 

We ate food at my mom’s. The five of us ate food until we felt like we would burst. My stepdad usually cooks the turkey in an old, plain white T-shirt to retain juices. It sounds weird, but always tastes delicious as does the stuffing and giblet gravy (which weren’t cooked in a T-shirt). The sweet potato casserole was dotted with marshmallows and just enough seasoning (brown sugar and vanilla extract) to be super yummy. We made the green bean casserole — our favorite variation with diced water chestnuts. 

Then, when we felt like we could hardly eat another bite, we had pumpkin pie.

While we’re sad about the recent loss of our kitty, we had much to be thankful for. Earlier in the day I did some cleaning and even wrote some words for NaNoWriMo. It was good. 

Tea for Tuesday (on a Wednesday) – Just Peachy III

With Thanksgiving upon us, everybody is probably thinking about food, but maybe not about beverages.

Ice tea is a good classic beverage option. It can be made from scratch for pennies per serving, and it’s a lot more elegant than a glass of sofa pop next to a plate of turkey and all the trimmings.

Here’s one way to make classic sweet iced tea. Click here.

A variation is fruit tea — peach tea is one of my favorites. Click here for that. Include cranberry juice for a Thanksgiving variation

But if you find you have zero time for either of those and want to offer something other than soda pop, fruit juice, or milk, then powdered drink mixes might work.

I tried a lot of powder drink mixes over the summer in my search for a perfect peach tea. (And for convenience because sometimes, I just don’t have time for anything else.)

While scratch is oh-so hard-to-beat, there are some drink mixes that I actually enjoy. The iced tea drink mix that came out on top for me was Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea. I tried many others. I’m not always a fan of Chrystal Light. But this Peach Iced Tea won me over because I can taste the tea and the peach. It has a light, refreshing flavor with enough tartness to taste fruity without overpowering the flavor of the tea or peach. Some mixes add so much malic acid, that it’s hard to taste much else. Those tend to taste tart and nonspecific fruity.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is a sugar-free option that uses artificial sweeteners (Aspartame). That may scare some away (and make others happy). If you don’t drink aspartame, this isn’t the drink mix for you. It nearly kept me away, but in the end that nice peachy tea taste won me back. But I’m hoping they come up with a version using Stevia.

Crystal Light Peach Iced Tea is available in boxes of single-serving, on-the-go pouches or pitcher size packets. Either one is handy in a pinch.

Lost Our Mojo, a Memoriam

We said good bye to our kitty Mojo today. He’d been sick recently. Then he got somewhat better. Then not so great. Today he had a rapid decline, and then he was gone. We’re very sad and will be for a while.

He was a rescued kitty who was our friend for more than 16 years. 

Mojo was afraid of humans for the first few years we welcomed him to our home. He wouldn’t let us pick him up. 

In recent years he was our cuddle bug. He’d plaster himself against our legs when he could. Picking him up rarely bothered him. He even seemed to like it. He loved his kitty strokes and would purr up a storm when we pet him. His paws would knead the air.

He loved playing with toy mice and chasing laser dots. Fletcher (our other kitty) liked to pounce on Mojo while he was playing.

Last winter he slept on my lap a few times. 

For many years the balcony terrified him. This most recent summer he learned to love going out there to bask in the sun or hide out at night. By the end of summer he’d wait by the door for us to let him out. 

More recently he even learned to sit to receive his kitty treats. The expression, “you can’t teach an old dogs new tricks,” did not apply to Mojo in every way possible. 

We will miss him terribly and cherish our memories of him always. 

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