Thursday, October 13, 2011

Transforming our Backyard

I've been dreaming of putting a vegetable garden in our backyard for...ever it seems, but the uncertainty of how long I'd be living in this rental house kept holding me back from investing in digging around in the dirt. Now that it's looking like we'll be here for at least a year, we decided to go for it (with the landlady's ok of course) and spent the months of August and September turning our backyard from this:

Into this:

It's about 100 square feet of gardening space, 6 beds total.  There's one you can't see because it's behind the a/c unit. You can see that the front bed will be for herbs (that's basil and sage) and in the upper left in the shadow there are two chard plants.

We decided to grow in the ground as it was more cost effective than building raised beds...but not exactly easier to prepare. We sure got some incredible workouts breaking up the hardened clay soil riddled with tenacious roots from our large shade tree!!

I'm looking forward to seeing what this garden will produce. On Monday I finished mixing in the compost and I seeded 4 of the 5 vegetable far there's kale, broccoli, turnips, beets, radishes, carrots, calendula and borage, chard, leaf lettuces, spinach, fava beans and peas. I've yet to plant cilantro, parsley, leeks, garlic, collard greens, and green onions. Amazing what you can pack in to such a small space!! Not to mention, we still have our plot in the community garden and on Tuesday I turned some compost into that soil. I'm still deciding what I want to do with it this season. We have so much gardening space now that I hope we get some nice harvests...and I hope I can keep up with both of them!

I've been checking on the beds multiple times a day like an eager child...and today I noticed some sprouts working their way up!! I'll post some photos next week of the garden as it should be riddled with baby veggies!

I'm telling you, when I close my eyes all I can see are visions of vegetables. Am I obsessed or what??!?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sun Tea and Peach Vinegar

But not together. That would just be gross!

I'd like to share with you the science experiments I've got brewing in our home. 

Experiment number one: Sun Tea

On our way back from berry and apple picking in Oak Glen, Jonathan and I stopped by the home of our good friends from college, Andrew and Amanda. They were generous enough to give us some of their time rather last minute, and to share the secret of Sun Tea with us! Oh it was so good.

It's simple, really. Place four tea bags in a pitcher of water, stick in sun, forget about it all day, pop some ice cubes in a glass when you get home from work and drink your delicious, sun-brewed tea. Why not harness the power of sunshine, especially when you live in a place like Southern California?? Oh, and you can also do this with coffee in a french press!

Ok, number two: peach vinegar.

Really, I should say fruit scrap vinegar because you can use any fruit, as far as I know. So far I've done it with strawberry tops and now peach peels.

Isn't that just so pretty? The floating mass on top is all of the peach peels, the liquid below is the sugar water that's turning into vinegar. Heeeere's how you do it:

Step 1: Get the idea to make some sort of fruity delight. In this instance, I wanted to make peach butter.
Step 2: Wash and peel your fruit.
Step 3: Set aside the fruit peels instead of throwing them on the compost/trash.
Step 4: Finish your fruit recipe
Step 5: Remember your fruit peels! Say "aha! I will make vinegar with these peels!"
Step 6: Place your fruit peels in a VERY clean jar.
Step 7: Pour water into jar, covering fruit.
Step 8: Mix in 1/4 cup sugar into jar, stir to combine. (I used a 24 oz jar. adjust ammt of sugar for a smaller or larger jar)
Step 9: Secure a piece of cloth over the jar so it can breathe but the flies can't get in. Keep on your kitchen counter.
Step 10: Stir every day.
Step 11: In 1 week, strain the solids out of the jar and keep the liquid. Keep the liquid out with the lid covered with cloth, as before. Oh, and you can put your spent peels in the compost now.
Step 12: Freak out a little bit when a glob forms on top of your vinegar in a few days. Research it and realize it's the "vinegar mother," and then celebrate when you understand that means you've successfully made vinegar!
Step 13: Once your vinegar has reach the flavor you desire, scoop off the mother (don't throw her away, you can use her to jump-start future vinegars!), and refrigerate.
Step 14: If you want your vinegar to last longer than a couple of weeks, you can heat process it as you would for canning. Don't ask me the recipe for this: I've never done it and have no clue how. Research this elsewhere :)

My plan is to make a peach vinaigrette! Doesn't that sound yummy?

What kitchen science have you tried lately?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Let this day go down in history... the day I harvested the most beautiful basil leaves.

Seriously, aren't those gorgeous?

So as many of you have probably figured out, I was in over my head with the blog the honeymoon journal posts. I couldn't meet my deadlines, adding the pictures took for ever, blah blah blah. So then I just said phoey, blog. I've got better things to do, and I went on living my life.

Of course, in the last 2 months there have been moments when I've happened to have my camera and I've happened to think "Oh! This will be great for the blog!" *Photo Snapped and Saved* Not to mention a few of you have asked "When will you be blogging again?", which makes me feel all warm and fuzzy and happy that someone wants to read about my life, in cyberspace, lol.

With any major life change, there's an adjustment period, and that's precisely what's been going on around here since June 18. Actually, the beginning of July. Honeymoon doesn't count - that's just living on cloud nine. It's been a lot of fun, figuring out how to live with each other, and finally our lives are beginning to slip into some sort of routine. It involves lots of watching a lot of "The Office" together, frozen yogurt runs, evening walks, cooking for two, and getting over the fact that I'll always be the first one to go to bed.

I suppose that little reflective paragraph is another stab at explaining my absence from the blog :)

But alas, I miss the blogging world and so I am back in action. Since July, we've really done a lot in the way of homemaking and general adventuring:

Project: Put veggie garden into backyard. This is a before pic
Here's an in-process pic. Will show what it looks like when it's all done!

Jonathan made this awesome sifter out of an old shipping pallet and some hardware cloth. Now we can sift our compost.

Friday night is farmer's market pizza night! Gotta love making new traditions.

That table was $10 at a yard sale. Jonathan sanded and refinished it. Doesn't it look great??

We went apple picking in Oak Glen...which made great applesauce!

Picked some raspberries, too. Made raspberry-mint sorbet with our new ice-cream maker. Yum!
So, there you have it. We're still alive and kicking and learning new skills along the way. I just realized - each of these photos represents something we just learned how to do: put in a garden, build a sifter, make pizza from scratch, sand and refinish a table, make applesauce and, that's a lot! No wonder I'm tuckered out!

Until next time, folks!


P.S. I'll post the honeymoon pics on facebook soonish, so FB friends have no fear you'll be able to see the rest at some point in time :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Travel Thursday? (did you know geckos make a noise?)

Looks like the once a week thing is proving to be difficult. Oh well. It's Thursday, and I'm here to tell you all about our third day in Belize!!

Again, going off of what is written in our travel journal (this time I'm the writer)

...6/21/11 (summer solstice)

0643: Jonathan's alarm went off, and we wondered if we hit snooze or if the phones are just acting weird now that we're in another country. Note to self: next time bring an alarm clock or watch! Anyway, no is our first big the Mayan Ruins of Caracol! We took turns sleepily freshening up and then headed off to breakfast at 20 after 7. Oh was raining! I woke up at 4:30am to the sound of thunder and slept rather fitfully with the sounds of the rain until we got up. Anyway, we found an umbrella in the closet and trotted off to breakfast.

Breakfast today was the same option as yesterday, so fo course I chose the French Toast. J picked the Big Belly, which included eggs cooked to order, corn fryjacks and beans, sausage, plantains...and if there was something else I can't remember.

Oh wait, backtrack. Last night we noticed a HUGE cockroach-like beetle had taken up residence over the eave of our front door. It was still there in the morning!

gross giant bug.

Ok, so we ate breakfast and watched the birds eat bread that was left for them out in the rain. Then we headed back to the room to pack up (we bought ponchos for the rain just in case), and filled our hiking backpack with necessities (water, sunblock bug spray, etc.)

We met Greg (George's son), Kristen (Greg's girlfriend), and Freddie  (our driver) at the front of the inn, handed Misael (the inn...manager?) our room key, and piled into the van to begin our 1.5ish hour drive to Caracol!

J and I had a great time getting to know Greg and Kristen. Turns out they each just finished their freshman year at their respective schools. They grew up together in Wisconsin. They like rock climbing and are both studying some kind of environmental sciences. Conversing with them made the road to Caracol fly by.

Soon, we arrived at a military base, where we all had to get out and sign in. The military keeps track of how many people visit Caracol and where they are from. They also provide guard services to tourists at Caracol as the Guatemalan bandits took to robbing tourists in Belize 8 or 10 years ago.

military base
On the way to Caracol, we stopped at Rio Frio Cave, a huge cave (well you can see both ends open to daylight at once, but it was a HUGE room). There was a stream running through it and steps carved into the limestone. There were many stalactites, and a crack running along the ceiling; damage caused by a large earthquake. Freddie guided our steps with his flashlight, cautioning us about a sinkhole that you'd have no idea was there if you didn't know about it. We felt very safe with Freddie as our guide, keeping us away from danger!

Rio Frio Cave

Greg, Kristen, Myself, Jonathan

After wandering on the shore of the stream for a few minutes, we headed back to the van and to Caracol. It took another while of bumpy road until we got to the paved part that leads to Caracol. Apparently, right where the unpaved road becomes paved is where Freddie recently saw a pair of Scarlet Macaws. They appear to be making a nest in the area as they've been there on multiple occasions. No luck for us today; we didn't spot them.

About 10-15 minutes later we arrived at Caracol!! Jonathan paid our park fee and we were on our way. Freddie first took us to a place where the Mayan people resided, a Mayan suburb if you will.

Rockin the Suburbs
we saw this millipede.

The ruins at the 'burb were cool, then we went to a place that has only been partially excavated. Freddie wanted to show us that the jungle really cloaks the ruins.


Then we saw the big temples! The steps up the ziggurat were at least 2 feet high each, which is ridiculous because a Mayan was generally only 4 feet tall. We climbed the top of the tallest building, which had three levels: administrative, the king's home, and the sacred sacrifice/ceremony level. Freddie explained that the kings were like god-priests and would perform the ceremonial rituals. There were some great views from the top. And some tombs to crawl around in!

view of smaller temple from the ground.

mayan steps

view from level 1


Freddie: "let's put the lid on!" lol!

view from the third and topmost level that's Guatemala in the background.


mayan ruin adventurers

the king's throne. you're not allowed to sit on it! 

We climbed down and headed across the lawn (avoiding fire ant hills!) and learned about the opposing structure. This structure had a wisp of butterflies gathered at the base, and Freddie explained that they're extracting calcium from the limestone to make their mating more successful.

too tall to pass as a Mayan.

Mayan steps


they were so focused

they let me get super close!

especially this one

the structure we just climbed down.
We went on to learn about Mayan ball sports (winner gets the jewelry/valuables the bystanders have on them, loser gets sacrificed), various birds including the Montezuma Oropendula, saw the big Ceiba tree (600 years old!) saw the astronomer's structure, learned that if you get poisoned by the bark of the poison wood tree then you just bathe in tea made from the bark of a gumbo-limbo tree, saw the rain basin/collection area and a large monument commemorating a scribe-king, evidenced by his monkey-belt. We walked through the archaeologists quarters, now empty because they're off for the summer, and settled in for a yummy packed lunch.

Big Ceiba

Nests made by male Montezuma Oropendulas!

View of the astronomer's temple

fire ant hill

archaeologists housing

picnic table

lunchie! I was so hungry I accidentally ate with the serving fork. Freddie thought that was hilarious!
On the way back to the Inn we stopped by for a refreshing dip in the Rio On Pools, a series of cascades and pools in the Rio On. We had a grand time scrambling the rocks, slipping around on the moss-covered granite, and sitting at the bottom of the mini-cascades for a natural massage. There were even a couple of places that made natural water slides.

playing in the falls

ahhhh natural massage

rio on pools

such fun!
After swimming, we completed our trip by dropping off Greg & Kristen at the farm and heading back to Hidden Valley Inn. Once at the Inn, we were greeted by Misael from whom we obtained our key and told about our adventures. We went back to our room (exhausted!) and freshened up for dinner.

We had a new server tonight, Tito. He was great and so was the food:

1) Mediterrenian Salad and Garlic Rolls
2) Shrimo Empenada with Garlic Mayo
3) Rack of Lamb with Cabbage and Potato
4) Fresh Tropical Fruit on a caramel-filled, whipped cream topped meringue.

We also go to meet the chef. She came out and we sang her praise!

After we finished dinner, we came back to the room. The plan was to change and go back out under the stars, but we were so tired! Instead, here we are: J is reading, I'm journaling, the crickets are chirping, and there is a baby gecko watching us from the cool tile floor.

Did you know that geckos make noise? A chirping-ribbit-kissing sound?

You learn something new every day :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Travel Tuesday Becomes...

...Travel Wednesday! Hold on to your hats, folks...will post about part 3 of Belize tomorrow. After my first two shifts in our new hospital building, I'm pooped!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Travel Tuesday: Belize Part 2. Vanilla Comes From an Orchid

Oh man I bet you all have been just salivating for this next post, checking and checking to see if I'd forget....well have no fear it's 10:45pm so I have 1 hour and 15 minutes left and then it's no longer Travel Tuesday.

Can I make an excuse for taking so long to write this? Jonathan and I spent the morning at his parents house loading up our new bed that they're giving us and taking his mom out to a birthday breakfast and then driving back to the house and then moving furniture around and then running errands preparing for our upcoming trip to Arizona for his good friend's wedding that he's in. We're busy, ok? ;)

So now I'm sitting in my new bed with the new sheets next to my new husband typing away about day 2 of our incredible honeymoon.

I think when we left off, we had just arrived at the inn, and I showed you some pictures, right?

OK so day 2...I'll just use Jonathan's words from our travel journal:

"0930: We woke up late to one of the staff members (Ofelia) knocking on our door and asking us if we would still like breakfast. We had found out yesterday that breakfast was from 7-9am and so I had set my alarm cell phone stylez for 8am. Unfortunately, it didn't go off or we somehow slept through it (unlikely) - but Ofelia was kind enough to come and get us so that we could have food in our tummies. Ps we encountered our first storm here in Belize last night. Meghan awoke to the rain beating on our room's tin roof and then woke me up so that we could look out side at the plants swaying in the torrential winds. Anyway, at breakfast, I ordered the Eggs Benidict with Streaky Bacon and Meghan requested the French Toast. Mine was good, but the French Toast was astounding - and we don't even tend to like French Toast.

(Inserted by Meghan after the fact): What made the French Toast amazing was that it was dusted with nutmeg, had a warm banana on top and a piece of bacon on top of the banana. Then it was drizzled with strawberry sauce. Mmmmm!

(Back to Jonathan's writing) It was one of those dishes that you expect to be the usual standard item, but that surprises you oh so pleasantly - just like the green beans at Bucca di Beppo back home.

So after our meal, we got ready to meet Uncle Mark's friend George, who was picking us up for a waterfall excursion. We applied a bunch of sunscreen/bug repellent and then waited in the lobby with our towels and hiking pack. George drove up in his big Jeep and greeted us warmly and with a sort of twinkle in his eye - which I didn't realize until later must have been his delight at knowing Meghan and I would have a great time today. George drove us down some narrow paths that crossed multiple rivers until we reached a dead end with a small walking trail branching from it. We got out as George hoisted a large pack onto his back explaining that his wife Melina had made us lunch and that we would have plenty to drink during our stay at the waterfall.

The path to Orchid Falls was beautiful and surrounded by a plethora of interesting flora; however once I could see the waterfall and the thatched hut/gazebo next to it, I knew that this would be a day to remember. We made it to the falls after navigating past some very slippery rocky spots made wet by the many springs feeding into the river. Then George gave us the lunch pack and a walkie-talkie, instructing us to call him when we were ready to be picked up. He sauntered off cheerfully, leaving us to enjoy ourselves at his family's private waterfall without anyone around for miles.

Meghan and I started by climbing to the top of Orchid Falls to take some photos. We followed that up with a jump off of the small dock/deck that was over the pool at the base of the falls. After fighting the current near the falls for a little while, we went back to the dock to grab a couple of beers, jumped back in and then rested on a rock shelf next to the waterfall to enjoy our beers. George had packed us some Belikin, which is the "Beer of Belize."

It was good, and after finishing the beer and having our toes nipped at by minnows, we went back to the gazebo, realizing that we were hungry. We set up our picnic lunch of curried chicken salad, black bean and corn salad with tortilla chips, buttered bread, white wine (a Chilean Chardonnay 2008), and some homemade snickerdoodles. It was all delicious, and afterward we rested in hammocks that were hanging inside the gazebo.

PS: we found a beautiful moth that doesn't move any more (aka the moth was dead)  - I think we'll try and take it home with us.

So after relaxing for a spell, we took some more photos and then decided to go for another swim. Sadly it was getting close to dusk, so we packed up our things, radioed for George to come pick us up and trekked back along the trail to where George and the Jeep were waiting for us. He drove us to his house along some fire channels that had recently been made to combat a wild fire that had started because of some dry lightning. The burnt pines and underbrush were still marvelously picturesque in the fading orange sunlight as we drove up to the house, stopping to meet George's son Greg and Greg's girlfriend, Kristen. They seemed kind, and we are looking forward to our adventure with them tomorrow at Caracol (Mayan ruins).

George's wife Melina was sweet and amicable and their dog, Bella, was excited to meet us. After reviewing our plans for the week and chatting for a bit on the veranda, George drove us back to the Inn via the road that takes you past a lake that his father made by damning up the river. (Lake Lolly Folly...the most idyllic summer camp lake name you could imagine).

After showering, we weren't quite hungry so we took our books to the hotel lobby and I read some of J.D. Salinger's short story "Franny" while Meghan tried to identify the orchid she had seen in the wild by the falls. There is a book on the shelf in the lobby with numerous orchids drawn in it. We also learned that vanilla comes from and orchid. Anyway, dinner tonight was great. Four courses again:

*Black bean with lime soup (and rolls)
*Tomato stuffed with pesto and mozarella (this was the first time I've eaten a whole tomato)
*Sesame encrusted red snapper with potatoes
*For dessert, Meghan chose chocolate ice cream and I got Banana Tres Leches Cake (I made the better decision, it was fantastic)

Needless to say, after dinner we were super stuffed, so we went to sit by the pool. There is an area there enclosed by a screen and elevated several feet above ground. Inside this structure there are chairs and hammocks but no lights, so in the darkness of the night with the gentle background lights of the inn, Meghan and I swayed in the hammocks listening to the jungle nightsong of the Pine Mountain Ridge in Belize. It is so relaxing. We went to be shortly after and set our alarms again in anticipation of our adventures tomorrow.

And so ended our amazing first full day in Belize. It set the bar very high - we will see what the rest of our adventure has in store.

Bring us that horizon,

PS: we saw a firefly while we ate dinner. It was nice.

PPS: We used our underwater camera today at Orchid Falls!"

the orchid I saw. but not the orchid that the falls is named after.