Saturday, January 31, 2009

Murder Without the Myrtle

Hubby is mean. Hubby is downright vicious. It happens every year, and you'd think I would be used to it. Every spring, he will wake up one morning with an evil glint in his eye. Not a word will be said, but I will know what he intends to do. Arguing would be useless. I just have to face the fact that it will happen whether or not I like it and I must accept what is coming. He'll go into the garage and grab the pruning shears and then the attack will begin. Usually, the unsuspecting victim is one of the Crepe Myrtle trees in our front yard. This year, for some reason unknown to me, Hubby set his eye on the peach tree in our backyard (the ONLY tree in our backyard as he hacked down the other one a few years back). Maybe he was upset with the tree because we never get fruit from it. Maybe he was tired of having to duck under the low branches. I don't know. All I know is that the poor tree went from having a 20-ft canopy to having a 10-ft canopy in under an hour. *sigh* Guess we'll have another year with no peaches. :-(

"Help Me!!!"

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Revisiting Nerd Gardening

The garden is coming along so nicely!!! I'm ridiculously excited. This weekend, Hubby and I fenced off the section of yard around the garden beds to keep all our four-legged snackers and diggers out.
Keeping the critters (mostly domestic) out!!
We also got some more seeds planted and some goodies in the ground!! So far, we've got tomatoes, hanging and traditionally planted, romaine lettuce, cabbage (YEA! Sauerkraut!), and broccoli actually planted.

Square Foot Gardening! And Hanging Tomatoes???
Seed-wise in the garden, we've got yellow and red onions, spinach and snow peas. We've got more seeds going in the little greenhouse beds so that they'll be ready to transplant when the danger of frost is completely gone. Can't wait! Can't wait! Can't wait!
As it is, the garden center by our house is apparently completely unfamiliar with square foot gardening. They sell all their seedlings in 9-plant containers!! I only need like TWO!
So, Hubby and I have little pots of broccoli and cabbage in the fenced area and also more broccoli, Romaine and cabbage going in one of the flowerbeds. We will likely get nuthin' from the flowerbed ones because of the Brats. As soon as the furbies realize that's salad, it'll be down the hatch, hasta la vista, you only THOUGHT you were getting some!

In other exciting news, I also managed to talk Hubby into building me a compost bin out of chicken wire yesterday. Once a week, you pull the bin up, dropping everything in it onto the ground, move it over two feet and shovel all the goodies back in, thus circulating it. How I'm going to keep beautiful compost from falling out the sides of the chicken wire, I haven't figured out yet. Ideas? (send 'em to This compost pile is separate from the one Hubby uses for the flowerbeds (he uses dog poop - YUCK!)
Can you see Wormie back there? He's to the left of the compost bin.
He likes to "hide" in all my pics! Can you find the other one he's in?
This site might as well be called "Where's Wormie?"

And in one last bit of gardening news, the expanded shale versus seed starting soil mix results are in. Expanded shale SUCKS! Not a single seed sprouted on the E.S. side. We've decided the only thing expanded shale is good for is drainage in the bottom of pots, so that's what we'll do with the rest of it. I dug it out of the greenhouse tray today and replaced half the "pots" with seed starting soil and half with straight vermiculite (vermiculite is what the Square Foot guru, Mel Barthalomew swears by). I dropped some more seeds in, so I'll let you know the outcome of that in about 2 weeks. :-)
So that's what's going on in the garden right now...Isn't second hand gardening fun?!

Friday, January 23, 2009

All Creatures, Great and Small

Hubby and I stopped at our favorite watering hole after work today for a few BEvERageS. Since Hubby was on the motorcycle, we did a fairly good job of regulating ourselves and actually made it home as the sun was setting. As I'm a completely paranoid individual, I insisted on tailing Hubby the whole way home to make sure no psychos tried to kill him with their cars. As Hubby was turning onto our street, I could see some shapeless object in the middle of the road, and a bunch of teenagers trying to pick up the misshapen thing. Just as Hubby swung the bike's headlight over the thing, I saw it lunge forward and realized it was a huge turtle! Hubby continued on down the street to our house, but I pulled the Sleigh over to try to rescue the poor stupid thing. Turns out it was a Snapping Turtle, so rescue was at the risk of digits, but the teens and I managed to get the critter in the back of my car.

I figured that since we have a field and a gas pipeline behind our house, we could let him got behind our fence. As I was pulling into our driveway, Hubby was calling me to tell me to stop and protect the turtle, which he'd seen driving past it, until he could get there to help. :-) Great minds think alike! Since neither Hubby or I is a reptile expert (though we have previously saved a Red-Eared Slider water turtle from getting squished on NASA Road One), we called my father-in-law, a biologist who comes in VERY handy sometimes! (Love you Dad!)

Turns out our little Snapper would much rather live out life in a pond than a field, so we took him to the man-made "pond" in the subdivision behind us. Hubby couldn't resist making fun of the poor guy a little. Can't you just imagine the turtle talking to Hubby with a Hannibal Lechter-esque voice? "Come closer! I'll eat your face with a nice Chianti and some fava beans!!" ;-)"I eat yer face!!! Come closer!!!!!"
So, after a nice, short adventure for the turtle, we were able to release him back into the "wild" we know as suburban Houston. God speed little guy!!
Of course, as you can see from the pics, there was nothing "little" about the thing! He was at least 15 lbs! At any rate, Good Luck Critter! Hope you find a lady snapping turtle and live Happily Ever After!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sweets for my Sweets

Those that know me know that I love to cook. They also know that I'm a little obsessive about my dogs. Combine the two and you have someone who is perfectly willing to cook up something special for their canine kids occasionally.
This past fall, our garden was blessed with Sweet Potatoes. We had sweet potatoes galore! After giving away at least 2 dozen to friends and family, we have been slowly finishing off the rest of our taters. Yesterday, we came down to the last tater. Their had been two "last taters" that we were planning to cook together, but one of them turned a little mushy, so off to the compost bin with tater #1. Since I'd heard that sweet potatoes are a good, nutritious thing to give dogs, I did a little online digging and found the following recipe.

Sweet Tater Snackies
Slice sweet potato(es) into 1/3 inch slices. Place on microwave safe plate and nuke until flexible; about ten minutes (my second load burned, I'm assuming the plate got hot enough in 10 mins cooking the first batch that it did some carry over heating with the second. If you're making more than one batch, shorten the amount of micro-time on subsequent batches...).

When taters come out of the microwave, arrange them on a cooling rack set in a cookie sheet.
Bake in a cool oven (200 degrees) for 3-4 hours.
mmmmm.....yummy, crunchy snackies!!!

Now you've gotten rid of a sweet potato you might not have needed, and you have some healthy snacks to give your furbies without worrying about packing on the pounds.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

How a Nerd Gardens

Ever since we moved into our house five years ago, we have maintained some sort of vegetable garden. Hubby is fairly selfish with his plot o'dirt, so I have never really participated in the gardening itself, but I have enjoyed our garden's bounty. In years past, we've had peppers galore, green beans, lettuces, sweet potatoes, and we've planted tons of tomatoes and strawberries. We have never eaten a strawberry because Abbey LUVS strawberry plants and eats them. Tomatoes are pretty much the same way although we have managed to get 10 tomatoes (not plants - 10 tomatoes!) in five years... Well, this year I (the nerd) heard about a gardening method called square foot gardening which is supposed to get a very high yield out of a very small amount of real estate. I did some bargaining with Mr Hubby and scored myself two vegetable garden plots this year! Cross your fingers for me! Now, when most people decide to plant a garden, they go outside and put something in the ground. Not me! I read a book!
And then I make a LOT of lists and diagrams detailing what I want to plant and where...

Then I buy a LOT of seeds
So, now the seeds are in, we've got some spring vegetables hopefully starting to sprout in our little greenhouse bins...
1/2 the seeds planted in "Seeding Soil," 1/2 planted in Expanded Shale. We'll see which medium does better!

Today, Hubby and I spent 3 hours clearing the old soil out of the veggie plots and adding in a mix of dirts recommended in the SFG book. Pretty back breaking work - we'll see if either of us can move tomorrow. Next week we start moving some of the seedlings into the beds along with some direct-sow seeds. Hopefully we'll have a bountiful harvest this year. I'm particularly looking forward to the cucumbers. I got a pressure canner for Christmas and I can't wait to make pickles!!


We're in the Army Now!

Several times a year, our favorite local brewery (okay - ONLY local brewery, but we'd love it even if there were more!) has a pubcrawl/scavenger hunt. St Arnold's sends out an email to their "Army" of fans with rhyming verse clues that point to 5 Houston-area bars. They show an item at each of these bars that you need to find, take a picture of yourself with, and email to the brewery. The first 200 people to send their pictures to the brewery are then invited to a private party at the brewery with FREE BEER! Do I need to tell you that Hubby and I participate in these and ALWAYS manage to get on the invite? Usually at the private party, the brewery owner, Brock Wagner, gives away two kegorators. Sadly, though we faithfully participate, we have yet to win a fancy shmancy kegorator. We'll just have to keep drinking out of the converted chest freezer in the garage. :-) Anyway, here's some pics from the latest party. The scavenger hunt was actually at the end of November, but with the holidays, the kegger party was put off until January. If you are not a member of the Saint Arnold's Army, get yer butt on their mailing list and come join the fun!

"Das Boot!!"

...boot sad....

Brew Chicks

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Rion's Birthday Fieldtrip

It is so hard to believe that Orion is now FOUR YEARS OLD!! Seems like just yesterday that we adopted the little fuzzball that earned the name "Stinky" with his inability to accept house training. :-( My BABY!!! While we usually celebrate his adoption day in April with a get-together of all his doggie friends, January weather is not really good for hanging outside with all the furbies, so his birthday is usually pretty low key. A quick trip to Petsmart and maybe an outting to Boondoggles, and an extra snackie. :-)
But Grammy can always be counted on to remember his birthday and send him a card to make him feel special! :-)
"SCORE! Mom, take me shopping!"
So, off to PetSmart we went. After MUCH indecision on his part...

...We came home with an "Evil Cuz," a very cool teddy bear from Kong that has minimal stuffing and velcro in the back so you can replace the squeakers as they get murdered, and ...
...a gigantic stuffed polar bear that was "christmas" and therefore 75% off. :-) Not a bad haul!
What was Rion's favorite toy?
Thank God they're replaceable in the velcro teddy!

As a funny side note, Worm has completely claimed the Cuz as his own. He LOVES it - looks pretty hysterical dragging it around the house too!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rate that Recipe 1

Having grown up in southern Texas, I am a HUGE fan of Cajun food. Actually, it's probably safe to say that, as a Southerner, I am a huge fan of FOOD, period. Here are two recipes that I've tried for Beans and Rice. We tried the Emeril recipe about two years ago. We tried the slow cooker one tonight to try out my fancy shmancy slow cooker I got from Hubby's folks for Christmas. :-) I'll admit that I think the Emeril Lagasse recipe is superior, but I also think it's a righteous pain in the neck to make, hence the reason we haven't had beans and rice for two years. Hubby and I agreed that the slow cooker recipe had a very similar taste, but the texture seemed off a little. I can only assume that's because you don't mash the beans with the slow cooker recipe, but I can't seem to find a way around that... If you have any ideas or if you have a really good beans and rice recipe, send it to me at :-)

Emeril's take on Beans and Rice:
1 lb dried red beans, rinsed and sorted
3 T bacon grease
1/4 c chopped tasso, or chopped ham (we couldn't find tasso ham, so used regular)
1 1/2 c chopped yellow onion
3/4 c chopped celery
3/4 c chopped green pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne (I probably used 2 pinches) ;-)
3 bay leaves
2 T chopped fresh parsley
2 t fresh thyme
1/2 lb smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 lb smoked ham hocks
3 T chopped garlic
10 c chicken stock or water
4 c cooked white rice (we used brown rice)
Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside. In a large pot, heat the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the tasso (or ham) and cook, stirring, for 1 min. Add the onions, celery, and green pepper to the grease in the pot. Season with salt and pepper and cayenne; cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 mins. Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage and ham hocks, and cook, stirring, to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 4 mins. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock or water, stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours. Remove from the heat and, with the back of a heavy spoon, mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, about 15 to 20 mins. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves and ham hocks. Server over rice.

Slow Cooker recipe:
Put the following in a slow cooker for 6.5 hours on low heat:
6 c water
2 c beans
1 1/2 c chopped onion
1 1/2 c chopped green pepper
1 1/2 c chopped celery
2 t dried thyme
2 t paprika
1 1/2 lb smoked sausage, quarted and then cut into 1/2 inch chunks
2 bay leaves
2 T dried minced garlic
1 t salt

When slow cooker is done, serve mixture over brown rice.

Seriously, both tasted great. The texture was a little more divine on Emeril's recipe, but I don't know if it was worth the hassle. Give 'em a shot and let me know what you think!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Stinky's Spoiled

We bought our car (2008 Toyota Highlander, "The Sleigh") because it filled all of our needs. I'm a complete geek and made a spreadsheet of all the things that were important to us and researched a lot of cars to see where they fit in the spreadsheet. We needed a car that had a lot of cargo area so that we could keep all our goodies in the back and not invade the dogs' turf, also known as the backseat. Abbey, our golden, is phobic about seats for some reason and prefers to ride in the floor, so we also needed a car that had plenty of floorspace in the back. She's a big dog. The sleigh fit both bills perfectly. The cargo bay is nice and spacious and the back floorboards are to die for. To be honest, the floorboards in the back were what pushed us over the edge and are the reason we went with the sleigh. The only thing less than stellar about the sleigh is the gas mileage, but it's still better than some other SUVs. On the way to Pennsylvania, we were not surprised to find Abbey in the floor and Rion and Worm curled up together on the seat. We were surprised on the way home, however, to find Schnitzel on the floor with Abbey and Stinky hogging the ENTIRE SEAT!!!! Poor little Worm was half under the driver's seat with just his little head and shoulders sticking out and Stinky was sprawled out across the bench seat with room to spare at either end. Greedy little monkey!

Stunning...Not so Much

Usually when Hubby and I drive to/from Pennsylvania, the goal is to get there and back as quickly as humanly possible. The only stops allowed are bathroom and coffee breaks (usually in the opposite order) and we stop for the night in Knoxville at the Red Roof Inn. As an informative aside, all Red Roof Inns accept pets. There are no stops at interesting roadside attractions; we've driven by enormous statues of dinosaurs in the middle of nowhere without stopping to capture the image. I have whined about this more than once. I've made the drive to PA three or four times and made note of different places I would like to visit one day when we're not flying by at 90 miles an hour. Imagine my surprise then, when this year Hubby suggested that we take the scenic mountain road for part of our journey back from his folks. "YES! YES!! YES!!!" So, up a very, very curvy little two lane road with no guardrails we creeped. When we reached the summit, the scene was amazing. We stopped at several of the scenic overlooks to take pictures, but even just driving through the forest was stunning. So beautiful and serene. When you're looking off the top of a mountain at the valleys below, it's easy to believe that we live in a simpler time. The detour was fantastic and I love, love, love Hubby for suggesting it.

Knoxville is not exactly the halfway point between Allentown and Houston. It's a little to the Pennsylvania side of the map. We normally stop there because it gets most of our driving done the first day of our trip on the way up. We noticed there was a Red Roof Inn in Chattanooga (as we were flying by at 90 miles an hour) on the way up this year and decided that would be our stop on the way back home. There's an hour and a half drive from Knoxville to Chattanooga, so we figured that would help balance out the second day of driving. The Red Roof Inn in Knoxville is very nice. The rooms are very large, usually including a desk and sitting area. The Red Roof Inn that we evacuated to when we were running from Hurricane Ike was the same way. So, I guess we figured all Red Roof Inns fit this bill. Oops. When we checked into our hotel, we were very happy to get a first floor room (when traveling with dogs, ALWAYS try to get a first floor room), but were shocked when we got into our room. It was TINY! The king bed took up the whole room. The "sitting area" consisted of a bistro table and two chairs with stains and tears in the upholstery. The wallpaper was peeling everywhere, the carpet turned my socks black, it was just disgusting. We stayed anyway cuz it was late and we were tired, but it was really surprising to us. Guess we'll continue to use Knoxville as our stop. :-) In the pic of the room - that's the smoke detector on top of the TV...don't ask, I don't know why it's there.