Look what we got

A birdhouse!

Last week I heard that there was a Groupon for Berkeley Rustic Birdhouses, and it was a total steal. $45 for $100 toward a birdhouse. So of course I bought it.

It was hard to choose from all the options.

But we fell in love with this one with the license plate roof.

How can you resist a tiny salvaged wood house with a tiny crooked staircase?

Tomato harvest

I’ve been going out to check on the garden about once a day the last few weeks, and every day I’ve seen all kinds of green tomatoes, but almost no red ones. Today, they had finally turned.

The ones with the greenish tops are purple Cherokees, my absolute favorites. The smaller ones are like cherry tomatoes, and the long, skinny one is a San Marzano. Can’t wait to see how those do in sauces.

Roasted beets with goat cheese

This has been my go-to side this week, now that we have fresh beets in the garden.

I’ve always found beets to be a little too strong tasting. I’ll eat a few, but then I’ll start to pick them out. But this recipe has given me a whole new appreciation for beets. I think the difference is that I finally cooked them long enough to caramelize, so they became more sweet than beet-y, if that makes any sense.

The addition of goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic dressing just makes them even better.

The only sad part is that our beautiful chioggia beets lose most of their color when roasted. But I still get to enjoy the swirled patterns every time I cut one open.

So all you do for this recipe is wash the beets (as many as you want), trim the ends and cut off the greens.

Then you can peel the outer layer of skin if it’s too rough.

Cut the beets into 1/4-inch slices, place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle on a little olive oil. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees. You will be tempted to take them out too soon, but don’t. You want them soft, with slightly curled edges.

When they’re done, let them cool a few minutes, and cut the slices into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle goat cheese on top (I like Northern Prairie Chevre’s black pepper version) and drizzle with a little balsamic dressing.

The weekend in photos

Kind of ironic after my last post about freelancing, but last week was one of those where it was like everything happened at once work-wise. That’s another thing I’ve noticed is work seems to happen all at once or not at all. And you have to use those down times for something productive because they suddenly disappear.

Anyway, I finally got a break over the weekend to do some yard work, and Mike and I had a fun time riding our bikes around the neighborhood. Ragbrai training plan: ride to Snookies, eat ice cream cone, ride back.

Anyway, I decided to go on a weed-killing cleanup mission in the backyard because it was starting to look like a jungle. I cleared out the space behind our garage, which had been so overgrown you couldn’t walk back there, and our neighbor offered to weed whack the edges so that it was completely clear.

(Unfortunately it revealed just how badly our garage needs to be painted!)

This means I can finally tackle the “secret garden” spot in between our house and garage. I dug out all the weeds and baby trees and discovered all the rocks underneath that we had put in two years ago. I’m starting to scrape them back so we can put down a cover, then replace the rocks on top.

The rest of the yard is always going to get weedy unless we put down some more mulch, but I just don’t know how much more money I want to invest in our yard, since we’re renters.

One fun thing: After the first coneflower in our side garden died and we bought a second one, I noticed that a lone coneflower was growing out of the brush pile in our backyard.

So we’d had one all along. The little guy got a bit trampled by the dogs, but it still looks pretty good.

I weeded the garden some more and found that the yellow hot peppers are ready to pick, and that some of the beets are crowning.

I’m very excited to have these with dinner.

The other day I made stuffed shells, and I just had to take a picture because they looked so yummy. I just used a bit of ricotta mixed with parmesan cheese and black pepper for the filling.

Mike went up to Minneapolis over the weekend and found a suit for the wedding. We also sent out our invites and got several other items checked off our list, so we’re feeling a lot better about things. I’m dying to go ring shopping now.

This is the hair pin I’m going to wear. Isn’t it gorgeous?

And if you want one for yourself, go here.

Grow, baby, grow

Last week it was rain, rain, rain. This week it’s sun, sun, sun. Needless to say, our plants are very happy.

(And we’re hoping it’s not flood, flood, flood like two years ago.)

The lilies finally opened,

and the coneflowers did, too.

Sadly, something decided to eat 2/3 of the hot pepper plant I had planted on the side of the house, but it looks like it’s leafing out again.

I spotted one little eggplant this morning. So cute! Hope nothing decides to eat it.

I think the eggplant flowers are so pretty. Okra flowers are still my favorite, but these are a close second.

As I headed to the back yard I found the Sadie in one of her favorite spots. She’s figured out how to lift the handle of the gate with her nose. Such an escapist.

In other fence news, we got a new one! Our landlord decided to replace the dilapidated fence on one side of the yard.

I still don’t think it will do much if we have blizzards like we did last year, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the repairs we attempted (which were broken 3 times by falling trees).

In the veggie garden, the beets are almost ready and the carrots are coming along. Everything looks so lush and green.

We got our first red tomato (a cherry one), and I can start to see little bundles of San Marzanos growing now.

Everyday the zucchini plant gets more massive.

This is the biggest zucchini I can see. I am trying to hold back the urge to pick it now.

Spotted in the garden…

… little green tomatoes!

You may have to look closely to see them, but they’re in there.

After a fairly dry spring, the skies just opened up this month, and it has poured rain for several days. When the sun finally does come out it seems like the plants (and unfortunately all the weeds) grow like crazy.

All of our lettuce has been cut and eaten (or given away), and the next round of plants is blooming.

After our two tomato deaths, the new ones seem to be doing really well. (Mike got the super sturdy tomato cages this year for them).

Same thing with the zucchini.

On closer inspection I see a lot of buds on there. Maybe we’ll get our out-of-control zucchini after all.

In the side garden I noticed these white flowers blooming, and I honestly don’t remember them from years past.

I love these bright yellow flowers that seem to thrive in the sun and heat.

The new coneflower seems to be doing OK. Maybe the other one was just too young and wimpy to survive in the heat.

In the front yard the lilies are starting to bud.

Unfortunately we did have one little incident in the backyard from all the storms. A dead tree that sat right along the fence line decided to topple over into the property behind ours.

Luckily it didn’t damage the fence, but most of it crashed to the ground. And it was pretty gigantic.

I’ve seen numerous HUGE trees go down in my neighborhood in the past few weeks. I can’t even imagine how much it is costing those homeowners to have them cut and taken away. The downside to living in an older neighborhood, I guess.

Some bloom, some die

I’m sad to report that my purple coneflower died pretty soon after I planted it.

It has been uncharacteristically hot and dry here the past couple weeks, so I think it became a victim of the weather. I was surprised it wasn’t sturdier, but live and learn. Mike went out and bought another one, so we’ll see how it fares.

The daisy has been struggling a bit, too, but as long as I water it every day it perks up and continues to bloom.

The dark pink roses finally bloomed, and they seem really happy. They’re just like the light pink ones — very delicate. The petals just fall off when you touch them.

Our new tomatoes seem to be faring well, and we have enjoyed many more salads from the greens. Overall, garden win!

Side garden – done!

I had to dig up some of my mulch work to finish the side garden, but it was worth the effort to cross that off my checklist.

When I walked over there yesterday I noticed that not only is the big rose bush in full bloom (this is what they look like),

but another rose bush over there has lots of buds on it. I don’t think one has ever bloomed since we’ve lived here, so I’m excited to see what it looks like.

I did end up moving some of the little pink and white flowers to fill in one of the holes, so now they form a straight line across the front of the garden.

In back I added a shasta daisy and a purple coneflower plant.

I LOVE daisies of all kinds, and I think they will look great once that other plant blooms with yellow-orange flowers.

I chose prairie-type flowers because I love them, and they are perennials that will keep coming back!

At the farmers market I bought an oregano plant and a cilantro plant to round out my herb pot garden. It’s still looking great on the front porch.

Both of our Amish paste tomato plants died in the back yard. We think perhaps they were not as able to survive cold temps as the other ones that we planted at the same time. We got some San Marzano plants to replace them, so we’ll see how those do. I suspect they like it warm, so they should be happy with our high 80s temps this week.

Happy gardening!

Salad harvest

Last night I really wanted a salad to go with dinner so I went out to the garden and picked some of our lettuces.

I can’t tell you how much fun it was to go “shopping” in the garden.

Despite the convenience factor of bagged salads, I don’t buy them anymore because they just have this taste that says … not really fresh at all.

There is one downside to picking your own greens – you have to look out for stowaways like these little pods that have been dropping off our tree into the garden.

I remember last year I found some baby slugs in with the greens!

But it’s worth it.

And have I mentioned how much I love my salad spinner?

If you have a little extra aggression to get out, just spin that puppy until you feel better. Then eat salad.

Gardening and graduation

I’ll start with the graduation part. It was awesome! My sister graduated last weekend with her master’s degree from Columbia College Chicago. The whole fam made the trek to Chicago, which was quite an adventure. But we managed to get everyone where they needed to be, and spent one lovely afternoon at the art museum, which I hadn’t seen since high school. And after my second visit I still need to go back again to see everything.

Then Sunday we attended the graduation ceremony, and it was so much better than any graduation I’ve ever attended. When we sat down there was a band playing and people singing. Not your normal hum drum ceremonial music. It was more like a gospel choir.

And throughout the whole thing Columbia’s performing arts students treated us to a bunch of performances that were American Idol-worthy. When the different majors came in they were dancing and holding up signs. Then the speaker was a stand-up comedian (I guess it helps to be near Second City.)

Anyway, the whole thing was just so unexpected, and it was a great sendoff for my sis.

When I got back to Des Moines, the sun finally decided to come out again and warm things up, so I got to work on the side garden.

I dug out a bunch of weeds and planted a little mini veggie garden with eggplants, basil, and a hot pepper plant (Wenk’s yellow hots).

I noticed while I was over there that the big rose bush actually has buds on it (yay!), which means I must have done something right when I trimmed it earlier this spring.

Then I weeded and mulched the flower section.

All the perennials have come up, but over the years they have spread into a weird configuration. I am thinking I need to move some of the pink flowers in front so that they form a straight line, and then plant some more flowers to fill in the empty hole in the back. That should be pretty easy to do.

The secret garden is going to need a lot of work, though, and after weeding one small patch and hauling six bags of mulch I am dreading doing any more work like that. But the thing about gardening is that once you do a little you want to do a little more. Or a lot more.

I also planted some more herbs in the pots on the front porch. The dill looks fantastic.

And I added some English thyme.

The mint is thriving now in its own pot. Mojitos??

In the back yard the transplants are doing a little better now, but we did lose a couple of tomato plants. Luckily we can usually find the same ones at the farmers market. We have to have our tomatoes!