Light the Night!

This Saturday, I'm participating in the DC Light the Night Walk with team IMAGINATION DOMINATION.

Photo credit: Tsar Kasim.

Light The Night Walk is The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's evening walk and fundraising event. It is the nation's night to pay tribute and bring hope to thousands of people battling blood cancers and to commemorate loved ones lost.

I was inspired to participate in the Light The Night Walk by my friend and team captain, Jessica.

Jessica started our team while she was undergoing treatment for acute myelogenous leukemia. Thanks to innovations in cancer treatment research; a generous, matching bone marrow donor; excellent care at Johns Hopkins; her own amazing, fighting spirit; and the support of many friends, family, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, Jessica is now in remission!

Jessica isn't the only person I know who has been affected by leukemia or lymphoma. One of my ex-roommates is a survivor of Hodgkin's disease and my best friend, Sharlette, is a survivor of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Here's Sharlette (right) and me (left) at Lauriol Plaza:

Every 4 minutes one person is diagnosed with a blood cancer. An estimated 139,860 people will be newly diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma this year.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) funds lifesaving research that has contributed to major advances in the treatment of blood cancers and treatments for other types of cancer, such as chemotherapy and stem cell transplants. These treatments have helped patients live better, longer lives. New targeted therapies that kill cancer cells without harming normal tissue are providing drugs and procedures that are improving quality of life.

So, what does this have to do with gardening or food? Well, not much to do with gardening, but we are having a food related fundraiser tomorrow. Our team is having an event at California Tortilla in Bethesda (4862 Cordell Ave Bethesda, MD). Mention the password "CURE" between 11am and 5pm and 25% of the sale goes to team Imagination Domination. You must say the secret password! Please come and show your support and ask your friends, family, and coworkers to stop by and get some yummy food.

You can also donate directly to the Light the Night walk here. You can donate in ANY amount and every little bit counts!!!

Don't shop at

I'm indulging in a bit of bloggers revenge here, but they deserve it. I'll keep the story short.

On June 21 I ordered 5 Soji Solar Lanterns from for a total of $110.23.

Since I wanted them for a barbecue I was having the following weekend, I paid extra for 2nd day air shipping. On June 25, they still had not arrived. I called Yardiac's customer service and was told that my lanterns had still not left the warehouse. I canceled the order and bought something similar in a brick and mortar store nearby. A few days later, I notice on my credit card statement that Yardiac charged me for the lanterns that never shipped. I've been shopping online for a decade now, and I don't think I've ever been charged for something before it's shipped. On top of that, there was no credit for my cancellation! I called Yardiac's customer service again and was told that my pending credit was being processed by their credit department and that it would take 7-10 business days. Interesting. Yardiac jumped the gun to charge me, but are dragging their feet to credit me. As of today, it's been another credit card cycle and I still have no credit from Yardiac. So I filed a dispute with the credit card company.

To summarize: don't do business with!

It's impossible to tell if Yardiac is extremely stupid or malicious or both. One could imagine that the inconsistency in how quickly Yardiac charges you versus credits you could be part of a scheme to keep more sales on their books at the end of the month, or before they go under, or are sold.

Update: Many similar stories about Yardiac are posted here. They definitely have a pattern of charging customers before items are shipped and not crediting them when they cancel.

Another baby veggie update

A friend sent me this video after seeing my last post in which I compared corn to Beeker from the muppets. So on this evenings garden walk, I noticed that the corn now resembles Animal.

I also noticed my first baby bell pepper

and an eggplant!

My neighbors might think I'm crazy. Every time I see a new baby vegetable for the first time, such as with this eggplant, I squeal outloud "OMG, an EGGPLANT!" Then I repeat, "Max, it's an eggplant!" as if I'm talking to my dog and as if that makes me sound less crazy.

Baby Vegetables!

Watching baby vegetables develop is probably the most exciting and satisfying part of vegetable gardening. It's part of what makes you feel connected to your food. The tomato I eat in a few weeks will be one that I've watched grow from the beginning. It's also fun to learn what vegetables look like as they grow. In previous years, I've only grown tomatoes and cucumbers. I've watched the flowers turn, overnight, into tiny, green fruits that grow rapidly, and then, in the case of tomatoes, turn from green to red at an agonizingly slow pace.

But I've never grown corn before. It wasn't until this past week, when my stalks grew taller than myself that I learned how ears of corn develop. First the male flower emerges from the top of the stalk.

Then bulges form under the leaves, along the stalk, with tufts of hair poking out where the leaf meets the stalk. These are the female flowers which become ears of corn.

They remind me of Beeker from the Muppets.

I wonder how many ears of corn I'll get. So far, some of my stalks seem to have two bulges forming. I only have 5 mature plants right now. They grow very quickly, and it could stay warm here until October, so I'm thinking of planting more.

In other news, my squash plant is just entering the flowering stage. It looks pretty happy despite having been squashed as a seedling by Max (again).

Many beans are forming.

The first tomatoes are emerging. These are cherry tomatoes, so they should ripen quickly. I need to cage them ASAP.

This eggplant flower seems poised to actually become an eggplant. The first few flowers dropped because we had too much rain. There are lots of blossoms on my plants, so I'm looking at a lot of baba ghanoush.

And Mimi gets in touch with her ancient roots by protecting my vegetables from rabbits and rodents. Or at least she's trying -- she doesn't know that they don't eat hot peppers anyway!

Tiger Mosquitoes: They're Ba-ack

The mosquito population is just out of control. Even in the daytime, tiger mosquitoes are out in full force. Tonight I got eaten alive while watering my veggie garden. I'm not the type of wuss to complain about one or two bites. I'm talking about 20 bites in about 10 minutes.

I'm not the only one who's noticed. The mosquito population is officially out of control according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. From WBOC:
The Maryland Department of Agriculture says the state's mosquito population is getting out of control. Officials say they current population is the most that they have seen in years.

Department of Agriculture officials say the region's heavy rainfall is causing a boost in the number of mosquitoes. Mosquito control field crews estimate the population by counting the number of females that land on the front of their bodies.

"Typically, this time of year we expect maybe 10 or 12 mosquitoes per minute. Right now. we are experiencing numbers upward toward 80-90 mosquitoes landing on us in one minute," said Daniel Schamberger, a Department of Agriculture spokesman.

I have the pheremone mosquito traps that I blogged about earlier, but if the mosquitoes are just breeding in neighbors yards, then it's not doing a lick of good. Much to my vexation, the site of a recently demolished house a few blocks away from me is now a big, muddy pond. Other neighbors on my street have birdbaths. F*cking BIRDBATHS! Would it be rude to point out to them that these are mosquito breeding grounds? I mean, would it be more rude than allowing a mosquito breeding ground to persist in your yard?

I wish someone would invent a product like Advantage or Frontline for humans, only instead of repelling fleas and ticks, it would repel mosquitoes and ticks. There would be huge money in this! There's this patch, but I'm skeptical about how well it works. Of course, I don't want to have to use DEET on a regular basis. I have found a product called Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Repellent which seems to work well, actually smells kind of nice, and claims it is natural, though the label still says it can be harmful.

I'm concerned because I'm having a barbecue soon, and I'd hate to have mosquitoes ruin it. I'm planning on having a box fan blowing on my back porch area, as well as having citronella candles (not sure how well these will work together).

Are the mosquitoes out of control in your garden? What are you doing about it?

Photo credits: undertheturnpike and smccann. Video credit: Kida Yasuo.

Beer can chicken with potatoes

Today, I grilled for the first time of the season. I made beer-can chicken with potatoes. My beer can chicken recipe comes from Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ, but I have my own trick for cooking potatoes on the grill at the same time.

Quarter a mix of golden and red potatoes and toss them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and whole, peeled garlic cloves in a narrow aluminum pan.
Cover the potatoes with foil, poke holes in the foil with a fork, and set aside.

Spread light olive oil all over the chicken and rub with a dry barbecue spice rub, inside and out. Pour a little bit of beer out of your can of beer, add a few pinches of the rub to the can. Put the can of beer up the chicken's uh, cavity. You can use a beer can chicken stand to help prevent the chicken from falling over on the grill. Use a 12 ounce can, otherwise your chicken might not fit inside your grill with the cover on.

I used this rub, which I bought from Balducci's.

Put the foil pan with potatoes in between the two piles of coals on the lower grill. Put the chicken directly above the potatoes so the drippings drip down onto them. Cover and cook until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. I use a digital meat thermometer so I can see the temperature without opening the lid and letting the heat out. It takes 60-90 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken. I also put the giblets on a cast iron pan for Max.

The finished chicken was falling-apart tender.

The cooked potatoes:

Here's all the chicken drippings that dripped onto the potatoes:

Max in anticipation of his giblets:

I think he enjoyed them!

More reasons to not eat processed foods, as if you needed them.

I pointed out earlier how the seemingly lax regulations given by Food Defect Action Levels Handbook mostly refer to canned, frozen, or otherwise processed foods. Today's NY Times reports that manufacturers of processed foods openly admit that they cannot guarantee safety.

Food Companies Try, but Can’t Guarantee Safety -
Increasingly, the corporations that supply Americans with processed foods are unable to guarantee the safety of their ingredients. In this case, ConAgra could not pinpoint which of the more than 25 ingredients in its pies was carrying salmonella. Other companies do not even know who is supplying their ingredients, let alone if those suppliers are screening the items for microbes and other potential dangers, interviews and documents show.

Yet the supply chain for ingredients in processed foods — from flavorings to flour to fruits and vegetables — is becoming more complex and global as the drive to keep food costs down intensifies. As a result, almost every element, not just red meat and poultry, is now a potential carrier of pathogens, government and industry officials concede.

In addition to ConAgra, other food giants like NestlĂ© and the Blackstone Group, a New York firm that acquired the Swanson and Hungry-Man brands two years ago, concede that they cannot ensure the safety of items — from frozen vegetables to pizzas — and that they are shifting the burden to the consumer. General Mills, which recalled about five million frozen pizzas in 2007 after an E. coli outbreak, now advises consumers to avoid microwaves and cook only with conventional ovens. ConAgra has also added food safety instructions to its other frozen meals, including the Healthy Choice brand.

Convenience foods seem a lot less convenient if they might give you salmonella poisoning, don't they?

Photo from Don Solo.

The messy reality of my garden in its current state.

So basically all of my seedlings died. I transferred a few of them, but they didn't make it. The ones I had inside got too leggy. The tomatoes in particular just turned purple in the stems, then the leaves turned yellow. I'm pretty sure it's mainly because I used the wrong kind of lights. I was really discouraged for a while, but life goes on. The garden must go on! I can't let this stop me after I've put so much effort (and um, money) into this project.

So I got some pepper and eggplant plants at a garden store, and everything else I'm starting from seed in the ground. This weekend I built another 4'x4' garden bed (veggie 2 in my garden plan) and I transplanted seven kinds of peppers and two eggplant plants. Some of the peppers already have flowers Plus I started melons, cucumbers, corn, and wax beans. I also just re-started the herbs that didn't make it from seeds. A week ago I built the 6'x6' garden bed (veggie 1 in the plan). Fortunately for me, I have long arms and can reach the middle just fine. I started two Roma tomato plants, one cherry tomato plant, and one crookneck squash plant from seed. Then I inter-planted more carrots, beets, leeks, and radishes. I took a tip from Joe Lamp'l and re-used some plastic containers as mini greenhouses in the hopes that it would help my tomatoes germinate -- we had some cool evenings last week. Whether it's due to the covers or not, the tomatoes have sprung up and look good so far.

Meanwhile, the spring vegetables seem to be doing mostly okay, despite some of the really hot weather we've had. The cauliflower and broccoli are starting to show teeny tiny heads. Only 2-3 cauliflower plants look like they might not make it or at least are way behind the others. On the plus side, if they die, we can plant more summer veggies in their place that much sooner. We really have plenty of cauliflower and broccoli.

Somebody has been eating the bok choi. I found a bunch of slugs on it, and caterpillars on the cauliflower and broccoli. I used the thumb and forefinger method on these little guys, which gave me great satisfaction. The caterpillars in particular bled a deep green as if they were filled with pure chlorophyll. I also scattered some coffee grounds. I haven't seen any uninvited guests since.

Besides that, this is the somewhat messy state of my garden.
Weeds are starting to appear, particularly poke-weed berries, which have enormous tap roots and are really hard to get rid of. I wish I had a picture of what this yard looked like when I moved in -- as messy as it looks now, it's still a great improvement. I'm not sure what to do with the areas between my garden beds. Some have grass (mixed with clover) some don't. I don't think it makes sense to put down straw between some and not others. (I also don't want to buy straw.) I'm thinking of just pulling up the most offensive weeds (dandelion and plantain type weeds) and letting the clover fill in. I actually don't mind the clover in the back yard as it doesn't need to be mowed as often as grass.

I still have to build the last of the garden beds which is for the flowers. Of all the seedlings that died, I am most disappointed about my delphiniums. I'm hoping that with plastic covers to protect them, I can get some seeds started in the ground. They probably won't produce flowers this year though. Bummer.

Lemon Ginger Miso Soup

This is absolutely my favorite comfort food right now. Eating it has a wonderful calming effect on me. It's also super easy to make and the ingredients are all things that are easy to keep in stock.

The recipe is adapted from Super Cleanse: Detox Your Body for Long-Lasting Health and Beauty by Adina Niemerow.

3 cups water (preferably filtered)
1 crushed garlic clove
1 teaspoon of grated ginger
juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons red miso
a few drops of sesame oil
vegetables of your choice (I use sliced mushrooms and small cubes of tofu)

Bring the water to a boil and add garlic, ginger, and vegetables. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice, miso, and sesame oil. Stir to dissolve the miso and serve.

Dream Garden

At the moment, my gardening is limited by the fact that I'm actually renting, so I'm not going to invest in many perennial plants or expensive installations of beds and trellises. My time is limited to what I can manage on (dry) weekends by myself. Lately my time has been extra limited because of a few very busy weeks with work related things -- you may have noticed I haven't been blogging for a while. Sorry about that.

Here's what I'd have in my dream garden if I weren't limited by time or resources:

  1. Chickens. As a single dog and cat mother, I can't really take on the responsibility of any more animals right now. But I love reading about bloggers like Deetles, fast grow the weeds, and Bumblebee blog with chickens. I'm definitely getting chick envy. I'd love having fresh eggs from my own backyard everyday!

  2. A pond. With frogs and goldfish and maybe a little fountain. I'd have to find some treatment to prevent mosquitoes though.

  3. Ducks. Swimming in the pond. I hear they eat slugs and caterpillars but are quite a lot of work.

  4. A small goat. Maybe those fainting goats because they're so darn cute. I'd have to research which goats give the best milk -- home made goat cheese would be amazing. Must give a shout out to Idaho Small Goat Garden, which is the main source of my small goat envy.

  5. A bat house. Bats eat mosquitoes, and everyone hates mosquitoes. In case you haven't heard, right now bats in the Northeastern U.S. are suffering from a mysterious fungus that causes what's called white nose syndrome. Somehow the fungus disturbs the bats' hibernation causing them to starve over winter. Very sad.

  6. A green house. I'd love to have spring vegetables year round. I may even try making a mini cold frame in at least one of my garden beds this winter. But eventually, I'd love to have one I can walk into.

  7. Citrus trees. I'm a big fan of fresh squeezed citrus juice. I'd love as many of these as I could fit including grapefruits, tangerines, blood oranges, limes and lemons. I'm considering getting Meyer lemon tree in a container.

  8. Berry bushes. Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries. Who doesn't love berries? I actually had a few small blueberry bushes when I owned my place in Ithaca, but they only lasted one summer. This year I'm trying to grow some strawberries in a container.

I may have to wait till I'm retired to manage what's basically a mini-farm, but I can dream for now.

What's in your dream garden?

Photos from jamesmorton, Sifu Renka, Tambako the Jaguar, vtenger4047, bcostin, Andwar, shawnogram, and Martin LaBar.

Angry rant about the mistreatment of tofu

In accordance with the convention of giving nicknames starting with 'S' to Safeways in the D.C. area, I hereby dub the Safeway on Old Georgetown Road the "Sorry Safeway" or more elaborately, the "Sorry, we only have silken tofu today, Safeway".

I consider tofu a basic staple. I go through tofu the way some people go through milk or bread (neither of which I buy regularly). So when Safeway is all out of firm tofu, to me that's just as pathetic as if they were out of milk or bread.

Today, Martha Rose Shulman for the New York Times declared that tofu is not just for health nuts anymore. It may not be a super-food, but it is a good source of magnesium, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and of course, protein. Though it is NOT just a meat substitute. (It's actually more like cheese.) It shouldn't be put in a category with sodium laden, sorry excuses for food-like substances such as smart dogs. Tofu also has the advantages of being super easy to store safely (as opposed to meat), chop, season, cook, and digest.

A major grocery store should stock more than just a few pounds per day!

So with the rant out of the way, here's a recipe for marinated tofu that I learned from an ex-roommate:

1 part balsamic vinegar
1 part tamari
a few cloves crushed garlic (optional)
a teaspoon or so of grated ginger (optional)
a few drops of sesame oil (optional)

Chop the tofu according to your liking (smaller or thinner shapes will absorb flavor more quickly) and marinate for 1-24 hours. Then just sautee the tofu on it's own or add it to a stir fry. Serve with rice.

Photo from justinhenry.

Building beds and spring planting

Just last week it dawned on me that it's getting late to plant the Spring vegetables. I am new at this afterall. So that lit a fire under me to finalize my plan and start building my beds.

As it turns out, the tomatoes I've started are determinate (bush as opposed to vine) types. I hadn't really paid attention to this before. I had been skeptical of the Square Foot Gardening method just because I remember how big my cherry and Roma tomato plants got last year. Well it turns out that Square Foot Gardening recommends that you give determinate tomato plants 9 square feet. Crookneck squash also need 9 square feet.

I've also decided that I should plant more varieties of fruits and veggies and less quantities of each. So I've gone slightly seed crazy. In addition to the plants I listed a few weeks back, I've decided to plant cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, bok choi, leeks, radishes, cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, lemongrass (thanks to a really helpful comment from lynn'sgarden), container strawberries, and a determinate variety of heirloom tomatoes.

I was yapping about all this to my friend Sharlette who lives in an apartment, and she mentioned that she wishes she could grow a garden. So we decided to do some yard sharing! She'll have a 4x4 plot in my backyard.

So with all of the above considered, I've come up with this new plan:

'Veggie 1' is a 6'x6' square where I'll plant two Roma tomato plants, 1 cherry tomato, and 1 crookneck squash, inter-planted with carrots, radishes, beets, and leeks to use the extra space while the tomato plant is still small. 'Veggie 2' will be for more summer fruits and veggies, to be determined. Last weekend, I built 'Veggie 3', 'Veggie 4' which is Sharlette's plot, and the 3'x3' herb box. Sharlette and I planted cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, bok choi, mesclun, carrots, radishes, beets, and leeks. Here's what it looks like so far:

Notice that the mess of ivy covering two stumps in my before pictures is now a single bare stump. That's because two weekends ago after I ripped up the ivy, I removed a huge rotted tree stump. Yes me. By myself. I'm definitely proud of this accomplishment!