Category Archives: Gardening

Dear Tom, “It’s like doin’ a shot, a painful shot…”

How about a deadly shot? On the video below, scroll to 1 minute 59 seconds. You’ll see what happened to me yesterday when I made homemade chili paste from chilies grown from unknown plants sold to me by an anonymous person standing on a street corner. He didn’t speak any English. His daughter told me he’d bred them himself. They had no name. When I asked how hot, he said, “Muy caliente.” The understatement of the year…

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Beautiful but deadly.

This was me yesterday after taking a micro-taste of what I’d made. (I made the chili paste to give as Christmas presents. Now I must give them with a warning. Deadly~Eat at your own risk.) I’d already weaponized my kitchen so I was coughing and hiccuping and my eyes and nose were burning. Had to use my asthma inhaler last night. Even when I took a shower, the water running over my hands as I washed my hair burned my face. (That was after I’d washed my hands in milk like a million times!) I’ve eaten habaneros. Compared to these bad boys, habaneros are like an apple.

I have but one question- Why are Irish people eating chilies?

 

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Dear Tom, my son promised he wouldn’t weaponize the ghost peppers.

Ghost Peppers or Red Naga: Where the Ghost Pepper is From and Why It’s so Hot.

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The (dreaded) Red Naga.

My son made me grow them. He has plans. I did warn him there would be no weaponizing of the Ghost Peppers. Merely harvesting them was scary enough. For the time being they are safely ensconced in my freezer. Along with these chilies- bought the seedlings from a corner vendor:

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Chilies Diablo.

All he could say was~ “Chilies Diablo. Muy caliente.” So far I’ve harvested two quart bags and I’ve got at least another couple quarts still ripening on the plants. I too have plans!

Sambal Oelek!

I’ve very excited about this! Chrismukkah presents for all!

I’ve had a little time on my hands and a little produce left over from last year. Finally got around to dealing with it.

I added this year’s quince harvest to last year’s harvest (freezer) and made two pints of quince jam. The stuff is like gold! A gallon of quinces made a measly two pints.

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Quince Jam.

I also dried my drunken figs. Yes, drunken. They’ve been soaking in rum for a year, I’ll have you know! I dried them with my new food dehydrator.

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Dried Drunken Figs.

These are killer, man. Each one is like a shot of rum.

I thought I’d give a shout out to Jake- He treed a mountain lion last week. Dang! The thing was yowling at him like a kazoo! Jake went insane chasing the lion across the yard. It managed to scramble up into one of our redwoods. Seriously, the yowling sounded like a kazoo. My son said, “Mom, I don’t think there are any wild kazoos marauding around Napa.” Took me a long time to get the dog back in so the lion could be on his/her merry way. Hey, I don’t care about mountain lions. They snag the vicious marauding raccoons, so… (And yeah, it’s always me who has to go out and retrieve the dog. Oscar can sleep through an earthquake.)

Speaking of raccoons– Another shout out to my goldfish. Our little pond is a good example of survival of the fittest. This tough guy is two years old! He’s outlasted twelve other goldfish, all of whom have been eaten by raccoons and egrets. He’s super smart. Has a good hiding place. Only comes out for me even though I’ve never fed him. Occasionally I pull out some of the algae, otherwise the pond is a nice little ecosystem. Provides him with all the food he requires.

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The Goldfish.

His name is Fishy-Fishy. If anyone has a better suggestion I’m sure he won’t mind.

Still recovering. More on that at a later time.

That’s about it for now. Peace out.

Julia

 

Dear Tom, this morning’s harvest~

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Garlic. Purple potatoes. A couple leftover spring onions.

Yesterday I harvested asparagus, three bunches of celery, and a big bunch of broccoli. Now that the garlic is out of the ground I’ve got to get the clover-stuff out of the bed. Last year I purchased plants from a new nursery and unfortunately contaminated one entire bed with this yellow clover-ish weed. You can see some with the garlic.

My four baby robins fledged! Now a pair of mockingbirds have moved into the robin’s nest. They spend all their spare time begging for worms (making sounds like a puppy) and attacking Jake. Unlike the great horned owl, he can safely ignore them.

Yesterday we went to a beautiful beach. Jake had a wonderful time. He ran around like a maniac, then he and Oscar took a three mile hike. Unfortunately my climbing days are over until I’ve had surgery and rehabbed, so I walked along the shore and collected semi-precious stones. Then we drove over the Golden Gate into San Francisco to meet our youngest and her boyfriend for coffee. He lives at the very top of one of those hellacious hills and yes, I drove. Driving up the hills scares me to death. I always feel as if my car is going to flip upside down. Down doesn’t bother me. But believe me, I’d rather be driving than sitting in the passenger seat. I remember the first time I rode in the passenger seat up one of those hills – I was nineteen years old. I insisted the driver stop and let me out. I walked up the hill.

Last night we got lost in the mountains outside of Lafayette, looking for a retirement dinner. One of my husband’s managers is retiring after 40 years. The event was held in the middle of the wilderness (not kidding) at the end of a single-track road after we’d wound our way through a maze of country roads. Reminded me of the roads in Scotland but without the necessary turnouts. We had a hill on one side and a cliff on the other. We somehow managed to make it there without encountering another car (3 miles). The way home was another matter. All I can say is at least we were on the hill side, not the cliff side.

I only mention this retirement dinner because it made me sad. This woman has dedicated her life to her job. She’s married but has no children and only one sister. Her co-workers are both her family and her closest friends and now she’s leaving them.

There was a photo retrospective running on a loop on a big screen television.

Oscar’s co-worker is a happy healthy 70 year old woman. She radiates warmth and intelligence. But I experienced this weird disconnect as I watched the slide show. I’ve only known her for a couple years and I know little of her history. I was, to be frank, stunned. She was a glamorous young thing. She had model looks, kind of a combination of Bridgette Bardot and Twiggy. I had this completely inappropriate thought – If anyone ever makes one of these retrospectives of me I’ll come back from the grave and kill them. I think it’s kind of the same reason movie stars don’t watch their old movies. We’re young and then one day we get old. It ain’t always pretty.

Time does fly, doesn’t it?

XOXO! Julia

 

Dear Tom, Spring has sprung!

You’ll appreciate the fact that I’m already using produce from my garden.

Asparagus – oh yes – for weeks now.

Last night I harvested arugula, cilantro, baby garlic, and my secret green – wild stinging nettle. Love stinging nettle!

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Stinging nettle. Great green, if you know how to use it.

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Cilantro, arugula and baby garlic.

I harvested and washed the young greens. (Always wear gloves when picking nettles. I just covered my hands with a dishtowel and tossed them directly into a glass bowl of hot water – nuked them in the microwave for 90 seconds and voila! No sting. Nettles are better than spinach. And they are super healthy. They have a delicate flavor. Always pick before they bloom.)

Then I chopped everything coarsely and stuffed it all into my food processor, along with maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper and 1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. Because I wanted the pesto to be shiny, I added two raw egg yolks. (Just me. Feel free to leave out.)

I cooked up a box of pasta and opened a bag of frozen baby peas. Dumped the peas in a big mixing bowl, dumped the hot pasta plus three scoops of boiling pasta water on top of the peas and then stirred in the pesto.

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Later I’ll add some additional salt and Parmesan cheese to taste.

Yummy spring pesto pasta! Welcome to springtime in California!

XOXO! Julia

Dear Tom, I don’t see the point…

2015 has been exhausting, both for me, personally, and for our nation and our world. I’m plumb tuckered out.

I’m tired of blogging – an exercise which I suspect means little these days.

I’m tired of the publishing wars. Legacy publishing versus indie publishing versus far too many authors I know who are now poor as church mice, homeless even- authors who once upon a time, as in three or four years ago, made bundles of money.

Now me, I’ve never made bundles so I’ve never spent bundles. As they say– don’t give up the day job. Oh, a couple years ago, 2010-1013, the world was a much different (and more hopeful) place. I made a bunch. I sold lots of books. The life of writing was good and I felt inspired to write more and more and more.

These days, not so much. In fact, I find myself less and less interested in engaging the market, i.e., readers, and I have little interest in promotion. To be honest, I find it hard to muster the energy. Attempts to engage, attempts to promote, don’t sell books anyway. So engagement, just like blogging, is another exercise in futility.

But what about that pot of gold, you ask? What about that lightening strike? The newly discovered land? Well, I ain’t holding my breath. Never have.

You know, I’ve read those books – the strike it rich quick books – those books that have caught fire, those six-figure signings, and except for the very first book in the Hunger Games series, those six-figure books bored me to tears. Whatever it was about those books that caught fire did not ignite the fires within me. Couldn’t even make it through the first five pages of a couple of them.

BORING…

More and more I find myself buying nonfiction and re-reading my old favorites in the fiction genre.

But do I plan to quit altogether? Quit writing? Huh. Good question. Maybe. I’m working on a short story as we speak. I have a re-release scheduled for February or March. I have a number of books in the queue. Maybe I’ll finish them, maybe I won’t.

Regardless, I am convinced I’ll be appreciated after I’m dead. My stuff is good. Someday someone will realize it.

In the meantime:

I’m busy with family and friends. I’m traveling. I’ve got bushels and bushels of lemons to juice for lemon curd. I have to figure out how to halter break my steer, Hank. All in all, while my appreciation and affection for the beauty in life continues to grow, my attachment to the publishing world diminishes.

And I’m okay with that.

I miss you. 2015 was a sucky year for you and your family. They lost you. I lost you, my dear dear friend.

I look forward to 2016. The number fifteen has always bothered me in any case. I think it’s a bad luck number. 2015 has been proof of that for so many people.

Anyway, I’m tired– was up the entire night with a sick dog. No, not a kid although I did have a couple kids home– a sick dog. When I say the entire night I mean exactly that, the entire night. Oscar slept through the whole thing. But then that’s typical for Oscar. He sleeps the sleep of the dead. I wake if a neighbor three doors down drops a pin. Onto plush carpet.

The best blog around? The one worth reading? Marylin’s – Things I Want to Tell My Mother. Her recent post is frame-worthy: The Gift of Words. Go read it, you’ll love it.

All right, Tom, maybe I’ll re-watch the genius Big Bang episode (The Opening Night Excitation) and go to bed!

I love you, Tom. Here’s to the approaching New Year.

XOXO! Julia

 

 

Dear Tom, I’m sorry I haven’t written but I’ve been busy going insane.

First off let me say this – it is no fun, as in zero fun, to drive to the Oakland Airport and back four times in ten days, San Francisco and back three times in ten days, and get an injection of radioactive shit, be forced to drink three liters of water in three hours, and then lie flat on your back on a hard-ass plastic table, not moving, for an entire hour, while the bones in your foot are scanned. (Both of my feet were taped to a plastic form so I couldn’t move them if I’d tried.)

You know, I used to model, as in life-model for art classes. You would think the hardest thing was being naked in front of like forty people. Nope. The hardest thing in the world was not moving. That was super hard. And if you have one of those drawings of me stashed away, please keep it stashed away. In my defense the money was really good. And I had bills to pay.

On the bright side my youngest DOES NOT have lymphoma- yeah, been dealing with this, and it has been confirmed~ I am, as I’ve been saying all along, a super taster.

Brain

Oh, I’ve also been doing stuff with books, lots of stuff, which makes me think I should quit writing altogether and take up painting. Again. I like painting. It’s messy good fun. And I won’t have to think about the bazillions of awful books sold every single day while my amazing books sell one or two copies a month.

So yes, she DOES NOT have lymphoma. Scared the crap out of us, as you can imagine. But I got to sit in a Radioactive lab, as in I was the only person, place or thing in the room not encased in lead. Even the syringe used to inject the radioactive substance into my vein was encased in lead. But we know I’m a super taster because… well, I have said it for years. Cilantro tastes like chlorine gas. Arugula makes me vomit. The tap water tastes like penicillin mold. Raisins taste like poison. That wine tastes like creosote and sweat. (This is supposed to be a good thing?) Ladybugs are bitter when you accidentally ingest one. The dog’s feet smell like popcorn. The cat smells like bacon. There’s a skunk five miles away…) Anywhooo… So Debbie, as in her name was Debbie and I really liked her despite her lead get-up, started an IV. (A feat in itself. You try starting an IV wearing lead gloves.) She said, “All you’ll feel is the IV. You won’t feel a thing with the injection. You won’t get sick. There are no side effects. You won’t even know I’ve injected it.” Thus she injected it. Within a second of the injection, I said, “Ewwwwww. That’s not true. There is a side effect.” And she asked, “Oh? What?” And I said, “That injection tastes like the inside of an old tuna can dipped in garlic.”

And she said, “Huh. So you’re one of the one-percent who can taste the radiation.”

Ha! Again~ Brain

Perhaps I can get a job tasting for radiation.

In the meantime it’s fall, which means harvest. So…

Yesterday I used the last of the beets, the last head of cabbage, and some of the potatoes to make borscht – with beef. No, I didn’t grow the beef. My daughter did.

Today I’m pulling the skins off the mucho tomatoes I harvested to make tomato sauce to go with the eggplants I harvested so I can make eggplant Parmesean. And I have been ordered by my children, yes, my children still order me about, to make both chocolate croissants and a Coca-cola cake. Yep. There is such a thing as a Coca-cola cake. And I have been ordered to bake one as in this afternoon. The croissants I’ll freeze raw so they can bake and eat as desired. But since one of the children DOES NOT have lymphoma I will bake and freeze and can and sauce whatever she wants. And I will do it with gratitude in my heart.

Oh, about the books… What books? Who has time for books???

XOXO! Miss you, Tom. My thoughts are with Ishbel and your kids and grandkids. Julia