Here we go again...

(Note: This was actually supposed to post yesterday - 9/29 - but I accidentally forgot to schedule it go go up.  So, please pretend that it's Thursday when you're reading this. Thanks.) 

Dieting.

Seriously, do you really want to hear about this?  I hate it, but it's necessary. 

I joke that summers are my "fattening up" times, but it's actually true.  In the summer, it's too hot to exercise (yes we have air-conditioning but it's not enough) and there's nothing that tempts me quite like a cold beer on the porch on a warm summer evening.  There's also nothing like eating Wendy's on one of our many summer roadtrips, or ordering chicken fingers and fries at Bennigan's in the Dallas airport.

Summer is characterized as carefree! Fun! Lazy! Dog days of summer!

For me, it's characterized with eating! Drinking! No exercising! Sunbathing! Reading! Lounging! Traveling! All-you-can-eat-and-drink-Mexican-vacations!

And we all know where that path leads.

So now it's fall and there are no more "it's too hot" excuses.

Of course, last week I had the "I hurt my knee" excuse, but that seems to be over now, so I will take it easy (on my knee) without doing anything that might hurt it again (or more.)

So starting today! (because to be completely honest, I ate two donuts yesterday - yesterday was shot) I will start dieting again.  This isn't about massive weight loss or anything - 5 to 10 pounds is all I'm asking for - but it is about at the very least maintaining what I have going on right now, and a little toning and firming on the side wouldn't hurt either.

Here are my goals:

1. Track my calories, every day, starting on 9/29/10
2. Light weight training on Mondays and Wednesdays with some cardio if possible
3. Minimum of 45 minutes of cardio three other days - Tuesday and Thursday for sure, and hopefully one day on the weekend

It sounds so easy written out like that, but I know it will be much, much more challenging that it sounds.

Labor Day

I realize that I never mentioned how I spent my Labor Day, and after going through some of my pictures on my camera, decided that it was worth a belated post.

The long weekend started on Saturday with a beautiful boat ride on the Susquehanna river, in the afternoon-approaching-evening as the sun was starting to set.



And on the way back stopped to watch some rock jumpers.


Looks fun, but I would never have the guts to try it myself.

That evening we went to a demolition derby, a life-long dreams of my husband's finally fulfilled.  While mildly entertaining, it was not worth the $12 per person admission fee.


 On Sunday, it was too cool for swimming, so we canoed across the river, heading for the tiny island that you can see in the distance in the picture below:

(Pictures below were taken using an underwater camera, which is why the picture quality and color isn't as good as the images above.)


After a lot of work, we finally reached it. 


To find that it had a crazy structure built on it, which apparently is called a "duck blind."



After clearing out the cobwebs, I went inside and declared myself queen of the duck blind (let's add that to the list of things I'd never say.)

And then, having explored the entire, tiny island, we heading back. 


Sometimes it's nice to have a relatively relaxing, stress-free weekend.  Labor Day was definitely that for me.

What did you do on Labor Day weekend?

Fiscally conservative fashion

I enjoy a bargain, perhaps more so than most people I even know.  I am not only not willing to pay full price for things such as clothing or shoes, I downright refuse.  This usually means that I'm slightly behind when it comes to being "in style" but I'm ok with staying a season or two behind anyway, to make sure that a trend is here to stay for more than a few weeks.

One of my favorite ways to save money and yet constantly have an updated wardrobe is shopping the clearance racks.  Being a clearance shopper takes a ton of patience.  These racks are usually disorganized, disheveled, and things are often mislabeled.  You could spend over an hour sorting through a clearance rack, finding one measly item that makes the cut, only to realize that the there's a hole in the should, or the zipper is broken or something else equally frustrating.  But everyone once in awhile you luck out, and that little victory makes it all worth it.

The end of a season is my favorite time to shop for deals.  The end of summer means staples such as shorts, tank tops, and dresses are on super-sale, and at the end of winter I stock up on sweaters and pants for the next fall.

Last week, while browsing through the clearance rack at Target, I struck gold.  A dress style that I had been fawning over for months since I had first seen it in JCPenney - the black cotton button down dress with puff sleeves.

The dress I found wasn't quite the same as what I had originally looked at, but it was close enough. And the price?  $6.

Half an hour later I'm at Payless - my go-to source for cheap shoes that I don't feel about discarding at the end of the next season - and I found the perfect pair of black flats to go with this dress.  $8.

I added a black necklace that I already owned, and I had an awesome outfit that I could wear to work for only $14.

Cute, comfy and dirt cheap.  That's what I call fiscally conservative fashion at its best.

Now if I could only figure out how to pose for photos without looking silly.

A Plea - Kill the Stink Bugs

Remember my last post? The one where I talked about how horrible I felt for flushing five stink bugs down the toilet? 

Two days and what feels like 2000 stink bugs later, my attitude has changed completely.  I am now the self-proclaimed leader of the stink bug genocide mission.  Our goal: Eliminate all stink bugs.

I have been part of a couple of debates about stink bugs on Facebook, trying to debunk the myth that killing stink bugs just attracts more (my personal experience has been that I have killed many, and yet only a few have returned in their place - definitely not more.)  It has been a quickly spreading rumor that killing a stink bugs causes more stink bugs to come.  Some people vehemently believe this to be true, although there is little evidence to the contrary, at least from what I could find.   This Wikipedia article - sent to me from my sister as evidence that stink bugs should not be killed - claims that the scent that stink bugs leave behind is what tells other stink bugs that a particular house is a good place to stay warm over the winter.  Acknowledging that Wikipedia isn't necessarily the most reliable or scientific source, I was willing to give it the satisfaction of the doubt for a moment. 

But the actual words from the article are this:  
"They leave a powerful scent behind on everything they land on, including the buildings where they hibernate, and this odor is one of the reasons they will return year after year; it is a beacon to other stinkbugs that this location is a good hibernation nest."

So on one hand, there's not much you can do to combat these creatures.  If they're already marking the outside of your house as a nice, warm nest, and you allow them to continue to exist in their current numbers, you're screwed!  They're going to keep coming back, year after year regardless. 

The worst part of it all is that stink bugs do not die during the cold winter months like some other insects do.  In fact, they can live for many, many years as long as they can find a warm place to hibernate for the winter and one female stink bug can lay hundreds of eggs the next summer if left to survive.  Furthermore, these bugs are now starting to threaten crops, destroying enormous numbers of apple and peach crops this year, and predictions for future years are even more dire if they're left to reproduce as they have been in recent years. 

But on the other hand, letting them survive, regardless of the off-chance that they might attract another bug or two to the inside of your house should one be smart enough to figure out how to get in, is a horrible idea, considering how many more they could produce the next year if left to survive.

So if you haven't been killing the stink bugs in or around your house because you're afraid that their smell may attract more, or because you're like I once was and feel bad about killing them, I'm encouraging you to reconsider.  The only way to keep the stink bug population at bay is to work to eliminate them, one nasty stink bug at a time. 

And as evidence to the fact that I am trying to do my part, here is a video and some pictures of my work.

Warning! - Somewhat graphic (or at least disgusting) images are below.

First, here is what we are dealing with.  Please excuse my shoddy videomanship.  But you get the idea. We had a LOT of stink bugs on our porch.

video

And then, two pictures of my efforts. 

After cleaning out the canister of my trusty Dyson, I took to the porch, sucking up every single stinkbug I could find, including snatching them out of midair.

It may not look like much, but there are at least 100 stink bugs in there


I then immediately took the canister inside and opened it over the toilet.

Thankful for public sewer access
 And *FLUSH.* And repeat.

Just doing my part, people.

The stink bugs are coming! The stink bugs are coming!

Stink bugs.  They're invading southwestern Pennsylvania, and coming to a warm, brightly lit indoor space near you. 

As far as I can tell, it happened like this.

Last Fall - I vacuumed up perhaps a dozen dead stink bugs on our porch
Early summer - One or two stink bugs on our porch on occasion, nothing consistent
Last week - Two stink bugs got into our house when we left the screen door open, but the porch didn't seem to be overrun with them
Tuesday, September 21st - HOLY STINKBUGS! CALL THE EXTERMINATOR! THEY'RE TRYING TO GET IN!!!!!!

Ewwww...

Today, Thursday, September 23rd - Dammit, they're in.  Time to take defensive action.  CALL IN THE GUARD!

I know we're not the only ones.  Yesterday Twitter and Facebook were literally consumed with comments about stink bugs.  I'm not sure that anyone in Pittsburgh could talk about anything else.



They are swarming on our front window.  I counted 28 from just a quick glance, and I'm pretty sure the numbers increased after that.  There have to be at least 200 on our porch, but I didn't bother counting - there were A LOT, let's just leave it at that.  I was out on the porch talking to my mom on the phone, and one flew into my ear.  I literally screamed like a five year old girl, because their buzzing sound is just. so. loud.

Originally, I was operating on a "no kill" plan.  I would catch them and release them outside.  But seriously, what kind of idiot am I!?!? They're an invasive species!!!  They don't deserve my mercy! Plus, now that their numbers are so great, I can't open the door to release one without 5 to 10 more getting in!  It's not worth it... I'm now resorting to one of the two most popular methods of dealing with stinkbugs - flushing them down the toilet.  (The second most popular method - from what I can gather - is sucking them up in the vacuum cleaner.)  As a bleeding heart animal activist, you must believe me when I say that flushing five stink bugs down the toilet just now seriously left me a lump in my throat, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to go to hell for it. 

But then I look back up at that picture, and I remember that they're taking over my house.

So, here's the question... Are there stinkbugs where YOU live?  (And if there aren't, where do you live? I may move there.) 

My McLigament

I work out fairly often. (Well at least when its not summer.) I run and I just started a weight lifting class.  In fact, I have a post already started to tell you all about my workout plans for the fall.

So I found it a little ironic that last night while walking - WALKING - I pulled something in my knee, and now have to wear the above pictured brace.

I went to an urgent care center after a very painful day of work.  They took xrays and will be calling me tomorrow. But initial observation is that it's my MCL, the same ligament I tore back in 2002.

For now, I am to take it easy (read: no exercise) and I'll hopefully know more soon. But what I know for sure is that this was NOT part of my diet plan. Guess I'll have to rewrite that post I started....

Real Food - Eat more fish

I just finished reading "Real Food" by Nina Planck, and recently started reading the Super Foods book as well.  Lately I've been trying to intermix educational reading into my usual stack of fiction novels, and I thought that a good place to start was with our food.  Sure, I can cook, but I don't know a lot about what's really good for me to eat, and I like to know the reasoning behind WHY it's good or not good to eat a particular food.

Alright, well maybe not THESE fish....

The one food I definitely don't eat enough of is fish. I'm just not a big fish eater.  I don't outright hate it, but I never order it in restaurants and I certainly don't cook it at home.  I ate quite a bit of fish during our honeymoon in Jamaica, but that was mostly because it was on the buffet and very low-risk to try. I liked it well enough, but I did love it and thus haven't been motivated to try to make it at home.

But "Real Food" was reiterated what I already knew - there are incredible health benefits associated with eating fish and I would absolutely love to incorporate fish into our diet.  But for now I need to keep things simple and tasty.  I want to ease into this change, and not overdo it early on, because that will just make me dislike fish.  

In order to do that, I decided to start with the most mild varieties of fish, and work our way up from there to things with a stronger taste over time.  I know that wild salmon is one of the best fish out there is terms of health benefits, but we're not ready for the strong taste yet, and the source of salmon is more questionable these days as overfishing occurs.  So that means we need to balance our desires for a mild tasting fish while keeping health benefits and the sustainability of the fish population in mind.

So what are the milder fishes? A long list is available here, but for now, here are the ones that popped up on the lists most often and in parentheses I've added where they fall in terms of the lists above.

Tilapia (good)
Grouper (not red) (bad)
Mahi Mahi (not horrible, not great)
Cod (Pacific is ok, but Atlantic is not)
Red Snapper (Bad)
Flounder (? Not on any of the lists)
Rainbow Trout (good)

See my "good, bad" comments in parentheses?  That refers to the list that Nina Planck included in Real Food, regarding the health benefits and sustainability of each type of fish.   Fish on the "good" list are both good for you and sustainable, whereas fish on the bad list are either non-sustainable, are caught using questionable methods, or are high up on the food chain and usually contain unsafe levels of mercury.

Fish that are good for you and socially responsible/sustainable:
Catfish - farmed
Pacific Halibut (not Atlantic)
Wild Salmon
Striped Bass
Sturgeon - farmed
Tilapia -farmed
Rainbow Trout - farmed
Tuna - troll/poll caught


Not horrible, but not great either:
Pacific Cod
Summer Flounder
Mahi Mahi
Pollock
Pacific Sole
US Swordfish

Bad:
Chilean seabass
Atlantic cod
Grouper
Atlantic Halibut
Monkfish
Orange roughy
Red snapper
Farmed Salmon
Shark
Atlantic Sole
Imported Swordfish
Bluefin Tuna

So, I started with Tilapia, a fish that I knew I would like.  I found a recipe online for a breading, and it was awesome.  Success on that account!  I'm planning on having tilapia two more times before switching to another fish.  I tried mahi-mahi while in Mexico, and liked it, so that's a possible choice, even though it's on the "only ok" list.    It seems like rainbow trout would our next logical choice, but before committing to that I need to do some additional research, since I really thought that was trout was a stronger tasting fish.

Does anyone know? Is trout a "fishy" fish? Or a mild-tasting one?  Also, what's YOUR favorite fish and your favorite recipe to prepare it?  I would love to know!

Topes Y Cenotes - Tulum, Mexico, Part 12 - Fun Night!

After an exciting day at Cenote Cristal, we relaxed around the resort for the afternoon. It was fairly overcast and not necessarily the perfect day for sunning.  So we went back to the room in mid-afternoon to find that leaving a tip for the housekeeping staff provided with us towel art!

Sorry - I'm not allowed to post the picture, but trust me, it was cute!


DH was feeling good today, and this boy was ready to eat some food, so he ordered some room service consisting of a fruit plate and chicken fingers. 


We decided that this would be a good day to see how the ocean snorkeling was (will be discussed further in a separate post!)  Snorkeling was fun but exhausting, so afterwards we went back to the room and amused ourselves that afternoon by doing things such as comparing the size of DH's toe to the size of a Coronita bottle, and making head-pinching images.  Ahh... overcast days while on vacation.

Not long after that we headed out for dinner, this time to the Asian themed restaurant called Himitsu.  Like all of the other themed restaurants on the resort, we found that the food didn't always necessarily follow the "theme."  I had a beef dish that was supposed to be "Asian beef," but it was basically just beef cuts in a thin gravy. I can't even remember what DH ordered.  Like most of the food that we ate that week, it was only "eh."

But surprise, surprise!!! DH finished a meal and didn't feel like he was dying!! Were we seriously going to be able to spend an evening outside of our room????  I was worried about getting my hopes up, but secretly thrilled that we might actually be able to stay up past 9 p.m.!


We ordered some drinks and spent some time wandering around the resort, since there wasn't much going on since most people were still eating dinner.  During our stroll, we stumbled upon this ridiculously large chess board, which DH promptly began playing.

I have no idea how to play chess, so it was a one-man game
We walked into the lobby area to check out the lobby bar and started talking to a family from Colorado who knew a lot about Pittsburgh.  This was the first night that we were able to spend some time talking to other people and we were having a grand old time.  Around 9 p.m., we decided to head back to the courtyard area to see what the evening's entertainment was going to be.  We were a little disappointed to find out that it was a juggler/comedian doing a show targeted towards children, but there was no way that we were going to back to our room, and thankfully the comedian was somewhat entertaining.  
I took a video which completely drained my camera of it's battery, which is why there are very few pictures of this night.  And of course, Blogger is telling me that there is a problem with my video, which means that I have to upload it to YouTube instead. Sorry.  I tried, I promise.  

After the balloon guy, they held the Dreams Tulum version of American Idol.  There were some really good, and some really bad singers, but overall it was very entertaining.  The "judges" were also guests at the resort, and the winner won a three-day, two-night stay at Dreams Tulum for one.  Sort of a crappy prize if you were never planning on returning, considering that you'd probably want to stay for more than two nights and would probably want to bring someone else (somehow the resort is still winning big with this "prize.")  Oh well, it was fun to watch. 
Taken by the father of the bride
We hung out at the bar for a few more hours after that, and befriended a bride whose wedding had just been that evening.  We talked with the father and step-mother for awhile, watching the bride do shots with her mother. They were all thoroughly entertaining.  Around midnight when everyone started clearing out, the bride and groom decided to get into the pool in their wedding clothes. It was very cool, but I didn't want to seem like a weird stalker talking pictures, so no photographic evidence. 

So, we started the long walk back to our room, sort of sad that our fun night was almost over, disappointed that people didn't stay as late as we wanted them to, and hopeful that this night was a turning point for DH's illness.   

We were still full of energy though (LOTS of sleep the past coupe of days!) so when we got back to the room, we played with the bade while waiting for DH's latest room service order - two plates of french fries and four bottles of water.



Coming Up...
Was DH's lack of sickness really too good to be true?  And with only one full day left, what can we do to go out with a bang!?!?!

Dormant plants - Follow up and Review

Remember the dormant plants that I received early in the spring? They didn't look too promising at the time.  And to be completely honest, a lot of them didn't grow.  But the ones that did have done surprisingly well, and have me reconsidering my decision to purchase well-established plants at outrageous prices from places like Home Depot.

Here is what the Rose of Sharon plants looked like in the spring:

Twigs, that will supposedly transform into beautiful Rose of Sharon hedges


And here is what one of them looks like now:

The actual transformation - Not too shabby!

They are, in fact, rivaling the RoS that I purchased three years ago, that looks like this.



Two others in this garden area are similarly thriving. One is planted in another, less sunny location, and isn't doing as well.  So two were lost out of a total of 6.  Not bad, overall.

The hibiscus plants were what I was most excited about.  In fact, originally I wanted out backyard garden to be completely full of hibiscus plants.  If you recall, the hibiscus plants were just dirty looking roots in dormant form.

The are the rooty-looking things at the top, between the two pine-looking things

Now, the one that has flourished the most looks like this:

It's even flowering!!!




Two of the other hibiscus plants are growing nicely, although they aren't nearly as huge as this one.  A fourth one, planting away from the other five and in an area that doesn't get as much sun (like the Rose of Sharon mentioned above) is alive but not thriving nearly as much.  Sun counts, people.

The other plants that really did well were the lilies, and the purple things that I think are called Blazing Liatris.

Other plants are hanging in there, but certainly aren't flourishing by any means.  The lily of the valley, gardenias, creeping phlox, and purple ice plant are dead... yet.  But I don't have much faith that they'll make it through the winter.

Finally, the list of things that just never even had a chance.  For some reason, these plants never came out of their dormant stage, or did momentarily and then just died.  If I can track down my packing slip from this order, I will definitely be calling in the warranty on these plants, including:
- Black eyed susans (never came up at all)
- Arborvitae trees (all died)
- Blue spruce (all died)
- Candytuft (never came up at all)
- Blue oat grass (never came up at all)
- Pink dogwood (thrived for about a month, and then just randomly died)

So, I can say with certainty that I will never order any of the things on the list above ever again, and will stick to purchasing these plants in established form from Home Depot.  I also probably won't order any dormant versions of the "just hanging in there" list either.

However, I can - and will - recommend the following items, based on my relative success:
1. Red potatoes
2. Rose of Sharon hedges
3. Hibiscus
4. Mixed hybrid lilies
5. Blazing liatris

If you need of those plants, you can get amazing deals by buying them in a dormant state. All of my plants were purchased from Four Season's Nurseries.  They do have a warranty for things that don't make it, but you need to be better than me in keeping track of packing slips.

And just for fun, do you remember this picture I created as my inspiration for what I wanted this garden to look like??


Well, it now looks like this.



Not quite the look I was going for...  But we're thinking of getting new mulch next year, the triple-shred black-dyed stuff so that it doesn't fade in the sun as quickly as this stuff did.  We don't really have grass - it's more like a wheat field - so the brown mulch doesn't really stand out in our yard.

But I think that next year will be THE year for this garden.

Holy Tomatoes

I know that I've mentioned the tomatoes in other posts, but have I REALLY told you about the tomatoes?  I don't think I have..

We started with two tiny $4 tomato plants from the Home Depot.  Roma variety, plum shaped. I don't even really care for tomatoes all that much, but I LOVE how the plants smell.  So I plant them.

Two plants!!!


We put these these plant sin tomato cages, but they quickly outgrew them and were drooping and snapping from the weight of all of the tomatoes.  We then had to go out and buy the triangle tomato fencing to encircle the original cage.  I delicately pulled the stems off of the ground while DH put the fence into place, and then we carefully rested the stems onto the fence.  It was like open-heart surgery or something similarly intricate.

Falling over from the weight of the tomatoes




You hear and read a lot of things about tomato plants that supposedly make them grow better.  Coffee grounds, eggshells, and other totally absurd-sounding things.  I can tell you that I did none of those things this year, and other than a truckload of manure, none of my plants received any supplemental nutrition. 

And my general non-love of tomatoes? Well, I quickly devised dozens of ways to use them in our recipes, and now I'm a huge fan of fresh tomatoes, although I still don't really like to eat them in their raw form.  But cook them up and I'm all in.  And if you don't believe, look at 95% of my recipes that I've posted this season - I swear they all involve tomatoes.

Garden Fresh Recipes - Pesto

My basil crop was nearing the end of it's life, and sadly, this year was not my best year for basil.  The tomato plants grew to be so large that they basically knocked the basil plants over.  They didn't completely die, but the back sides of them received literally zero sunlight and so only the fronts and tops of the plants really did well. Even then, it just wasn't their year.  I bought a basil plant for my mom and aunt to share, and when I saw my aunt's plant back in July, it looked way better than mine ever did.

Regardless, I was ready to start pulling things out of the garden, so I yanked two entire plants and pulled off any usable leaves to make pesto.  I borrowed my sister's combination food processor and blender and it worked great.  I have already told her that I would like one for Christmas.  Sister - please don't forget.

So without further ado, my pesto recipe.

Basil Pesto

1/2 pine nuts or walnuts
3 cloves of garlic (or, a healthy couple of shakes of garlic powder)
4 cups of loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 to 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (start with 1/2, add more if needed)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Add all of the above ingredients into your food processor, in the order listed above.  When adding the olive oil, pour it over all of the basil leaves.



Once everything has been added it should look like this:



Then, turn on the food processor and process the living s#&! out of it.  That's the best way to describe it.  You'll know when it's right.

It'll look something like this

If necessary, stop halfway through and use a spatula to scrape things off of the side.  Also, this would be the time to add more olive oil if it's too pasty.

Voila!

If you're not going to use it right away, put it in tiny containers (there are some really cute Gladware condiment sized things that are the perfect size), then into a plastic freezer bag, and freeze it.  It will stay good for at least a year, maybe even more if it doesn't freezer burn.

We often eat this with pasta, but I have found that my favorite way to enjoy pesto is on a thick slice of Italian bread, warmed in the oven, covered in pesto and then topped off with a little garlic salt.  Yuuumm....



My final two cents: 
Pesto is really flexible.  The recipe above just happens to be what I use, but if you don't have garlic, skip it. If you don't like Parmesan cheese, skip it.  If you like more olive oil, add more!  Seriously, all of you really need for pesto is EVOO and basil.  A lot of recipes that I've seen use parsley to brighten up the green color without really affecting flavor, but I'm OK with it looking a little brown as long as it tastes good!

I Heart Potatoes

Each year I have a "favorite" crop from my garden.  My first year it was basil, mostly because that's the only thing that really grew.  Last year, it was green beans, when I realized how hardy and productive they were.  This year, without a doubt, my favorite crop is the red potato.

If you recall, from my earlier posts about the potatoes, the seed spuds starting out like this.



Then they started sprouting, and I was thrilled!



The plants grew like crazy and filled the entire section of the garden.

Yes, those are all potato plants

But recently they started dying back, and I knew it was time to start digging to see whether or not anything productive had been going on underneath all of that soil.  That's the crazy thing about potatoes - you have absolutely NO IDEA if the potatoes are actually growing or not, because it all happens underground.  This being my first tuber vegetable, I found it to be highly frustrating. 

So you can imagine how thrilled I was when after less than 5 seconds of pushing away dirt with my hands, I uncovered this:

Eeeeekk!!!
And a close-up
I proceeded to uncover as many potatoes as I could find with my hands, and then used a pointy garden tool that I think it used for loosening the roots of weeds to get underneath the potato without damaging it and popping it up out of the soil.  No digging required.  It was awesome.

Before "popping"
Once they were all loosened, I just grabbed the stalks of the plant and pulled. 

Love! :o)

I pulled about 5 or 6 plants today, and most of them averaged about 4 potatoes were plant.  One particularly sad looking plant only produced on tiny, measly potato.  Oh well, guess you can't win them all.

Originally I was thinking about harvesting all of the potatoes in one day, but when I noticed that many of them seemed to be somewhat underdeveloped so I stopped after those first 5 or 6 plants. 

When I was done, I had a nice looking bowl of potatoes. 

See the really tiny ones? I wish I could have left them in the ground longer...
I still have another 12 or so plants to harvest, and I decided to leave the ones with the healthiest looking plants up there for another week or so, and only pulled the ones that had dying plants.  Overall, I am thrilled with the success of these potatoes and I will definitely do them again last year.  They did attract a LOT of new bugs to the garden that I have never seen before and I will need to look into potato pests in greater depth in the future, but they didn't seem to affect the potatoes themselves, as there were no visual holes or anything.

In case you're wondering, the spuds were purchased from Four Season's Nursery, the same site where I purchased my dormant plants.  I will be reviewing them in another post where I talk about the successes and failures of the dormant plants, but I would most definitely purchase their potato seeds again (and trust me, they are not compensating me in any way for saying that.)

I gave my sister one of the potatoes already, and DH and I will be using them on Tuesday for a dinner or meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  So although I can't yet comment on their taste, I can't wait to try them!

Garden = Nearly Done

Well, the gardening is more or less done at this point.  It went from looking like this:
Lush and Green
 To looking like this:

Wilting and yellow
All that's really left are a few tomatoes and the potatoes, which I started harvesting this past weekend.  I had toyed around with the idea of planting a second round of a handful of crops, but decided against it.  This years garden was exhausting - part of that was due to the fact that for the first time ever, it was successful, and I didn't know how to deal with that.  Success is more work than failure.   Yep, that was my light bulb moment.

But it's SO true!  Last year, when a crop starting dying, I just ignored it and let it die.  This year, not only did I have to put in the extra work of harvesting the successful crops, I had to work ever harder to give them away so that they wouldn't go to waste!  There was no way that DH and I could eat 25 cucumbers! No way that we could eat 100+ tomatoes.  The only really reasonable thing that I did this year was plant less green beans, and so I only gave away a handful of those.  But I also wasted many of those, because they were ready to pick right during the week that we were on vacation in Mexico, and by the time I got back, they were already enormous.

So, I spent a lot of time on the garden today, and I have a lot of updates, including my most exciting harvest of the summer - the potatoes!  This week will likely be full of garden posts. Consider yourself warned.

Impromtu Steelers Party

A few weeks back, on DH's older brother's last night in Pittsburgh, we had a little gathering at our house.  As a going-away gift, we - along with the younger brother and his wife - gifted the older brother with a Steeler's jersey, something he had apparently mentioned awhile back that he wanted.

I had received a Steeler's jersey myself back in February, right AFTER football season was over, and hadn't had an occasion to wear it yet.  So, I put mine one and the two of our waltzed around with Steeler's pride.

Later in the evening, DH's younger brother - who wished like hell that he had brought his jersey with him - put on a Steeler's colors t-shirt that he had.  DH and I went through our dresser drawers and managed to produced enough Steeler's themed gear to clothe every other single human present at our home with something Steeler's.

Testing the self-timer on the camera in preparation for "the shot"

Out of that, my friends, this picture was born.

Priceless.

(And before you ask, let me just say that YES, DH is pretending to punt Murphy.  He doesn't seem to mind though!)

Garden Fresh Recipe - Mojitos from Mexico

Can mojitos really be considered a garden fresh recipe? 

 Mint from my garden

Well, if you're making them from scratch based on a recipe that you got from a Mexican bartender and using mint that you grew yourself, I think that's a recipe!!!  Agree?




Early in the summer I wasn't very brave, and just use the pre-mixed Bacardi brand raspberry mojito stuff.  I added some of the Giant Eagle brand raspberry carbonated water, because I don't like strong drinks.  I added a sprig of fresh mint which I bruised with my straw (to bring out the flavor).  They were certainly yummy, but that Bacardi stuff is expensive.
 

Then, when we were in Mexico I started ordering mojitos.  They were SO. DELICIOUS.  One afternoon, after a couple of hours by the pool bar (DH ordering waters, of course) I observed the bartender making the mojitos and decided that I would try it myself.

Mexican Mojitos

Ingredients:
  • Limes (at least one or two)
  • Simple syrup
  • Club soda (soda water)
  • Mint leaves
  • Ice
  • White rum

First, you need to make simple syrup.  To do this:
1. Microwave 1/2 cup of water in the microwave in a glass mixing cup until it's boiling
2. Add 1 cup of sugar and stir until it's all dissolved and it's clear
3. Refrigerator until it's cool

The simple syrup might have a yellowish hue to it.  Don't worry about that, it doesn't affect the flavor!

Once the syrup is cooled, you can make the actual mojito.  My measurements are very imprecise - basically make a half glass of one, taste it, and then add more of whatever it's lacking! But the general recipe is this.

1. Cut a lime wedge into about 8 wedges.
2. Squeeze the juice of 3 or 4 wedges into a glass and throw in the rind and pulp.
3. Add a generous amount of mint leaves (at least 8 or so, if you like mint)
4. Add a splash of simple syrup.  If you like your mojitos sweet, I would suggest starting with one tablespoon and going from there.
5. Using a spoon, mash it all together in the bottom of the glass.



6. Fill the glass with ice.
7. Add one ounce of the white rum (or more, if you like your drink with a kick.)
8. Fill the rest of the glass with soda water.
9. Squeeze another lime wedge onto the top of the drink, use the wedge as garnish, and then add another mint sprig!


Stir it with a straw or spoon before drinking so that the limey, sweet, minty goodness from the bottom mixes with the club soda and rum. Otherwise, it will taste gross on your first drink!



SO GOOD!

I will admit that it took some experimenting to get to the point of the perfect mojito. I used a much bigger glass than they did in Mexico, so my proportions were off. 

Also, keep in the mind that the simple syrup is ridiculously sweet.  I used a little to much the first time around and it was way sweeter than I wanted. 

If you are a fan of mojitos or are even just interested in trying one, I highly recommend making your own!