Recommended Game (Assistant) — Roll20

by A.J. Coltrane

Over the years my old D&D crowd has become scattered around the country and around the world, but we can still play, thanks to Skype and Roll20. (Roll20 supports video chat — our group is more comfortable with Skype.)


Roll20 allows for most everything we could do if we were playing over the table, including making dice rolls, moving characters and monsters around, and the gamemaster can present downloaded maps:


Roll20 handles macros too — you can create buttons that handle common dice rolls. I’ve made a macro to roll for Initiative (1d20+3), another for attacking with my sword, and so on. To some degree it takes the fiddly math out of the game. I’m all for that.

Here’s an excellent introduction/tutorial:

It’s free. There’s also subscription service available if you love it and want to support the developers.

Highly recommended.

Container Garden Update — May 24, 2015

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post here. May 30, 2014 post here.

I can’t imagine how blown away ancient man must have been when introduced to the concept of planting seeds. I’d guess that it happened like many other of humanities’ great discoveries — totally by accident. Uneaten seeds were thrown into a “garbage” pile, and after a while the garbage pile sprouted food. I’d like to think it wouldn’t have taken that long to figure out what was going on, but with people being people, who knows?

Just a few pea seeds, almost haphazardly thrown around, and bingo. Total Force Multiplier:

150524 peas

I broke down and attached a spare piece of netting for the peas. I’m sure it’ll improve the results.

As an aside:  We went to the local P-patch today to look around — Lots of peas, lettuces, carrots, and various types of alliums. Some tomatoes and tomatillos. One tiny little bit of corn, and one of beans. A little bit of squash. Not a cucumber in sight. The groupthink seemed almost monolithic in its decision making.

That doesn’t make any sense to me. Our cucumbers out-produce everything expect maybe the tomatoes. Maybe they’ll all plant cucumbers after the peas are done?

My guess is no. The food bank boxes are densely planted and well maintained. The other boxes, not so much. It might be because they’ve got so much space to play with, but to my mind they’re “wasting” a lot of it. There are “big” areas with nothing going on… Today is basically June 1st, shouldn’t there be something growing? (Or maybe it’s just me, and that having to deal with super finite space all the time has made me feel like wasted space = wasted opportunity. It’s really my problem, not theirs…. Nah.)

Back to our stuff. Clockwise from the top left:  a “Calypso” cucumber (the other one got broken by something), Lemon cucumbers, “National Pickling” cucumbers, Lemon cucumbers.

150524 cucumber

For scale reference:  The squares are 8″ x 8″.

The tomatillos. The Mexican Strain is on the right. It’ll have a vertical habit. The de Mipa is on the left — it’ll sprawl somewhat. The de Mipa is “ahead” of the Mexican Strain. That’s the opposite of what happened last year. I think last year’s Mexican Strain was a stronger plant:150524 tomatillo

The tomatoes, with the Tromboncino in the back. Nothing is huge yet — the tallest of the indeterminates are about waist high. (The Sweet Millions, middle left.) Note the pvc attached with cable ties for cage support and the labels attached with clothespins. It’s less work, and less thinking every year that we continue to do this — those are old, and preassembled ideas. (Just like the new trellises this year, next year we won’t have to build them again.) I’ll likely reference this photo again in about a month for comparison:

150524 tomato

It’s been cloudy the last few days, but it’s not stopping the peppers:

150524 pepper

The Tromboncino. There are four plants, one in each corner of the box. They’ll need to be coaxed to the sides and onto the main trellis soon. I added some netting going from the box to the sides, just it case it helps:

150524 tromboncino

Note the repurposed binder clips, holding the net onto the box. Those were used to attach the row covers this last winter. The clothespins now securing the labels did double duty that way too.

I really enjoyed this cat meme. Here you go:



Tomato Bread

by A.J. Coltrane

We had company the other night, and I wanted to make a short-notice bread.  Lacking the time for the flavor to develop on its own, I decided to use tomato puree from the freezer in place of some of the water.

I went for a slightly higher “hydration” bread, with the expectation that the puree wasn’t 100% water. So:

400g bread flour, 166g puree, 94g water. (65% hydration). 8g salt. 1 tsp instant yeast. The dough was mixed for 10 minutes on low speed, followed by a 90 minute rise.

A dutch oven was preheated to 425F. The dough got 22 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered. (A longer time uncovered might have created a super dark bread, due to the sugars in the tomato puree.)

150416 tomato bread

The picture makes it look smaller than it really was, though it didn’t rise or spring as much as I would have anticipated, and the crumb was relatively tight.

I’m of the suspicion that the actual water content was around 50% or so. Next time I’ll look at the dough rather than just doing the math and walking away — even 25 grams of water might have made a big difference.

Still, it was attractive and it tasted good. Another lesson learned.

Container Garden Update — May 18, 2015

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post here. May 16, 2014 post here.

We spent five hours on Saturday building three new trellises and attaching the netting, assembling Ultomato cages, and caging & staking all of the plants as needed:

150518 garden

It looks really different than last year. The 8′ trellis contains the Tromboncino. The 6′ trellises are for cucumbers and the tomatillos.

I still need to add the tomato cage supports (pvc lengths with elbows.)

For reference, pictured below is a partly-completed trellis. It’s 6′ tall, the crossbars are 3′. Home Depot sells the RTA12 corner supports and associated screws. The tops get connected with 3 galvanized hinges that are 1-1/2″ on each side of the hinge:

150518 trellis

Five hours was longer than we’d planned for. Everything took some time and it added up. Fortunately we won’t need to build any more trellises any time soon.

Next time I think I’ll spread the staking out over a few days. Oof.

Container Garden Update — May 11, 2015

by A.J. Coltrane

I’ll stick with “Container Garden”, though right now it’s basically “EarthBox Garden” again.

The vegetables were purchased on Saturday, May 2. The cucumbers and zucchini were transplanted on May 3. On the night of May 5 it got down to right around 40 degrees, so I rolled those three EarthBoxes into the garage for the evening. (The other stuff was already coming in every night.) By the middle of last week it looked like we didn’t have any more really cold nights coming up, so on the Thursday the 7th I transplanted everything else after work. As of yesterday, it’s all settling in:

150510 front view

Front Row: Determinate tomatoes (Cosmonaut Volkav & Roma), Sweet Peppers (King of the North), Peppers (Lipstick, Iko Iko, Carmen), Peppers (mix of sweet & hot), Basil

Row Two:  Indeterminate Tomatoes (Sweet Million & Black Krim), Determinate Tomatoes (Taxi & Oregon Spring), Pretty Flower Container, Cucumbers (Marketmore 76)

Row Three:  Indeterminate Tomatoes (SunGold, Tigerella), Tomatillos (Mexican Strain & de Mipa), Cucumbers (Lemon, National Pickling, “Calypso”)

Row Four:  “Tromboncino” zuchinni


Rear view,from a 2nd-story window:

150511 top rear view

Far row: Basil, Peppers, Peppers, Peppers, D. Tomatoes

2nd row:  Cucumbers, Pretty Flower Container, D. Tomatoes, I. Tomatoes

3rd row:  Cucumbers, Tomatillos, I. Tomatoes

Closest:   Tromboncino zucchini


We didn’t want to devote a container to peas, so I threw a few “seeds” into spare pots. They’re just now starting to peek out of the soil:

150511 peas

Those are Ultimato stakes stuck into where the walkway meets the grass. The string may need a little more help, but it’s a start. (I guess I could have used netting, but I already had the string..)


Do you like mockumentaries? Does a silly movie about vampires sound like your thing? Then go see “What We Do In The Shadows.” It follows the “lives” of four vampires “sharing a flat in New Zealand”.

Thunderbolts And Lightning, …

by A.J. Coltrane

High winds, intermittent heavy rain, and new plants. Not a good combination. The EarthBox with the tomatillos got rolled under cover next to the house. The tomatoes and peppers are hiding in the cold frame:

150505 Cold Frame

The picture makes the plants look shorter than they really are. As of right now the peppers are spindly enough that they need the protection. I left the lid mostly open so that they wouldn’t cook if the sun came out.


The 2015 Plant List

by A.J. Coltrane

We purchased $135 of vegetable starts on Saturday at the Seattle Tilth edible plant sale. (All descriptions from the Tilth PDF.)

[Comments:  The cucumbers and zucchini have been planted. The tomatillos arrived in tiny pots that instantly dessicated, so they got planted and are rolled into the garage at night. The other plants are still in their original pots — they come into the garage at night too. I came home today to see the wind beating the hell out of everything, so bedtime in the garage came early. The cucumbers and zucchini are low-slung enough that they should be ok.

I think that each year we’ve targeted shorter and shorter maturity dates. There are no more Bradywines. We didn’t do 80-100 day Brussels Sprouts this year. I’m interested to see if we really *are* moving the maturity dates that much — it will likely result in a mathy blog post at some point.]

The List:

Tomatoes (8 total, 2 per box, 4 boxes):

Sweet Million (Cherry) – 65-75 days. Indeterminate. 3 ft. tall plants produce 1-1 1/2 in. fruit in grape-like clusters. 65-75 days. One of the besttasting red cherries with a crisp sweet flavor. Fusarium Wilt (races 1 and 2) and Tobacco Mosaic Virus resistant. Winner of best cherry tomato at the 2007 Tilth Tomato Tasting.

Sungold (Cherry) – 65 days. Indeterminate. Wow! Sungold’s fruity or tropical flavor is a big hit with everyone who tastes it. Apricot-orange round 1 1/4 in. fruit. 10-20 fruits on grape-like trusses. Generally we try to offer open pollinated and heirloom varieties, but we just can’t give up Sungold! Winner of Best Cherry Tomato at the 2005 and 2006 Tilth Tomato Tasting.

Black Krim – 75 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Indeterminate. From the Black Sea region of Russia, these 10-12oz beefsteak type tomatoes have a strong, rich flavor that is common with black tomatoes. One seed catalog noted that the fruit is best when half green and still firm. Very productive. Reportedly is a consistent favorite at tastings, so why not give it a shot?

Cosmonaut Volkov – 68 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Semi-determinate. Ukranian variety named after a Russian Cosmonaut. This tomato delivers that perfect sweet-tart beefsteak flavor in an early-maturing variety. Fruit are large 10oz – 1lb and produce reliably by mid-August.

Oregon Spring – 60 days. Determinate. An extra-early variety that sets loads of meaty fruits weighing 3 to 5 oz. Compact plants set fruits even in cool weather and continue to yield all season long. Nearly seedless. A perfect choice for ketchup and sauces.

Roma (sauce) – 75 days. Determinant. Premium canning tomato, ideal for sauce and paste. Pear-shaped scarlet fruits are thick and meaty with few seeds.

Taxi – 65 days. Open pollinated. Determinate, early, prolific production. The best yellow tomato for short season gardeners. Expect heavy yields of mild, non-acid tomatoes for 3-4 weeks. Grows well in a container.

Tigerella – 65 days. Open pollinated. English Heirloom. Indeterminate. Interesting green turning to red and orange tiger-striped fruit . Very early and prolific – produces throughout the season. Excellent for salads. Low acidity variety.

[Comments:  Six repeats. Cosmonaut Volkov is new. I’ve wanted to try it for a couple of years now. This is the first time we’ve had a space and the variety was available at the sale. The other new tomato is the Sweet Million. It should complement the SunGold nicely.]


Tomatillo (2 plants, 1 box):

De Milpa – 60 days. Open pollinated. Mexican heirloom. “Di milpa” means “from the fields”, as this type commonly grows wild in the cornfields of Latin America. Small fruit but great storage quality, remains green and firm weeks after picking.

Mexican Strain – 65 days. Open pollinated. At 2 inches, these fruit are larger than most tomatillos. They are savory and fresh tasting, great for making salsa verde or adding a Mexican flavor to your dishes. Tomatillos produce tons of fruit on sprawling vines, but don’t usually need to be trellised. Fruits will burst out of husks and fall to the ground when they are ripe.

[Comments:  Both repeats. The Mexican Strain has a vertical habit. The De Milpa sprawls by comparison. They fit well in a box together. It ain’t broke…]


Cucumber (8 total, 4 per box, 2 boxes):

Calypso (Pickling) – 52 days. An early producer with astoundingly abundant yields, ‘Calypso’ is also highly disease-resistant, making it any easy care and dependible pickling cuke. You can expect 1″ x 3″, blocky, medium-green fruits–just the right size for snacking. Preserve some of the harvest for the lean months of winter, give ‘Calypso’ a try!

National Pickling (Pickling) – 52 days. The premium pickling cuke! Bears heavy crops of 6 inch average cucumbers perfect for pickles. Crispy and sweet, this cucumber is also good for slicing.

Lemon (x2) – 70-75 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Dating back to the 1890’s, this old variety is a favorite among many cool season gardeners. 3-4 foot, semi-bush type plants bear loads of apple-shaped cucumbers with lemon-colored skins. Thin skins and mild, sweet flesh make them a joy to eat whole right from the garden! Best harvested when the size of limes. Hermaphrodite – Flowers contain both male and female reproductive parts, which means abundant yields in the garden!

Marketmore 76 (x4) – 63 days. Open pollinated. In the Marketmore series, ‘Marketmore 76′ is very popular with organic growers due to its high level of disease resistance. This dark green slicing variety produces abundant, high quality, uniform fruits about 8 inches long with a wonderful cucumber flavor. This is your classic, all-around cucumber!

[Comments:   The Marketmores have been hugely successful both years, so they get their own box. We had a Lemon cucumber two years ago that did great, so those get 1/2 of a box. Two new varieties of pickling cucumbers fill the 2nd box. Each of the pickling cucumbers is super early. Hopefully we’ll get a staggered harvest from the three broad types.]


Zucchini (4 plants, 1 box):

Tromboncino – 60-80 days. Open pollinated heirloom. A Seattle Tilth favorite, the flesh of this variety has a smooth buttery texture and a mild flavor—the taste of summer! The 12 to 18” long fruits are “trombone”- shaped and can grow in curly cues or hang like bells on a trellised vine. Harvest when they are a pale, grass green or leave a few fruits at the end of the season to mature to a buff color and enjoy them as you would a winter squash.

[Comments:  We have yet to have much success with zucchini. This is the 2nd year of the Tromboncino. They’ll get a more premium location this year, and I’ll probably harvest them more aggressively. They will also be less crowded — the weak sisters are going to get pruned. Hopefully all of that will contribute to us harvesting the same million pounds of zucchini everyone else gets…]


Peppers (18 plants, 6 per box, 3 boxes. The first three are hot, the rest are sweet.):

Anaheim College 64 (hot) – 74 days. Open pollinated. Medium hot flavor make these short season peppers a hit for dips, sauces, stuffing with cheese or roasting. They are just like the anaheims you find in the store but without having traveled all those miles to get to you!

Early Jalapeno (hot) – 66 days. Open pollinated. Hottest and fully ripe when they turn red but most is familiar in the green stage. 2 ft. tall plants produce 3 in. peppers. Will set fruit in cooler conditions better than other hot peppers.

NuMex Highlander (hot) 65 days. An early Anaheim type pepper in the NuMex line developed by the Chili Pepper Institute of New Mexico State University. Produces earlier and has longer fruits than Joe E. Parker. The plants are large and tall and very productive bearing 7 inch long fruit. Try these peppers sliced and stuffed with red rice, goat cheese and parsley for a simple dinner. Or throw on the barbecue and blacken to accompany your favorite grilled fish.

Bullnose Bell (x2) – 58 days. Large Sweet Spanish. Heirloom. An extra early maturing variety that ripens from green to red. Sweet, sweet flesh contrasts with spicy interior ribs–very nice! Originally from India and very prolific!

Carmen (x2) – 60 – 80 days. Lusciously sweet when left to fully ripen to a deep red, this pepper is perfect for chopping and tossing straight into a salad. A great container plant and a good addition to a sunny veggie bed. 6 inch fruits on an upright plant.

Iko Iko (x2) – 65 days. A reliable, sturdy and upright sweet pepper for cooler climates. Produces a variety of colors, from lavender, purple, yellow and lime green when immature to tangerine and red streaked with purple when fully ripe! Lovely specimen plant for containers

King of the North (x6) – 76 days. Open Pollinated. Here is a sweet bell pepper that will mature in short season climates. Its crisp, blocky fruit will turn from medium green to red if left on plant longer. Excellent raw in salads or dips. Great to use as stuffed pepper or in tempura recipes.

Lipstick (x2) – 55 days. Open pollinated. Early and productive, a great choice for a short season! Chunky, triangular peppers with very nice, sweet flavor.

Yellow Mini Bell (x1) from the Master Gardeners plant sale.

[Comments: The King of the North have been our most successful, so they get a full box. The Lipstick, Anaheim, and Jalapeno are repeats. The others are relatively fast maturing varieties that looked interesting.]


and Sweet Basil. 6 plants. 1 box.

[Comments: It’s Basil. We Love Basil.]


That was a way longer post than I’d intended, but now it’s documented for next year.

GNOIF: The Leaning Tower Of GNOIF

by A.J. Coltrane

GNOIF #17 Recap — The Leaning Tower Of GNOIF (Castles, Towers, and Construction themes.)

Games That Got Played:  Avalon – Resistance, Batt’l Kha’os, Cards Against Humanity, Carcassonne, Dominion, Gardens of Alhambra, Guillotine, Jamaica, Seven Wonders

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  Agricola, Castle Panic, Citadels, Infernal Contraption, King of the Elves, Medina, Power Grid

Record-tying and punctual attendance meant that we had four tables going most of the night. I had to get a photo of this epic game of Seven Wonders:

042415 seven wonders

Seven Wonders saw everyone trying different strategies, but at the end only 7 points separated first place from last place.

Because of the success of Bang! we’ve purchased Ultimate Werewolf, which was played at the last GNOIF, and Avalon – Resistance, which was played at this GNOIF. They’re all excellent party games because they’re relatively quick, engage a lot of players, and are very interactive.

Fortunately we’ve hosted enough game nights that people are fairly familiar with many of the games. 20 cats is too many to herd.

Thanks to everyone who played!

Nobody Told Me “Enchiladas” Really Means “Leftovers”

by A.J. Coltrane

There’s a first time for everything, and last night’s first time was Enchiladas — the homemade, non-nuked variety.

It’s not like they’re hard to make, but I don’t think I’ve ever had leftover chicken, leftover spicy tomato sauce, cheese that needed to be used, corn tortillas … all at the same time. I’ve always looked at the ingredient list and said: “There’s no way I’m cooking chicken and shredding it just so that I can wrap it up and cook it again.

042815 enchiladas

To be fair, I also skipped the traditional “dip the tortillas in hot oil, then in sauce”. I just used a lesser amount of sauce to make it cleaner and faster. It seemed to work out o.k., and it occurred to me as we were eating: “This is just quick and easy stuff to throw together out of whatever’s in the refrigerator, along with tired corn tortillas.”

I now think Enchiladas were actually “invented” as a way to use up leftovers.



feast of santa feThe inspiration for trying to make Enchiladas came from this book:

It was published in 1985, and at least according to the reviews on Amazon the book features a fairly authentic collection of recipes from Santa Fe.

I wonder sometimes if it’s also “trapped in 1985″, though the reviews don’t seem to reflect that.

I’ve had good success with it, using it for everything from sauces to the enchiladas to homemade corn tortillas. It’s cheap, too.



Happy Too-Early Cinco de Mayo everyone.

“00” Flour Pizza

by A.J. Coltrane

Another “00” flour pizza.

300 grams flour. ~62% hydration. 2% salt. A glug of olive oil. A splash of hard cider. Eight minutes in the mixer. Two days in the refrigerator.

Prior to baking:

150423 pizza

Toppings: A whole bunch of lightly sauteed mushrooms, some lightly sauteed sweet onion, and roasted red pepper on a thickened bolognese.

The “00” flour was super stretchy again. There was no way it was going from the baking peel to the baking stone. I decided to make it less interesting and form the pizza on a baking sheet. The baking sheet went onto a pizza stone in a preheated 500F oven.

The pizza baked for 9 minutes, then parmesan was added and the pizza was allowed to bake another 5-6 minutes.

150423 cooked pizza

The small amount of less-melted parmesan was added after the pizza came out of the oven.

The crust was actually darker than it looks in the picture. I’d brushed the crust with olive oil before baking, and it improved the color and taste.

Despite the large amount of toppings the pizza came out crisp, and with a good snap the crust. I think it helped that the toppings were precooked — they didn’t dump a bunch of water onto the pizza.

Overall it was very tasty, and very filling without making me feel bloated. Two thumbs up.