Container Garden Update — June 11, 2017


A few pictures of the June garden-

Overview #1, from up the “hill”:

170611 overview

Overview #2:

170611 overview2

The left column has three boxes of tomatoes, with the Tromboncino zucchini in the big trellis at the back. Continuing to the right in the front row- the next box over has the Oregon Spring tomatoes. The rest of the front row (L-R) is three pepper boxes and then a box of basil. The rear trellis contains the tomatillos, the center trellis has cucumbers, and the rightmost trellis has the surviving melon plant and a new Siletz tomato plant.

The tomatillos are chest-high:

170611 tomatillo

The Oregon Spring are doing their usual early thing. There are lots of blooms and a few fruit:

170611 oregon spring

The Tromboncino will need to be trained to the trellis soon:

170611 tromboncino

Moving to the front yard — we got another good batch of (very big and fat) peas:

170611 peas

There are still more on the vines, though the vines are beginning to look a little “cooked”:

170611 peas2

The lettuces in the top of the salad table are doing well:

170611 lettuce

The front yard now has four little volunteer pansies:

170611 pansy


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.


Container Garden Update — May 29, 2017


It’s almost June and the garden is rolling again. The Super Sugar Snap peas we planted indoors in February are now producing:

170529 peas

Attaching the trellis netting to the salad table seems to have worked very well:

170529 salad table

The view from the other side:

170529 pea plants

The Miner’s Lettuce is looking a little cooked, but the Arugula and Dill are happy in the back of the middle level:

170529 arugula and dill

Shortly after those photos were taken I draped some shade cloth over the salad table to try to discourage bolting. The lettuces on the top level are especially vulnerable on sunny days. (As an added bonus, the pea vines shade everything as well.)

One nice use for the Dill — Goat Cheese Coated With Minced Dill, Fire Roasted Tomato Flakes, and Sea Salt:

170529 goat cheese with dill

Moving to the backyard — we’re going to get a lot of rasperberries this year:

170529 raspberry

The beans we started in indoors in March(?) are coming along too. The Midori Giant Edamame seem to be more bug-resistant than the Maxibel Filet beans. The Edamame have the rounder leaves:

170529 beans

An overview of the non-pepper plants. The Minnesota Midget Melons (foreground, right) are limping along. We’ll get at least one survivor, but they all shocked due to either transplanting or the few nights we had in the low 40’s:

170529 plants

All of the squash/cucumbers/melons shocked to some degree this year, the melons just got the worst of it.

On the brighter side, the Oregon Springs are already bearing fruit:

170529 oregon spring


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.




The 2017 Summer Veggies


We chose to simplify a little bit this year and go more with things we know “work”, are easy to process, and will see quick use if they make it as far as the freezer. We added a few new things too, including melons. The descriptions below are copied from the Tilth Plant Sale PDF.

The non-pepper division.

The boy cat checking out the non-pepper group of boxes.

Melons –

4 of-  Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe:   65 days. Open pollinated heirloom from 1948 when it was introduced in Minnesota. Measures 4 inches across at maturity, when the rind is a soft yellow and slightly soft at the stem end. Sweet orange flesh with a good muskmelon flavor. The compact vines produce decent yields. Slice into thin delectable servings with an herb infused soft cheese and salted pistachios for a fantastic summer appetizer.

We were going to try these melons last year, but we missed the Tilth plant sale. This will be our first attempt at growing these. From what I’ve read the vines are supposed to get about 4′ long, and the fruits will likely need a pantyhose or sock support or something similar. Hopefully it’s a warm summer, otherwise we may be underwhelmed. 4 plants is one full box.

Sweet Peppers –

6 of-  Carmen:  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.

6 of-  King of the North:   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.

Jimmy Nardello:   76 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Thin-walled 8″ long curved tapering pointed fruits turn deep red when ripe with shiny wrinkled skin. Great eaten raw and super tasty when fried–very prolific! This seed variety is considered by Slow Food USA to be an endangered member of their “Ark of Taste.”

Sweet Chocolate:   60 days. Open pollinated. Early sweet, lobed, thick-walled fruits. Ripen from dark green to a rich chocolate color. Cold tolerant.

The Carmen and King of the North do well every year. They’re versatile in the kitchen, they’re easy to process, and they’re relatively work-free. One box of each.

The Jimmy Nardello is a pepper I’ve been reading about for years. Tilth finally had them in stock this year. I have high expectations.

Sweet Chocolate is another pepper we’ve been meaning to try and represents a little more variety in the pepper boxes.

Hot Peppers –

2 of- Anaheim College 64:   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!

Anaheims are very mild hot pepper — we still have bags of Jalapenos and Serranos in the freezer, as well as dried Thai Chiles. We have no shortage of hot stuff, so we took a pass on the lava and went mellower.

We have two open slots for peppers, to be filled in the near future.

Tomatillos –

2 of- Verde:  70 days. Open pollinated. A classic deep green tomatillo with high yields, ‘Verde’ is ready when the husks have split and are drying. Very intense rich flavor which pairs well with sweet summer tomatoes and makes a fantastic salsa. The high yields will allow you to freeze them as you pick, saving some for winter sauces and stew ingredients. Give tomatillos room to spread and they will favor you with their riches.

Our favorite type of Tomatillo. Larger fruits = less handling. We grow these in an A-frame trellis and run extra twine for support for the branches. 2 plants fills one box.

Zucchini – 

4 of- Tromboncino (aka Zucchini Rampincante):   60-80 days. Open pollinated heirloom. A 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.

Historically we’ve done two Tromboncino plants in one box. I sort of screwed up when I picked up four. This variety is relatively mildew resistant and they grow vertically up a trellis, so I’m hoping that four plants will work anyway. We’re partial to the taste and texture of Tromboncinos. We’re unlikely to ever grow “standard” zucchini again.

Tomatoes (2 tomato plants go in one box) –

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

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

2 of- 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?

Old German:   75-85 days. Indeterminate. Fruits are golden with reddish streaks. Produces large, rich and full bodied tomatoes. Great for fresh eating tomato, salads, and salsa.

Cherokee Purple:   85 days. Open pollinated heirloom.Indeterminate. Slightly flattened, 6-8 ounce tomatoes with a purple cast. Shoulders will remain green when ripe. Deep, rich, smoky flavor that’s not too acidic. For fans of the black/purple tomatoes, Cherokee Purple is one of the best This seed variety is considered by Slow Food USA to be an endangered member of their “Ark of Taste.”

We chose not to do eight different tomato plants this year. We passed on Taxis because their yellow sauce is very sweet and requires cutting with other red sauces. We also passed on Sungold (or “Sun Gold”). The small fruits of Sun Gold require a lot of fiddly work and the orange sauce is very very sweet.

The Oregon Spring are early and dependable. They taste good and they’re high-yielding. Normally we’d pair these with a Taxi.

The Black Krim win basically every taste test we do, and the deep purple fruits make great sauces.

The Romas were selected specifically for sauces. I thought we’d have more success this year if we did a mono-box and they didn’t have to compete with anything bigger or unruly.

We wanted one more “black/purple” tomato. We’ve grown Cherokee Purple in the past and enjoyed them, so that was the selection. Looking at the PDF, we may want to try “Carbon” next year.

The Old German sound like a great fit due to their size, versatility, and color. We’ve never grown these, but on paper they’re a winner.

That leaves one box left over, which will contain six sweet basil plants once the weather warms up.


Earthbox Covers At A Fraction Of The Price


EarthBox covers are sort of necessary evil. The covers that the company sells are of marginal quality, and they run around $2, each.

Instead we go to Home Depot and buy a roll 10′ x 25′ x 3.5 mil black plastic. Right now a roll is $12. The finished cost per cover is 20 cents, each.

To create the covers, unfurl the roll. The folded, short dimension is the 10′ length. Without unfolding it, cut it into 3′ pieces. You’ll get 8 pieces with 1′ left over at the end:

170504 Earthbox cover1

Then unfold each 3′ x 10′ section. Cut those every 24″, making five covers at 2′ long apiece.

170504 Earthbox cover2

As it turns out, the folds happen at about 8″ intervals and it makes measuring easy. They’re straight too, which is good if your scissors tend to wander.

To “attach” a cover to an EarthBox get a putty knife and tuck the plastic between the sides of the EarthBox and the dirt.

It’s easy to do, and we now spend $2.40 on covers per year instead of $20+.


I want my two dollars!


Focaccia, And The Twelve Steps Of Bread Baking Reduced To Four Activities


Authors write about “Twelve Steps” (or more) to baking bread, which sounds like a lot of processes:

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Bulk or Primary Fermentation
  4. Folding/Degassing
  5. Dividing/Scaling
  6. Pre-shaping
  7. Bench Rest
  8. Shaping/Panning
  9. Proofing/Final Fermentation
  10. Baking
  11. Cooling
  12. Storage/Eat


I “simplify” it in my head into four groups of “Activities”:

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Bulk or Primary Fermentation
  1. Folding/Degassing
  2. Dividing/Scaling
  3. Pre-shaping
  4. Bench Rest
  1. Shaping/Panning
  2. Proofing/Final Fermentation
  1. Baking
  2. Cooling
  3. Storage/Eat


At the end of each Activity there’s a natural rest break.


In effect then, Twelve Steps become Four Activities:

  1. Weigh and mix the dough, and let rest.
  2. Divide and shape the dough, and let rest.
  3. Shape/pan the dough, and let rest.
  4. Bake, cool, and eat.


That sounds pretty manageable, doesn’t it? If you don’t count the baking step it’s only three Activities. Easy.

I bring all this up because I’d gotten into the habit of skipping Activity #2 when making focaccia. I’d mix, then coax the loose dough into a parchment-lined tray, allowing for one rise in the tray.

And that was fine, sort of. The focaccia were well-received, though I thought they had the potential to be better. As it turns out, if you don’t skip an Activity that people having been doing for thousands of years the results improve! Behold the power of trial and error!

A two-pound focaccia from Easter dinner:

Cell phone pic, not color-adjusted.

Cell phone pic, not color-adjusted.

A one-pound focaccia we ate with dinner last night:

170422 focaccia

Re-introducing the initial bulk fermentation gives a better crumb structure — the bread becomes more airy, with uniform bubbles throughout. I think that’s partly because the extra rest and handling means that the bubbles get redistributed more evenly. I’ve cut back on the oil too. The end result is a lighter, less oily focaccia.

Both breads:  70% hydration, 6% oil, 2% salt (not counting the pink salt), about 1% diastatic malt, baked at 425F for 24 minutes.


Here’s a Cheap Seat Eats post from January of 2016 talking about a good result due to allowing for an initial 30-minute rise before transferring the dough to the tray. Which means I’ve re-re-learned something. That’s good, right? The biggest difference between that one and these two is that the oil percent for these two were 6% rather than the 3% in the 2016 post. That, and I allowed for a 30-minute pre-ferment in 2016. These two got ~1 hour.

A 100% hydration, 6% oil focaccia, August 2014.

Another 100% hydration, 4% oil focaccia, August 2014. 20-minute rest. Note the somewhat irregular hole structure.

80% hydration, 7% oil, September 2014. 1-hour rest.

70% hydration, 3% oil, December 2015. 1-hour rest. The crumb structure looks fairly tight, though that might just be the photo. It was served with stew, so I might have been targeting that result.

75% hydration, 8% oil, January 2014, topped with onions. No rest. The color isn’t very deep in the photo.

113% hydration, 9% oil, May 2013. 4-hour rest. Beranbaum’s recipe.


For a good, brief description of the Steps see this Reddit post.




GNOIF: GNOIF’s Imaginary Menagerie


GNOIF #27 recap — GNOIF:  GNOIF’s Imaginary Menagerie (Fictional Creatures (Easter Bunny))

Games That Got Played:  The Doom That Came To Atlantic City, King Of Tokyo, Lost Woods.

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  Batt’l Kha’os, Castle Panic, Cthulu Fluxx, Exploding Kittens, Letters To Santa, Poo, Run For Your Life Candyman, Seven Dragons, Small World, Ticket To Ride Europe (with monsters), Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Ultimate Werewolf.

It was a smallish crowd and we sort of picked a few games and stuck with them all night. I was pleasantly surprised by Lost Woods:

Lost Woods is a map exploration game where lost adventurers defeat enemies with powerful weapons and magic to earn gold. Can you escape?

Players start at camp in the middle of the Lost Woods, equipped with only random household items. Each turn, players move along the map and explore new areas by laying down a card that represents a place on the map. Exploration leads to new weapons, enemies that block the way, gold, magic spells, and a sneaky gnome that steals your gold.

Enemies are fought with a simple dice mechanic. Each weapon and enemy rolls a single dice, and their power varies depending on the number of sides to the dice, from d4 to d20. Each victory is rewarded with a number of gold pieces.

(Description from BoardGameGeek) Lost Woods uses a tile placement mechanic similar to Betrayal At House On The Hill — players dynamically build the map as they explore. It’s a mechanic I really like, and it winds up looking something like this:

170415 lost woods

Each “weapon” has a unique and often silly name. I think the designers missed a “flavor” opportunity when they chose not to do the same with the enemies — the enemies have a small silly picture, but no names.

The combat mechanic is simple and straightforward in a good way:  Weapons have a strength represented by a d4, a d6, a d8, a d12, or a d20. The enemies have the same range. You roll your weapon die vs the enemy die and the higher number wins. If you win you get some gold, and you can pass on to the next area if you like. If the enemy wins you lose gold and/or weapons. It’s simple, quick, and not at all fiddly.

We also got multiple plays out of King of Tokyo and The Doom The Came To Atlantic City, each of which need a “Recommended Game” post.

Thanks to everyone who played!

The First Asparagus


The first asparagus to come up this spring! Given it was only planted last year, that makes it the first asparagus ever!

170406 asparagus

Talking to another local who grows asparagus, I thought we might have to wait until closer to the end of the month to see some shoots. Nope!

Last year we planted asparagus in three different areas of the back yard. The thinking was that they’d likely do better in some places and worse in others. Depending upon how many survived the winter we could try to consolidate the plots into the best spot. Also, if we did lose a few to the wet and cold it might not be terrible, since they may have been over-crowded in the first place. More elbow room might be a good thing!… Or they were going to be fine all along as is… Hard to say.

Of course, this all means that our first real harvest is a year away..

Buttery Cheesy Breadsticks


Buttery Cheesy Breadsticks:

170326 breadsticks

These don’t skimp on the butter or the cheese — the butter weight is 25% of the flour weight.

The recipe:  600 g AP Flour, 150 g room temperature butter, 300 g refrigerator water, 12 g kosher salt, 1 tsp instant yeast. (1+ cup of Grated Pamesan is applied to the dough sheet in step 5, below.)

  1.  Add the flour to the work bowl of the mixer. Add the butter and break it up into the flour with your fingers.
  2.  Add the other ingredients (except the Parmesan) and mix on low speed for 8 minutes.
  3.  Refrigerate, covered, for 1-3 days.
  4.  Preheat the oven to 400 F.
  5.  Roll out the dough on parchment paper to 1/4″ – 1/2″ thick. It should come out to a rectangle around 10″ x 15″. The parchment paper will make it easier peel up the dough in step 8.
  6.  Spread the grated Parmesan evenly over the dough rectangle. Use a rolling pin to sort of mash it into the surface of the dough.
  7.  Using a pizza cutter, slice the dough across the short dimension into pieces 1/2″ wide and 10″ long.
  8.  Twist the individual slices and place on Silpat lined baking sheets. I was able to fit these onto two baking sheets.
  9.  Let rest, covered, for 15 minutes.
  10.  Bake for 20 minutes at 400 F.
  11.  Let cool on a cooling rack.

The finished weight of the breadsticks is somewhere North of two pounds — seven people wiped these out in no time. The nice thing about this recipe is that it will hold in the refrigerator for a few days, then be ready to eat in about an hour.

I’ll be making these again. They were a big hit.

The 2017 Bracket Of Peril!


The 2017 Bracket Of Peril is here! The prize, as always, is a whole bunch of nothing!

Link Here.

Group Name:  Cheap Seat Eats

Password:  TakeMeOut

170312 moncrief

Recommended Game: Darkrock Ventures


Title:  Darkrock Ventures

Darkrock Ventures

Game Type:  Worker placement. Think Agricola, except that the theme is mining in outer space instead of farming in the Dark Ages.

Number of Players:   1-5. I’m guessing it’s best with 4.

Complexity of Rules:  Low-Medium. The rulebook is awful. Much more on that in a moment.

Time to Play:   The box says 30-45 minutes. We’re usually running over an hour, even with only two players.

The Concept:  Each player represents outer space mining interests. The object is to make the most Credits by the end of the game, since Credits double as Victory Points. Each turn a couple of dice are rolled. Players then take turns placing workers either on mines, or on bases that offer other advantages, such as bonus dice, dice manipulation, more crew, or increased space in your cargo hold. More dice are rolled, and the player(s) that can manipulate the dice to make favorable outcomes receive resources. The resources can then be “exported” for Credits. We haven’t played with the optional “Hostile Alien” cards yet, though I’m of the suspicion that they’ll mostly just increase the “luck factor” and drive me nuts.

Photo from the BoardGameGeek site.

Photo from the BoardGameGeek site.

Why I Like It: It has an outer space theme, and I’m a sucker for those. It involves risk management/estimation too, which is another plus. Once the rules are understood the game moves fairly briskly, and with low downtime.

Having said that:  The rule book is among the worst I’ve ever seen, period. We learned a lot more about how to play from just from watching a guy do a walkthrough online. The rules feature minimal pictures and illustrations, and the graphics are poorly thought out and not very informative. Many passages are poorly or ambiguously worded. And no, I’m not being too harsh. I get the impression that the developers taught the play testers how to play and didn’t force the players to learn by using the rule book.

Other issues:

  • Worker placement covers up information on the board.
  • The “Captain” meeples are very similar in size to the “Crew” meeples — we’re going to add stripes to the Captain meeples so that they’re easier to tell apart from the crew.
  • If the player cards were larger the game would feel less fiddly.

I know that’s more than a few negatives, but it’s an enjoyable game with a fun theme, and it was a holiday gift so the price was right. It does feel like the game was rushed to market though.


BoardGameGeek page here.