Saturday, May 28, 2011

Everybody's Up For Eating Outdoors

Bernie isn't a fan of Magpies; he dislikes the bird because it chases all the other birds away from our yard.
But they are just sooo classy looking in a crisp blue,white and black feather attire I just can't help admire them despite their poor "plays well with others" skill sets.

Plus I think they are so funny when they peck away at the suet feeder while hanging upside down.

Hungry much?

A female Lazuli Bunting staked out a branch while watching and waiting for Mr. Magpie to leave the feeder.

This little mystery bird hunkered down to wait his turn down in the grape vines.

The Western Scrub Jay waited until the Magpie left to swoop in for another peanut.

A House Sparrow (commonly called an English Sparrow) was feeding on a feeder tucked away in another corner of the yard, where Mr. Magpie wasn't monitoring.

When the blue/black/white Magpie left, the orange/black/white Black Headed Grosbeak came to the seed feeder.

The Grosbeak was very watchful as he went to eat.
I could of sworn that bird was standing on his tiptoes sometimes as he looked around before putting his bill to the food trough.

As soon as the big blue/black/white bird left the suet feeder, the little red/black/white Downy Woodpecker got on and had a real feast.

Mr. Woodpecker doesn't miss many meals anyway; I have discovered that he is probably the most frequent diner at our feeders.
He also doesn't care if I or the cats are nearby. 
I like that attitude in a bird...

Hope the weather is just right for some outdoor meals for you and yours this weekend.

And in the words Woody Woodpecker, the most famous woodpecker of all time:

DAdah dah da dah...DA dah dah da Dah...Da da da da da da dahhhh...
That's all folks!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Salad Days!

The very last step in putting dinner on the table involves stepping outside the kitchen door, walking about five steps across the deck and then harvesting a salad for the meal.
I find having romaine, red sails, butter leaf and other leaf lettuce growing in a barrel to be the easiest way to manage lettuce growing. 
Slugs and snails don't bother the lettuce that way; I don't need to bend down far to snap off a few leaves, and the potting soil growth medium doesn't seem to get on the leaves as much as garden bed soil.
Usually I just pluck a handful of leaves and shake off the rain drops just before serving.

Plus the lettuce is just pretty and I enjoy having them where I can enjoy them on our deck.

Next to the lettuce in another barrel: Cilantro, which is probably my favorite herb.  I nibble it like celery!
(And did you know that Cilantro added to a traditional lime based Margarita makes for a really delicious drink?  Try it in either a regular or virgin Margarita and see what you think!)

In the same planter: Basil.
Never can have too much basil IMHO.
We love to slice a warm garden grown tomato, add a slice of mozzarella cheese, basil and a drizzle of olive oil to nibble on for a summer's evening no-cooking treat.
It also changes up a adds a very interesting flavor.
I also have a rosemary bush near by; I am not a fan of Rosemary in salads but a spear of Rosemary adds a great twist to lots of drinks too.  Gin and tonic sippers love the woodsy flavor added to the drink.  I have heard lemon verbena is another G&T enhancer if you have some.)

Golden oregano...I tend to plant several kinds of oregano and basil's over the summer.
The Golden variety adds a bit more zesty color to the barrel herb garden.

Down the deck stairs: a rambunctious patch of spearmint.
How could I manage summer without mint for my ice teas, lemonade and mojitos (virgin or otherwise)?
Or for garnishing melons, oranges, pineapple grapefruit etc etc in a fruit salad?
Still want to acquire chocolate mint again.  It blows my mind that mint can have a distinctive chocolate taste.

Lavender is the alternative herb for putting extra zing in a salad.
Also great for adding to an Arnold Palmer (half ice tea, half lemonaid) or any lemon based drinks.  Lemon-lavender sherbet: Yum!

Thyme got set loose in the lower garden area where it can spread out, be stepped on, and scent the air with any crushing.
It comes back every year...and each year I find yet another variety to try in the garden.
Just a flick of fresh thyme leaves into a salad pairs it well with chicken dishes.

Colorful carrots are still at first leaf stage in the vegetable garden proper.  I've planted the small ball shaped carrots which grow faster and sweeter here.
And this morning I planted radishes right next to the carrots.  I bought the seed package that has a multi color seed mix-pink, red, white, red with white tip, burgundy.  I like being surprised when I pull up a radish or two. 
Last year I spilled a package of radish seeds near our walk way.  Radishes sprouted in the most unlikely places, and I found that it was easier to just pull them up in sprout phase and enjoyed tossing those into the salad too.

The tomatoes are struggling.  They got frost bit one night, and now all the rain is getting them down. 
It might be a long time before we enjoy garden grown tomatoes this year.  :-(

Sugar snap peas are growing on the chain link fence.  I *try* to add them to salads; the truth is I tend to eat them as soon as I see them all by myself.

The chives have come back and are already in bloom.  The pretty purple flowers add beauty and flavor to a salad, plus every time I make a baked potato I know I have chives to go with the sour cream.

I grow several kinds of poppies...poppy seeds shaken into a salad add a nice crunch.  The Icelandic poppy seeds are pretty small, but I wanted to show the shape of their leaves....

Verses the California poppy leaves.
Can't imagine how anyone could mix those two up.
The Oriental poppies and Shirley Poppies and Corn Poppies will be along in the garden later.

(I should add that I have johnny-jump-ups in barrel planters on the deck and those blossoms get added to salads too. Later in summer my nasturtium blossoms and their peppery round leaves get added into the salad bowl too.)

Just for fun: this year I am growing some rutabagas.  They can be shredded and added to a salad or sliced and used for dipping.
Next to the rutabaga is one of several leek plants that over wintered and are beginning to thicken up nicely.

Strawberries seem to be welcomed in vegetable salads now too.
Occasionally a strawberry makes it into one of my veggie salads; usually they get plucked and eaten each morning just as soon as they are ripe.

Can you guess what this is?
Come late summer this leaf will likely shade a grape cluster.
Grapes work as another salad add-in in both fruit and veggie salads, and in Spanish Garlic Soup too.
Some year I want to try cooking with the grape leaves, just so I can say I did.

Last evening I "planted" another salad mainstay, peanuts, out on our deck.
While I love the addition of peanuts in salads, I enjoy the antics of peanut stealing Blue Jays (er, I mean Western Scrub Jays actually...) even more.

I don't begrudge my feather friend his favorite food.
His antics make us laugh...and laughter is the perfect kind of seasoning needed for total salad enjoyment.
We've got plenty of other things to make up our home grown salad bar anyway, don't you think?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

To eat or not to eat...that is the question

All the rain here should lead to mushroom growth, right?
Sure enough, out on the lawn yesterday I spied several small mushrooms muscling up through our sod.
With my small mushroom identification book in hand I sat on the almost dry lawn, plucked the fungi, and tried to identify them by guide book pictures.

Nothing in the guide book, which really is a limited guide, matched up with what I was seeing.
Next step: Try to find information on the Internet.

The Utah Mushroom Society had a web page and a phone number to call for mushroom identification. A guy named Don answered my call with a very soft hello.  I gave him a mushroom description, and he suggested I send him pictures of what I had harvested, with a good shot of the mushroom underside or gills.

Isn't it a handy thing to have someone to call and send pictures to before cooking up some mushroom on a gamble?

Knowing that LOTS of folks are having a rainy spring and perhaps likewise are having mushrooms come up in their area, I want to pass along THIS LINK.

It provides local area contacts to mushroom experts...including our friends to the North in Canada.
How fun is that?  

"To eat, or not to eat, that is the question..." to which Mr. Johnston replied:


At first glance your mushrooms look like an Agrocybe, which are very common this time of year. With the cobwebby veil connecting the cap edge with the stem it puts them in the Cortinarius family. Many, if not most Cortinarius are poisonous, and Agrocybes are not recommended edibles. The Cortinarius will have rusty brown spores, the Agrocybe plain brown. This is not a very positive ID, but it's about as good as I can do without having a mushroom in hand. If there is some way you could get one to me, I could give it a further try. 

Oh well.  The Swedish meatballs tasted just fine without a side of mushrooms anyway. 
Happily though, Don emailed me that the Utah Mushroom Society is planning a mushroom hunting day trip on June 4th, with everyone meeting up at the Park and Ride lot just two blocks from my house.
Talk about a dream come true: Mushroom hunting with an expert along, to tell me which mushroom I should just photograph and which mushroom I can indeed eat!

Monday, May 23, 2011

There must be a way.

Saturday was so delightfully sunny.  Bernie pulled out the lawn mower and got to work.  The lawn was almost ankle high; we had not had a day without rain for weeks so mowing had been out of the question for quite awhile.
All over the neighborhood the roaring sound of lawn mowers filled the air, and the sweet scent of fresh cut grass was intoxicating.
Tate was allowed outside to enjoy a bit of sunshine on the deck.  When our backs were turned for a moment, he surprised us by leaping over the railings and directly into the tree.
It was so funny to watch him looking at the bird feeder, trying to figure out how he could possibly catch a bird from that vantage point.

Then he hopped back over to the deck railing and considered the question from another angle.
Poor guy.   Unless he can figure out a way to fly like a bird himself, I think the birds are quite safe from his schemes.
Sunday morning it was back to rain, rain and more rain.  Tate wanted out again; he had decided to try out Frenchie's trick of sauntering along the second story window ledge outside from our breakfast table.
Bernie and I both held our breath as he attempted to negotiate the tricky U turn on the wet three inch wide ledge.
He failed.
We raced to get him from the lower walk way even as he fell, then skittered away under the deck stair case.   He was obviously OK if he could run like he did after the fall, but we tucked him inside where it was warm and dry anyway.
I gave him a small cat nip mouse to ease his slight tremor and gave him some long smooth pets to make sure all was as it should be in his bone. 
Moments later he was swatting the mouse wildly around the room. 
Talk about a quick recovery!

So for now the chickadees have nothing to worry about cat wise.

They are such nervous little birds anyway.  They hardly stay put long enough to focus on them and I have never seen one on the ground.
And check out that haughty glare!  NO one better be messing with this tiny bird!

Lazuli buntings, like this little female, never seem to visit the ground either.

The downy woodpecker might swoop down to give a cat's head a sharp rap, but I have yet to see them do so.  They do tend to hang on the feeders inches away from the focused gaze of a deck dwelling cat, and occasionally they give the cats a sharp look just to let the cat know the bird sees him hunkered down there. 
This chow hound is a female downy.  No red cap...poor thing.

See the raindrops falling around the little bunting?  It just poured and lightening/thundered almost all the day Sunday.  That didn't slow down visits to our feeders though.  Nor did it stop me from being outside rearranging our deck flowering planters and taking pictures now and then.

The male Downy not only has a red cap, but apparently also has a soul patch/flavor saver on his chin.

Now I will always think about wood peckers at our feeders whenever I see a middle aged guy who has gone to the trouble of sprouting one. 

 Inside joke.  Hi Barbara! ;-) 

Shy Bitsy peeked out at the garden from the deck staircase.  No chance she was going to try to fly like Tate did.

My Icelandic Poppies are blooming nicely in the sunshine, and then getting knocked down by the heavy rains. 

My neighbor came over on Sunday afternoon with her little girls and I showed the two and  half year old daughter the pretty poppies. 
The girl's mother drew her daughter closer to see the "California" poppies.
The mom had spent her growing up years in that particular state.  Why she thought this poppy was that poppy mystifies me. 
She asked me to explain the difference. That was quite challenging.  From now on all poppies will be simply referred to a just "poppies" to the non-gardening types that visit.

Between the volcano opening up in Iceland, (which never seems to have such flowers blooming in their news story pictures) and the horrific EF 5 tornado in Joplin MO, the news out there is far too serious for my taste.

(When it wasn't raining here, the sky was raining down petals and dandelion wisps instead.  Drove the kitties bonkers trying to visually track those tiny bits as they fell.)

We pray for those affected, and peer out at our own rainy weather thankful for all that we have at the moment, thankful for now and hoping we will be spared flooding in a week or so. 

(PS: No flooding for us personally; the seasonal creek behind our house could never rise enough to damage more than a bit of our garden, but with 150% snow pack up in the mountains, and snow still falling, a really warm day could cause serious melt with consequences to many low ground neighborhoods in the area.  With the damage being done with the Mississippi flooding, tornado damage, and volcanic eruptions skewing weather patterns, we are mindful that situations are all about us that do require our prayer.)