Sunday, April 21, 2013

Country Living & City Lights

Somehow, even when I’m getting things done, I never feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to.  Working two jobs again, I’ve actually kept up pretty well with grading and lesson planning.  Having only six, well-motivated students helps enormously.  Having Miss Chef home helps, too.  Not having to work overtime at the bank makes a huge difference—though that may be changing soon.  I’ve been chosen for advance training on a different computer system to which our whole office may be switching within the next year.  It’s a great opportunity, but makes me a little nervous about reconciling additional pressures on my schedule.

This weekend, however, has been too lovely to dwell long on the “shoulds.”  After the temperature began flirting with the 80-degree mark (26°C) last week, a cold front came through, dropping the daily highs back into the 60s (18°C).  Plenty of folks around me probably don’t like these cool temps, but it makes the gardener in me happy enough to purr. 

I love my garden this time of year.  It’s full of hope, and not of weeds.  The cool weather keeps the weeds from growing like the eager parasites they are, and draws me outside just itching to potter around in the dirt.  Saturday I got the hoe out and scratched out most of the tiny weed seedlings beginning to crowd my carrot and pea sprouts.  However, whenever I stop to admire my well-organized bed, it does seem to look the same as it did last weekend.  That’s my excuse for posting so many “garden update” photos, because it shows me the progress I’ve made.

Here’s what it looked like at the end of March, three weeks ago.

garden 03 (11)


And today…



I had no idea the broccoli was so much bigger—though I had noticed tiny little heads forming already.  And I’d forgotten that the peas in back were invisible only three weeks ago.  Even the garlic along the right has stretched itself above the border, having fended off the nibbles of some mysterious grazer.  (What kind of animal eats garlic, for Pete’s sake!?)  Oh, bonus—check out the difference in Miss Chef’s herb bed in the background, coming over all oregano and parsley.

Last weekend was nearly as lovely as this one, and I crossed another “should” off my list by re-habbing another bed for my limited tomato planting.



This used to be a flower bed, but I needed to get serious about rotating the tomatoes out of the main bed.  Replanting in the same dirt allows diseases to perpetuate, and my paltry harvest last year was a clear sign that I no longer had a healthy home for tomatoes.  I bought the seedlings—an heirloom beefsteak and a sweet cherry—at the farmers’ market, and was hoping to stop in at the wonderful Renfrow Hardware store to pick up some soil or compost.  But before I even left the market, I found Miss Chef’s favorite Mushroom Guy not only had shitakes and oyster mushrooms, but was also selling 25-lb bags of mushroom compost!  I snatched one up, and when it came time to pour it into the bed, I was delighted to see clumps of worms come tumbling out.  Bonus!

You know you’ve got the gardening bug bad when an unexpected gift of worms just makes your day.

Anyway, this weekend Miss Chef and I picked up some basil plants, which will live happily with tomatoes both in the garden and on the plate. Fingers crossed for better tomato luck this year.

In the bed next door, the blazing blue lithodora continues to amaze me.



We have food planted here and there, all over the back yard.  Miss Chef planted herself a little bed of spinach..



…and we have a resident clump of chives in another planter that comes back, year after year, with little to no effort on our part.  That’s the kind of gardening I like!



Since I was looking for more easy, feel-good pottering to keep me outside, I went ahead and set up the zen fountain Miss Chef gave me for my birthday last summer.  Before I know it, it will be too hot and buggy to sit outside on the stone patio, so I might as well enjoy it now.



I love the smooth flow of water over the entire surface.  I accidentally took a shaky video when I thought I was taking the picture above, so here’s 5 seconds of zen for you.


And here’s a little non-gardening news.  Alton Brown came to town!  If you’re not familiar with all your Food Network stars, AB (as his fans know him) was the host of the now-defunct Good Eats, and now emcees the American version of Iron Chef.  He’s always got other projects going on, but Miss Chef and I are steadfast adorers of Good Eats, for its brilliant combination of solid science and ingenious whimsy.  (This 5-minute clip shows him teaching his “nephew,” Elton, about making vegetable soup.  You only need to watch a minute or two to see his dry humor combined with lots of smart food talk.)


Anyway, we really enjoyed the show.  It was part of the NC Science Festival, so he did several demonstrations onstage, all based on ways of moving heat out of food, instead of into it.  In the guise of teaching about endothermic reactions and phase changes, Alton showed us how to chill a beer in one minute using a blender, how to make chocolate mousse using liquid nitrogen and how to use a fire extinguisher to instantly freeze fresh fruit for a smoothie.  There were audience members on stage, ponchos passed out to the front row, and a poor cameraman forced to chug the greater part of a PBR.  And lots of laughter, cheers and applause.  I laughed so hard at one part that I snorted—very embarrassing, but totally worth it.

Unfortunately, taking decent pictures with the harsh stage lighting was beyond the scope of my cell phone’s camera.  On the other hand, stepping outside the theater on the way out, I did pause to enjoy the sight of uptown Charlotte, which is surprisingly charming for being limited to a few square blocks.

Charlotte 04 (2)

Knight Theater, where we saw the show, is part of the new Levine Arts campus, which includes the Mint Museum of Design, and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.

The modern art museum is right next door.  Here’s a view past the entrance toward the center of uptown.

Charlotte 04 (1)

Charlotte does lack a few things, but every time we come uptown, I think we should do it more often.  It’s no New York or Paris, but then we did only pay $5 for parking.

And normal folks like me can still afford to live inside the city limits on a quarter-acre lot with a big ol’ vegetable garden.

garden 04 (1)


  1. Great to see your garden grow! Six students? Motivated ones? Really? Hummmm...I am still dealing with my 125 non-motivated ones. Can you see why I have not been around blogville lately. Summer--where are you? I am going to sit here and just keep clicking on the five seconds of zen. I need it. Loved your edamame comment today!!!!

    1. 125 students. Reminds me of a cartoon I saw today about administrators wondering why teachers complain about administering, compiling, comparing, analyzing, sorting through and adapting instruction to standardized test scores. "What are they doing all day?"

  2. Bloody hell blue are those flowers?

    1. Yes, John, a thousand times yes!

  3. I envy you being able to sit out on your patio. If I did that, I would be as blue as your lithodora in no time flat :)

    Great photos, as usual!

    1. Oh, soon enough the heat, humidity and mosquitoes will have me cloistered indoors with the air conditioning!

  4. Yes, lucky you to be able to sit outside and admire your flowers! And what made me smile were the rocks at the end of your bed that haven't moved; me too I have some rocks on one of my beds.

    1. Ha, I don't even see those rocks anymore. I'm sure they'll be in the next set of pictures, too.

  5. I do like Uptown. Being from NY, I agree it's no New York city but it's great as is. It's enough "big city" for me.

    1. If NoDa and the Elizabeth/Central/Plaza-Midwood area were directly adjacent, then we'd really have something! That's where they should run that freakin' streetcar. But no one ever asks me for my wisdom.

  6. Alton Brown! I love Alton Brown, you lucky thing.
    Those blue flowers look positively radioactive (just jealous here).

    1. I'm glad to know there's another AB fan out there. I have to just scratch my head and shrug when folks say they can't stand him. What's not to like?

      Yeah, those flowers look really freaky at dusk. I'm starting to think about some other beds that may benefit from their presence.


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