Saturday, June 27, 2009

Our first harvest!

Our garden has yeilded its first bit of bounty! This fig is our first harvest. It probably should have been picked sooner, as it was a bit wilted and overly ripe. We have three more growing on the tree, which may be the extent of what we get this year.

Also, an update on our garden. 90% of what we planted died the very next day. All the vines, peppers, fennel, and more, which we had grown from seed, died . Very sad.

Only the tomatoes, tomatillos, and basil survived. My dad brought over some spare tomatoes from his garden, and we added to what was left. Those plants are doing pretty well, and one of the tomatillos seems to be taking off, which is good. With 3-4 months left in the season, hopefully we will get something from this effort.

We have had very prolific growth of some sort of suculent weed in our garden. I weeded today, and got a full five gallon bucket of just this suculent weed. Not sure what it is, but I am fairly certain we can not eat it. Here is a blurry picture of a larger plant.
Any ideas what it is?

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Fundamentals

Here at This Old Blog we like to experiment in the kitchen. We also like to eat bread, specifically sourdough bread. We have been kicking around the idea of making sourdough bread for a while now and I think the time has come. I was searching around the internet for a recipe and I think I found a good one. Here are the directions on how to make the sourdough starter:

Creating Your Starter

The novel thing about sourdough baking is that it requires that you keep something alive in your fridge. I think of my starter as a pet, kept and fed so that Sandra and I will have all the bread we need. Sourdough "starter" is a batter of flour and water, filled with living yeast and bacteria. The yeast and bacteria form a stable symbiotic relationship, and (as long as you keep the starter fed) can live for centuries, a thriving colony of microorganisms. To make sourdough bread, you blend the starter with some flour and make dough. The yeast propogates, and leavens your bread. This is how you make your starter:

  • Select a container that your "pet" will live in. A wide-mouthed glass jar is best. I use a glass jar with a rubber and wireframe seal; you can find these for $2-$4 in any antique or junk shop. A small crock with a loose lid is also great; these can be bought in cheap sets for serving soup. You can also use a rubbermaid or tupperware container. I've begun starters using the plastic containers that take-out Chinese soup comes in, and then transferred them to jars later! A wide-mouthed mayonnaise or pickle jar will also do just fine. Metallic containers are a bad idea; some of them are reactive and can ruin your starter (for the same reason, avoid using metal utensils to stir your starter).
  • Blend a cup of warm water and a cup of flour, and pour it into the jar. That's the whole recipe! I use plain, unbleached bread flour most of the time, but I've had good results with all-purpose and whole-wheat flour, too. If you want, you can add a little commercial yeast to a starter to "boost" it. If you do this, sourdough snobs will look down their nose at you - but who cares about snobs? I personally find that (at least here where I live) no yeast "boost" is necessary, and I can make "real" sourdough with no trouble. But if you are having trouble, go ahead and cheat. I won't tell. Note that starter made with commercial yeast often produces a bread with less distinctive sour flavor than the real thing.
  • Every 24 Hours, Feed the Starter. You should keep the starter in a warm place; 70-80 degrees Farenheit is perfect. This allows the yeast already present in the flour (and in the air) to grow rapidly. Temperatures hotter than 100 degrees or so will kill it. You can take comfort from the fact that almost nothing else will do so. The way you feed the starter is to(A) throw away half of it and then (B) add a half-cup of flour and a half-cup of water. Do this every 24 hours. Within three or four days (it can take longer, a week or more, and it can happen more quickly) you should start getting lots of bubbles throughought, and a pleasant sour or beery smell. The starter may start to puff up, too. This is good. Here's the gist: When your starter develops a bubbly froth, it is done. You have succeeded. If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia.
  • Refrigerate the Starter. Keep the starter in your fridge, with a lid on it. Allow a little breathing space in the lid. If you're using a mayo or pickle jar, punch a hole in the lid with a nail, that kind of thing. Once the starter is chilled, it needs to be fed only once a week. Realistically, you can get away with less; it's important to remember that your starter is a colony of life-forms that are almost impossible to kill (except with extreme heat). Even starving them is difficult.
The whole keeping this living organism alive in your fridge and then using it to make food is very strange. Bakeries such as Boudin claim that they have been using the same "mother" starter for a hundred years or more. I doubt I will be able to keep it alive for a week, but we will see. We will certainly update if we ever give it a go.

If you want to check out the rest of the recipe, head over to 

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


One of the (many?) factors we did not anticipate when moving to a new home was the increased cost of shopping at the grocery store. Our new local store is Raley's, which, while locally owned, is more expensive than our usual Safeway when we lived in Midtown.  Example: Pasta Barilla is on sale for $1.40 at Raley's, and on sale for $0.89 at Safeway.  Pretty much everything we buy is more money at Raley's, and they have fewer, and less deep sales as well.  A pity.  Now we have to either drive back to our former Safeway, or pay the toll of convenience

In other news (really news this time), we are working on the fence.  Should be done in a week or so, which will be nice.  Working in the garden will be more enjoyable knowing that it is not on public display. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tour gone wrong

Moving in to a new place is an exciting time, a time that you want to share with your family and friends. We had been so busy with getting things ready and working on the house that it was hard to find the time to invite people over. Also, I must admit that the control freak in me wanted to make sure that everything was at least done and clean and put away enough so as to not be embarrassed. Once we finally moved our stuff in and started living there we kind of forgot that it was now time to start inviting people over, hosting dinner, movies, games, etc. It kind of made for an odd time, like a new store that flips their sign to say 'open' but no one comes in. It made me pretty sad actually because before we moved we were kind of on a roll of having people over. It felt a little lonely with all this house and no one to share it with.

Finally we hear that my grandmother is coming to town for a few weeks. We are excited that finally we can show the house to a new person. Lists are made of things to do before the big reveal (of course not many of those things were checked off, but a list was made none the less.)

My mom makes the plan that I will pick my grandmother up and bring her to the house then my mom will come to the house when she gets off work to visit then take grandma home. So I pick up my grandmother and bring her to the house. It is just the two of us because David is at work. So I take her inside and show her the kitchen and the dining area and the living room, then I decide to take her out our sliding glass door to show her the back yard. She walks outside, then I follow. Because it was so very hot that day and the AC was on I slide the door shut. It sounds louder than normal when I shut the door but I don't think much of it because our house can be very loud and creaky.

So I show her a little of the backyard and then I go to open the sliding glass door and it wont open. I am confused. I try again with no luck. It is then that I realize that the sound I heard was the wooden bar that we use to secure the door at night falling back into place and has now locked the door. My head starts to spinning because I know that we just walked in the front door, which I always lock when I come inside, and we weren't there long enough to open any other doors or windows. So I start going around the house trying all the doors and windows anyway because you always have to try. All locked. I have locked myself and my 83 year old grandma out of the house on a 98 degree day. All purses and phones are inside.

Well now I am kind of freaking out because although my mom should be here in about 20 minutes, the carpet guy was on his way to install our carpets and we had already "rescheduled" with him too many times to miss this appointment. Besides, I pictured myself with my poor grandma sitting outside on the front porch when the carpet guy pulls up and me telling him "sorry you can't come in, I locked myself out of the house. Can you come back again another time?" It was just too embarrassing a thought.

So I realize that our only hope is one of the windows in the master which was not locked. I pull on it, but it doesn't budge. What you must know is that we have those roller crank windows that are surprisingly locked in place at any given angle of openness. This window's angle was wide enough to pry my fingers in but not wide enough to reach the crank device.

At this point I can tell my grandma is getting hot because she has been following me as I run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to break in to my house. I instruct her to sit down in the shade in the front and wait for my mom. While I wanted her to cool down I mostly didn't want her to see what I was going to do next, which was pull on my poor window with all my might.

I pull and pull and pull and finally get it open enough to get the screen out. Now the problem is that the window is too high to pull myself up on my own. I find a chair that we had outside and try to stand on that but the ground is too wobbly to put too much pressure on the chair. By this time my grandmother has come back around to the backyard and is witnessing my desperate attempt to break in. She tries to hold the chair steady but isn't strong enough.

Luckily at this time my mom shows up in her cute little work outfit. She immediately hops up into the window with me holding the chair. So now she is sitting indian style like in the window trying to bend her long legs enough to squeeze in. She is just pulling on her foot and trying to shove it inside. Then I try to help her by bending and shoving on her foot as well.

Finally she squeezes in and goes around to unlock the door. We all go inside and offer them a cool beverage which they gladly take. When the carpet guy shows up a few minutes later my grandmother blurts out the whole story to him. So I definitely did not avoid embarrassment.

All in all it was a very traumatizing first house guest. We have had better luck since then, but I always remember to remove the stick from the door completely and not to just stand it up inside.

Also I completely broke the crank mechanism to that window which now will no longer open but has to remain shut and locked. At least I know the house is not easy to break in to.