Thursday, April 09, 2015

Every Five Years...

   ...I have to do something about the yard. It's hard to believe, but it's been five years since I really paid any attention to the appearance of our landscaping, and it's been through a lot, including major construction and a drought. I did a bit of work in my herb garden, but the front yard is embarrassing right now. The last major relandscaping was...8 years ago. There's a blog post about it, and how much I hate landscaping, but I'm doing things differently this time around:
  1. I'm starting now. Part of the reason I hate landscaping is that it always seemed to happen in the middle of summer, when it's in the mid-90s. Some of that had to do with my work schedule. Now that my time is, more or less, my own, I can work on the landscaping in Spring, when the weather is cooler.
  2. I'm keeping better records. Rather than start with buying a bunch of plants and then documenting what I've done, I'm working through the process in reverse: I started a garden journal, and drew good layouts of what I wanted to plant where. Everything is organized in a clearly-marked binder.
  3. I'm tackling the yard in sections. Our lot is deceptive. According to the deed, it is 65 by 65 feet. However, when our neighborhood was laid out in the 1870s, the City of Vallejo claimed 80 feet for every street "just in case" they wanted to make that street a main thoroughfare. As a result, we also have a 15-foot "frontage easement" that belongs to the City, but is our responsibility to landscape and maintain. Since we're on a corner, it means our lot is actually 80 x 80 feet, with the house at the very edges of our deeded property, and a big, shallow front yard that doesn't belong to us, but we're responsible for maintaining. It's too much to landscape all at once (especially by myself), so I've divided it up into sections, and I'm working my way around the house.
  4. I'm installing drip irrigation as I go along. It's essential now: we're entering the fourth year of less-than-average rainfall, and while there aren't restrictions on handwatering (just on sprinkler systems), moving everything over to drip irrigation on timers will save water, time, and my energy. 
   The herb garden was the first to get this new, improved, treatment, as it's the easiest garden to work: simply move a few pots, replace the herbs in need of replacement, and run the drip irrigation. I also pulled out the three non-climbing "climbing" roses and replaced them with bougainvillea--they're drought-tolerant, love full sun, grow fast, and have wicked-nasty thorns (good for a boundary fence). I have a tidy little collection of herbs-- marjoram, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, peppermint, Italian parsley, cilantro, spearmint, garlic chives, French tarragon, and lemon balm--and a dwarf lime.
   Next was the small bed next to the herb garden. I planted a couple wax-leaf privets and a dietes bicolor two years ago and they're well established, but there were some holes. Those holes are now filled with a pink-striped New Zealand flax and several "Powis Castle" artemesia. They're small right now, but they'll grow.
   There's a big bed (7'x22') at the top of the steps. It's an important spot, as it's the first flower bed you see when you climb the steps to the front walk. Originally, this was my rose garden and iris beds, but I lost nearly everything when the foundation was replaced in 2011. There are a few irises hanging on, and a single "Ragged Robin" (Rosa 'gloire des rosomanes') I want to save. That's the bed I'm focusing on now. The plan is drawn up, so next will be some plant removal and soil amending before installing new plants (all drought-tolerant flowering perennials).

Sunday, April 05, 2015


   I grew up in Southern California, which means that Easter is normally warm, sunny, and a great day for a picnic or a barbecue. As a result, Easter sorta-kinda marks the start of the summer "let's eat outdoors" season. A lot of picnic foods are traditional: ham, deviled eggs, and especially potato salad.
    My mother makes truly amazing potato salad. She learned to make potato salad right after she and my dad were married, and her recipe came from one of her neighbors, a little old German lady. It's sinful: lots of cholesterol, salt, carbohydrates, not even close to kosher, and guaranteed to pique the most jaded appetite. She taught me how to make it, and I make it for Easter, even though there are only two of us--that just means there's more for us!

Audrey's Amazing Smashed Potato Salad

  • 1 dozen eggs, hard-boiled (I do these the day before)
  • 1 pound bacon, diced
  • 1 big onion, finely chopped
  • 5 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons bacon grease

Fry the bacon until crisp. Set fried bacon bits aside on paper towels to drain, and reserve at least 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

Peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs.

Put the potatoes in a large pot, cover with water, then bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes over high heat. While potatoes are boiling, combine bacon bits, chopped eggs, and chopped onion in a large mixing bowl. Measure out the other ingredients and have them ready.

When potatoes are boiled, drain, then dump in the mixing bowl on top of the bacon bits, eggs, and onion. Quickly throw in the other ingredients and mix everything well while the potatoes are still hot. It should be a little sloppy. Taste and adjust the seasonings (I always add a bit more vinegar and salt).

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This is good hot, but better at room temperature. Let it cool completely, and cover closely with plastic wrap if refrigerating. It also improves with sitting for a couple hours, as the flavors have time to blend a bit.