When Did I Become Such A Follower?

This is the question I’ve been thinking about since we started Acorns On Glen.  When did I become such a follower?  Not when I was a kid.  In fourth grade, in the comments section of my report card, my teacher wrote that I was good at leading other children towards a common goal…..and that I was a good talker.  I was an officer in one of my grades in high school….I think it was freshman year.  I was editor of my school newspaper for a few years.  All signs were pointing in the right direction.  I was still a leader in college.  I was president of my pledge class at the fraternity.  I was a member of the elite summer orientation staff for incoming freshman.  Again, all signs were a go.   So when, as an adult, did I stop producing original ideas and leadership potential?  My vote…..when my sad ass discovered the internet and that damn do-it-yourself television.

Think back to your grandparents.  How did your grandmother learn to cook something simple, say a meatloaf?  She either learned by word of mouth or she learned by trial and error.  The recipe could have been handed down from generations of hard cooking women in her family.  She could have talked to a sister or a neighbor about making meatloaf and wrote down the ingredients and instructions that they gave her and then began to cook.  She used real, live human interaction versus online social networking.  She could have also gotten the idea in her head and cooked it through several different incarnations making sure to tweak things she didn’t like from the time before and remembering to keep things in it that were good.  Old time trial and error versus instant internet gratification.  With my family, maybe my father, aunts and uncle didn’t like my Grandma’s first shots at meatloaf making, but by the time I was a child, she had perfected her art.

The garden is the same story.  How did my Grandmother know to only dig horseradish and grind it up in months that contained an ‘R’ in them?  She was right.  Months without an ‘R’ produce lousy horseradish…Julys and Augusts are just too hot.  Again, she had an idea and either consulted a real, live person or experimented on her own.  Somehow, she managed to figure things out.  She must have talked with someone on the rules of horseradish or sat down to some sad tasting pulp, but she figured it out.  She accomplished tasks knowing she had done her own research, made all the decisions and had done it her way.  She was her own expert.

Now take me!  I’ll confess.  I look at all of the things that I do to my house, that I cook or bake in the kitchen or that I grow in my garden, and while I’m proud of my accomplishments, they have most likely come from someone else’s original idea.  Ideas from others that I’ve said “Wow, I’d like to do that” and either copied or took the initial idea and tweaked it to fit my lifestyle.  When is the last time I sat down and said I’d like to make a dish in the kitchen that contained a certain ingredient and then added it and other ingredients in a bowl trying to create my tasty little idea?  Never.  If I ever did do that, God forbid if it was bad tasting.  Would I try it again with some new twists or would I just abandon the idea altogether?  If the first time was a flop, would I try to think it through and make it a success a second or third time?  I doubt it.

I’ve made meatloaf and worked in my garden recently, just like my Grandma did years ago.  My meatloaf recipe came straight off the internet from http://www.MarthaStewart.com.  I found the recipe in less than a minute.  As I printed my step-by-step instructions out, I sat there in a panic thinking what was meant by “good” ketchup in the recipe.  What the hell is “bad” ketchup?  In the garden, I decided to plant artichokes this year and see if they would grow in Connecticut.  How did I come up with this idea?  A picture showing them growing in my area off of someone else’s iPhone.  So what was my next step?  I googled “artichoke growing” on the internet and received hundreds of sites with step-by-step growing instructions.  So I then ordered the seeds (off the internet) from a seed company I saw mentioned on a TV show and then planted them in a growing system I heard described on the radio and then put them under a grow light I saw on another internet site.  By the way, the grow light had four and a half stars attributed to it on the internet meaning it was a customer top favorite.  How could I get the one that seemed better, but with fewer stars attributed to it?  Do you see what I’m saying?  Not one original idea in my head.  No leadership; no innovation; no thought leadership.  I’m a lemming just following the leader until I eventually fall off the side of a cliff.

In business today, there must be a slew of followers.  Perfectionist people who scour for innovation and new ideas by reading the internet for hours.  Site by site; post by post.  Anything new and exciting is printed off or typed into their computer.  They search on Google to find exactly how to make the idea a reality.  They tweak the original just a little to call it their own.  Then they introduce the final product to the world.  In fact, aren’t followers in the business world now called great executors?  This new term utilized in order to soften the blow to a group of people trained to follow others versus taking a risk on their own.  An executor, that’s what I am.  Not a leader or a thought provoker, but rather someone who can execute someone else’s idea to perfection.  My meatloaf looked just like the picture in Martha’s recipe; my grow light artichokes are picture perfect. 

Ideas=F; Execution=A+……that’s me. 

I curse you, Martha, Emeril and Ina.  Up yours, Vern and you Design Stars.  May seeds never grow in your Victory Garden, Old Man Crockett! 

So how do people of today change this course?  How do we become thinkers again versus just executing?  If my Grandma were here, I’m sure she could sit down and think up a solution.  Me?  I’m just going to Google it.  What do you think about leaders versus followers in today’s world?

News From The Garden

This is an update on our 2011 garden.  We want to keep everyone up to date on what’s going on outside in the actual garden and inside under the grow light.  This weekend provided some great weather (finally!) to really spend some quality time in the garden.  We started the morning planting the remaining seeds into our last APS 24 growing system and placed them in the basement under the grow light.  Our earlier planting was with seeds that prefer cooler soil temperature.  This weekend, it was seeds that prefer warmer soil temperatures.  Remember, our two batch planting philosophy?  The seeds planted this weekend included three varieties of tomatoes and artichokes.  Yes, artichokes!!  We’ve heard that they can grow and prosper in Connecticut, so we thought this would be our fun garden experiment for 2011.  Can Glen Road enjoy some stuffed artichokes at harvest time?  Keep your fingers crossed.

Inside the house, the first batch of seeds placed under the grow light are actually growing quite nicely.  We’re happy to say that all of the seeds have sprouted and we have identified the strongest seedlings and removed the others in the cell.  Only one plant per cell allowed.  The weaker sprouts were removed by clipping them off with a pair of scissors.  While the cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower are over an inch high now, the eggplant is a little smaller and growing more slowly, so we decided to wait two more weeks before we remove their weaker seedlings.  The picture above is a look at our cabbage and here are the smaller eggplant seedlings.

Outside we were able to expand our seed planting to more than just spinach.  Since the spinach seeds have been out in the garden since Thanksgiving 2010, we thought it was only fair to plant six more rows of seeds and grow some friends for the spinach.  First, we turned under the crop cover of winter rye grass so that it would start to decompose and enrich the soil with its nutrients.  Then we planted some seeds that thrive in early Spring’s cooler soil.  This included one row of round radishes, two rows of French breakfast radishes, two rows of lettuce mix and one row of arugula.  After the rows were planted, we stretched out a longer piece of floating row cover and placed it over all the rows of vegetables that are in the garden-the six rows planted today and the four rows of spinach that have been there since last year.

We were wondering when the floating row covers could be removed for good and had gotten some mixed answers, so we decided to consult with an expert and last week asked when the covers could be permanently removed to none other than Martha Stewart on her live radio show.  She told us that the row covers needed to be in place for quite a while longer as it is just too cold to remove them at this time.  She said it was fine on warm days to pull the cover up and let the plants be in the direct sunlight, but that we needed to cover them back up before nightfall.  We also started to talk about a few vegetables that we don’t grow because they spread out too much and take over the limited space we have in our raised beds.  She said we should reconsider our stance on growing such things as cucumbers, zucchini and peas.  So we started thinking and surfing the internet.

What we found was an idea that we saw on several different gardening sites that we visited.  We took a trip to our local farm supply store and bought a 16 foot livestock panel.  A livestock panel is actually used for temporary fencing on a farm.  In our case, we used a bolt cutter to turn the one piece panel into two, 8 foot panels.  Each panel was then taken into two of the raised beds and the cut ends were pushed into the soil and then the panels was gently leaned up against the garden fencing.

                                           

Later in Spring, we will accumulate some dirt into mounds in each of the beds at the base of the fencing and plant cucumbers and zucchini.  We will then train the vines to grow upwards and weave through the panels with the vegetables hanging down from the panels, making them easier to pick.  Since the vines will grow upwards versus outwards on the ground, it means more room for other plantings in our small garden.  We’ve asked whether the vegetables will drop off their vines due to their weight and upward growth and everyone has told us not to worry.  We believe them, but we secretly have our doubts. 

So for the beginning of April, we are feeling that our garden is on schedule and everything is growing as expected.  From here on out, we know that the garden will consume a lot of our time, but the result is worth it.  Nothing tastes better than home-grown vegetables.  Are you working in your garden right now or is it still too cold?

Time For Tuberous Begonias

This is a set of begonia tubers. More specifically, they are a set of Blackmore and Langdon begonia tubers.  For over 100 years, Blackmore and Langdon have offered tuberous begonias that produce spectacular flowers in a wide range of colors over a very long season and do all of this in shade.  In the North where I live, the tubers should be started indoors in late Winter or early Spring to bloom by Summer.  They need well-drained soil, indirect light and moderate temperatures.  While not as popular as the wax begonias that are planted more in beds, tuberous begonias are more spectacular and are most commonly planted in containers or boxes.

Its scientific name, Begonia tuberhybrida, means they grow from a tuber (similar to a bulb) and its many varieties are hybrids.  As is often the case with hybrids, there are different varieties.  The tuberous begonia flowers come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  Some flowers are upright, while others loosely hang down.  Some are single petaled, others, probably most, are double petaled.  The male flowers tend to be quite large, up to 6 inches in diameter, and showy.  The female flowers are smaller, 1 to 3 inches in diameter, but still showy.  About the only common factor among the varieties are the leaves, which are almost always dark green in color, quite large and arrow shaped.

I have had these two begonia tubers for quite some time.  I purchased both tubers from White Flower Farm, http://www.whiteflowerfarm.com.  The ‘Picotee’ tuber has been growing in a pot on my porch for over eight years.  The ‘John Smith’ tuber has been around since 2008.  When the plants die off in October, I simply dig the tubers out of the soil, break the spent stems from the tubers and then place them in the basement in wood chips until they are ready to plant again in mid-March.

‘Picotee’ has a salmon colored double bloom.  It grows almost a foot tall each year and produces a number of massive sized blooms.  It does not produce scent of any kind.

‘John Smith’ has double, rosebud blossoms that are ruffled in a delicate peach color.  It has the distinction of being the first scented upright begonia. Its fragrance varies from rose-like to a hint of citrus.  The creation of the first perfumed, upright begonia took time, more than ten years.  It was named to honor Blackmore and Langdon’s lead begonia grower, who bred and developed this breakthrough.  ‘John Smith’ was a highlight of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Garden Show in 2007.

Every mid-March, I bring my tubers up from the basement and plant them.  I start with 6-to-7″ pots.  I fill each pot about two-thirds full of organic potting soil and place one tuber into each pot’s soil.  It is important to put the tuber’s concave side facing up.  Notice the small buds that appear on the tuber.  This is the year’s new growth.

I fill the rest of the pots to the rim with more soil.  Throughout the growing season, I transplant the begonias to bigger pots as the plants grow larger and larger.

To see details on the complete planting process for a tuberous begonia, here is a short video from the growers at White Flower Farm:

I’ll keep you posted on their journey throughout this year.  They have been such a beautiful addition to my front porch for so many years, I really can’t picture my porch without them.  If you have the time and the money (the tubers are not cheap), I encourage you to give Blackmore and Langdon tuberous begonias a try.  You’ll be glad you did.  Do you grow any spectacular plants in your garden that you would like to share on Acorns On Glen?

Blondies With A Twist

This is a plate of brown butter toffee blondies. I’m not sure the first time I ate a blondie.  Growing up, we always had cake or cookies around the house.  Every once in a while, we would make chocolate brownies.  I never remember a blondie.  In the cafeteria where I work, there is a dish of blondies for sale every day.  Maybe that is where I first ate one, who knows?  Bottom line, wherever they were introduced to me, I really like them.  When I eat one, I feel that they are a little bit like a cookie and a little bit like a brownie all rolled into one.  It is also nice to try something every once in a while that doesn’t have chocolate in it.  Don’t get me wrong, chocolate is still a great thing.  It’s just that every once in a while you want something different and these blondies do the trick.  There were two reasons I wanted to make this dessert.  First, this recipe uses toffee.  When I read this in the recipe, I was at a loss where I could buy toffee.  Finally, I discovered that you can buy toffee chips in the supermarket in the same section as chocolate or peanut butter chips.  Second, this recipe also calls for brown butter.  Brown butter is simply a method of cooking butter on the stove top until it turns a deep golden color.  At the bottom of the pan, there is a light layer of browned particles, which are the solids in the butter that were browned by the heat and then fell to the bottom of the pan.  Make sure you scrape them up and put them in the batter as they have excellent flavor.  Brown butter gives the blondies more depth of flavor.  I’ve heard brown butter referred to as a nutty flavor, but I simply think that it adds a deeper butter flavor to the blondies.  You taste a rich buttery sensation in your mouth when you bite into the dessert.  Try these blondies for a change of pace.  They are great!  Let’s start mixing and baking:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (about 4 ounces)
  • 1 cup toffee bits (remember, you get these right beside the chocolate chips in the supermarket)
  • Directions:

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

    In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the butter until it turns golden brown; remove from the heat, and let cool.

    At the beginning of the butter process.

    At the end of the butter process…see how golden brown in color.

    Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

    In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine browned butter and both sugars; stir with a wooden spoon until combined.

    Attach bowl to mixer and turn on; add eggs into mixture one at a time.

    Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

    Add vanilla, and beat to combine.

    Add flour mixture, walnuts and toffee bits.  Mix until thoroughly combined and then pour into the prepared pan.

    Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes (do not overbake). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before turning out of pan onto a cutting board.

    Cut blondies into 3-inch squares. Blondies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

    So next time you are looking for a dessert with a little bit of something different, give these blondies a try.  Soft, chewy with that deep butter flavor and toffee goodness, you can’t go wrong with this recipe.  As well, the recipe was easy and quick which is always a plus.  Blondies…go for it!  Do you have any dessert recipes that have that little bit of something different to them that you can share on Acorns On Glen?

    Friday Dance Party

    This is another edition of Friday Dance Party here on Acorns On Glen.  This is the time where we give thanks for making it through another week and then we dance to celebrate.  Are you still alive and kicking?  Was your week an easy one or a tough one?  Whatever kind of week you had, just be happy that you are here now.  Realize that so many people are not as lucky as we are.  The news is full of crazy stories of war, natural disasters and disease.  We need to be thankful for our lives and pray for those that aren’t as lucky as we are.  Be thankful you, your family and your friends are here.  Be thankful we are safe, warm and have food on our tables.  Just give thanks at how lucky you truly are!  Did you do that?

    Good, now let’s dance.

    I was memory traveling this week back to Iowa in the late 1970s.  Trying to decide if days were better then or better now.  I thought it was only fitting to pick a song from the same era to use as our dance number this week.  Disco was so popular in those days.  I will admit, I had the disco moves in those days and nothing lifts my spirits more than hearing an old disco song on the radio.  To be more current, hearing a string of old disco songs on my XM/Sirius satellite radio tuned into the ‘Disco’ channel.  I don’t really know which one is better–an old-time radio or a new satellite radio?  All I know is that I love to hear any disco music on the radio.  So here’s the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer, and one of her top disco hits….’On The Radio’.  Slip into your wrap dress or your leisure suit and dance hard.  Dance to celebrate that we made it to the end of another week.  You deserve it.  Were you a disco diva in the day?