This Means War!

WANTED – DEAD OR ALIVE

Yes, it’s you I’m talking to Woodchuck.  Your crime?  Crimes against humanity.  Crimes against a garden, it’s owner and all the vegetables and flowers you’ve destroyed.  After what you’ve done while I was on vacation means that I have to take our battle up a notch.  It’s me versus you.  Man versus beast.  One of us has to go and it’s not going to be me…..I have way too many things that I’d have to pack.  I knew something was up in my garden and now I am keenly aware that it is not a slug problem.  How do I know it’s you, Woodchuck?  It all starts the morning after my return from Las Vegas and a walk back to the garden.  These are the green beans that I saw and now grow.  No slug could do this.  I found the hole you dug under the fence and looked at all your destruction.

YOU GOTS TO GO!!

As someone who loves to garden, seeing my garden in bad shape was pretty devastating.  I tried to stop the damage early, as many of you have read, and thought that I had been successful.  Between the fence, the company that came and set traps and moved animals to another location and the various slug removal ideas made it look like I was beyond the destruction that had been occurring.  I felt so smart!!  Well, that is not the case anymore.  I’m taking matters into my own hands.  I am going to become my own Daniel Boone and catch Woodchuck on my own.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

How?  I bought a woodchuck sized Havahart trap.  I saw how the firm that came early this season set their trap up.  They put their trap inside a black contractor’s garbage bag.  Makes it look less like a trap and more like a dark little tunnel to those smart woodchuck critters.  I can do that.  They filled it with onions.  I’m going to do one better….I have read a number of internet articles and I’m filling my trap with ripe cantaloupe, sliced onions and seafood flavored cat chow.  I am going to put the food in the front of the trap, in the middle of the trap and then in the back so that when Woodchuck gets back there, it will trip the lever and the door will come down and trap it.  I’ve decided that on Friday and Saturday night, I will not set the trap, but fill it with food.  Woodchuck will come both days and eat the food and get used to the set up.  Then I’ll set it on Sunday and hope that Woodchuck feels comfortable going inside the trap and then I’ll get it.

I WILL WIN!!

Right now, I’m pretty sure I will be able to remove the cage if I catch Woodchuck and open it far away from Glen Road so that the animal can get out.  Well, let’s say I’m 75% sure I can do this.  I have never really liked critters, so there is always the small chance I will need someone else to do it.  I’m feeling confident though since I know that if I can’t do this, then my garden will be done for this season (if it isn’t already!).

DOWN WITH WOODCHUCKS

I’m more concerned about Woodchuck getting aggressive with me than I am about overcoming my fear of critters.  I think I’m pretty smart, but reading on the internet about woodchucks makes me believe they are smart too.  What if Woodchuck tries to trap me?!?!  Here’s hoping I’m working against a dumb woodchuck versus a smart one.  I’ll keep you posted…………..

We’re Back – Random Thoughts And Shots From Las Vegas

I know that what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I won’t give too much away from our trip.  As usual, the weather was hot and so was the Strip.  Lots of great food, some wild cocktails, a trip to see Celine, some shopping and lots of gambling has to add up to a great time and this trip was no exception.  Turn up Elvis and enjoy my random thoughts and shots from our trip.  It’s good to be home, but Viva Las Vegas!!

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Restaurant Field Trip – The Whelk

Last year at about this time, we visited Le Farm restaurant in Westport, CT.  The restaurant’s owner and head chef, Bill Taibe, is one of the leaders in the area for the farm to table movement, where fresh food is bought from local farmers, brought into his restaurant and served to his customers.  In January of this year, Bill Taibe opened up his latest restaurant, The Whelk, along the water in Westport.  This new restaurant is heavily concentrated on seafood.  Just like Le Farm, The Whelk shares the same artisanal philosophy, using as many fresh and locally grown ingredients as possible.  The Whelk is also focused on fresh and sustainable seafood.

Question:  So, you are asking, what is a whelk?  The answer is below.

While the Whelk is just above the Saugatuck River, the windows in the rectangular dining area face the street, not the water.  Yet the interior has the feel of an informal seafood shack with large harbor lights hung above the bar and slatted picnic chairs and benches, the kind you might find outdoors at a roadside spot.  During our visit, there were eight main course offerings, but it is the smaller plates and appetizers that were the draw for us.  The food that we ate was so good, we are planning to return for a second round next week.  Come see what we ate at our first visit to The Whelk:

We started off with appetizers and small plates.  As in a typical seafood shack, our first courses were served on plates covered in newspaper.  Here is one BBQ little neck clam left from a plate of eight.  These were fresh clams with a little bit of BBQ sauce and bacon placed on top before being placed under the broiler for a few minutes.  These clams went fast.

Another favorite was the hot smoked trout dip served with trout roe and crackers and bread.

We have a friend who says she has never met a potato that she doesn’t like.  Here are some french fries with ketchup and a delicious smoked mayo.

A good wine that was recommended to us by our server.  The Whelk has a large list of by-the-glass and by-the-bottle wines.  This French selection was a little more acidic than I would normally like, but that worked well with the seafood that we ate during our visit.

One of my favorites!  Gulf shrimp and grits with pickled jalapeno-ramp butter and country ham.  Reminds me of our trip to Charleston, SC.

One of the more unique offerings the night we were there.  This is squid ink cavatelli with red shrimp, mexican chorizo and preserved tomatoes.

Cornmeal fried catfish with early summer slaw and walnut-pepper romesco (partly devoured at time of photo).

Rare seared line caught tuna with bacon and black olive and green pea dressing.  An offering that was limited, but we were lucky enough to “snag” one.  Get the seafood joke here?!?

My vote for “Best Of Show”.  Norman’s (we don’t know who Norman is, but he is a man with good taste) lobster butter with leeks, peas and fingerling potatoes.  We were told this is a lobster that is slowly poached and then removed from its shell.  The poaching liquid is then reduced and the lobster meat is added back along with the potatoes, peas and leeks.

What’s dinner without some dessert?  The Whelk offered a small and homey dessert menu for us to choose from.

A quickly devoured set of Whoopie Pies.  These pies never disappoint.

Two at a time…a magic bar in the background with butterscotch and sea salt.  In the front is a meyer lemon posset with cornmeal cookies.  Yummy!

As in our visit to Le Farm, we all left full and happy.  Like I said, we’ll be back on Tuesday so that shows how good The Whelk is.  If you are around Westport, you need to give The Whelk a try.  If you are like us, one trip just won’t be enough.

Answer:  So what is a whelk?  A predatory marine mollusk (family Buccinidae) with a heavy, pointed spiral shell, some kinds of which are edible.  As Bill Taibe has said, calling his restaurant Le Mer would have been too easy.

A Plant I Like

Most people who have seen my garden this season have asked me what the giant thistle is.  Believe it or not, the plant is a giant thistle better known as a globe artichoke.  Each year, I try to plant one or two things that I have never grown before.  In the past, this has included kholrabi, fennel and broccoli raab.  After the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) made fried artichokes for us, I decided that the artichoke was going to be in my garden for the first time this season.

The globe artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) is a perennial thistle of the genus Cynara originating in Southern Europe around the Mediterranean. It grows tall, with arching, deeply lobed, silvery-green leaves 10–20 inches long.  The flowers develop in a large head from an edible bud about 3–5 inches in diameter with numerous triangular scales.  The individual florets are purple.  The edible portion of the buds consists primarily of the fleshy lower portions and the base, known as the “heart”; the mass of immature florets in the center of the bud is called the “choke” or beard.  These are inedible in older larger flowers.

I grew my plants from seeds under the grow light in the basement.  The seeds are a variety known as Imperial Star.  Specifically bred for annual production, Imperial Star produces artichokes the first season from seed.  Typically 6-8 mature buds, averaging 3-4 inches in diameter, are grown per plant.  Imperial Star plants grow 3-4 feet tall.

My artichoke plants in the garden have really flourished.  They seem to grow every hot and humid day that we have.  So far, they have required little, if any, special attention.  The next phase should be the flowering of the plants and then the formation of the artichoke that we know and can eat.  I’ll keep you posted on our fun new find as the plants continue to mature during this gardening season.

P. S. –  for those of you who read the cabbage murder mystery post, notice my sad cabbage plants in the back of this picture.  As well, notice the bowl of beer or as we call it in my garden, the slug’s swimming pool.  Not looking good for some home-grown cabbage this year!!

What’s Blooming – Another Virtual Garden Tour

This is one of my begonias that opened up a number of fiery hot blooms this week.  This begonia, ‘Bonfire,’ is a variety of tuberous B. boliviensis.  It wasn’t the only fiery hot thing going one here at Glen Road this week.  The weather actually decided to push up to 100 degrees for several days this week meaning lots of watering to keep the garden supple.  Come with me to see what else was braving the heat and blooming full and lush this week.  Besides begonia ‘Bonfire’, here’s what else was out there in full glory:

So tell me, what’s blooming in your neck of the woods?

First Casualty In The Garden…A Murder Mystery

It happens every year.  You plant your garden and know deep down inside of you that there will be some sort of problem that happens before you even harvest your first vegetable.  You get yourself ready for the disappointment.  You think about what will be the type of bug that wipes something out.  If it is not a bug, maybe some sort of critter.  You look at all of your plantings and try to figure out which one will be affected.  You vow to do your best to combat whatever it is that is hurting your garden.  Then it happens.  This year, I’m calling the problem “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.  I swear to you that three hours after planting my cabbage plants, I returned to the garden to find the little plants munched down to almost nothing by some sort of villain.  The problem is that I just couldn’t figure out who the culprit was.

What would do this so quickly and thoroughly?  While I was digging some cabbages up and replacing them with new plants and trimming the little arms of others, it dawned on me.  It was a woodchuck.  Why you ask?  Well, the Notorious B. I. G. (Brooklyn Italian Grandmother) had mentioned that she saw a furry animal running around the back yard a couple of times during the week.  Since raccoons only come out at night, I just knew it was a woodchuck she had seen and the same critter ate my baby cabbages.  Remember, the fence around the back yard keeps the deer out, so my only logical solution had to be that a woodchuck had squeezed under the fence and ate my cabbages.  Always having a flair for the dramatic, I quickly put a two-step plan of action in motion.  First, I would put a small fence around my new raised beds.  Yes, it is a fence within a fence.  I quickly worked to build a small green plastic fence around my two new raised beds and then the new secured garden would have the deer fence around it as well for added protection.  Second, I would call a local hunter that I knew from the area and have him lay a couple of humane traps.  The traps would catch the critter and then we could transport it to a far away wooded area where it could eat dead leaves and weeds.  That’s what a woodchuck eats for dinner…not baby cabbage plants.  The fence was installed….the traps were laid……all was good in cabbage land.

Then it happened again!  Nearly a week later.  When I saw the little nibbled purple cabbage plants, I got weak in my knees.  How could this happen again?  After spending $200 on my make-shift fence and trapping a raccoon, a squirrel and some other type of critter that my friend told me I didn’t want to know about, the cabbage murderer was still stalking the premises.  I felt violated.  I felt angry.  I wanted revenge.

It was off to the nursery for some more cabbage plants.  I had run out of the ones that I grew from seeds under my grow light.  At the nursery, I told my murder mystery story to anyone who would listen.  One of the nursery employees told me that it sounded like a slug infestation.  Slugs?  Those little snail-like creatures without a shell?  Could they do this much damage?  Can they eat this much?  I left with some new cabbage plants and some Sluggo, an organic pellet that kills slugs dead.  I also put out two bowls filled with beer.  Slugs like their booze.  When they reach for the beer, they fall into the suds and then that’s it for them.  They drown, but drown drunk, which is probably the best way to go in my opinion.  So far the Sluggo and beer seem to be working.  My cabbages seem to be growing.

I’ll keep you posted.  Also, if you see the displaced raccoon, squirrel and the unnamed creature that I had transported to another wooded area, let them know I am sorry and I will pick them up and bring them back to Glen Road on Saturday afternoon.  As well, let me know if you have any ideas (other than a slug) on what is eating my cabbage.  Help me solve “The Case Of The Murdered Cabbages”.

Oh Deer!

It happens every year.  When you least expect it, a deer helps itself to a big serving of our garden.  Most of the time, they do it right before you planned to do some “anti-deer” work to prevent the damage.  When I decided a few Sundays ago that it was going to be the day to spray deer repellant on the plants in our front yard, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the night before, our local deer made a date to eat a few things in the area to be sprayed.  Just to remind me that they exist, just to remind me that they are smart.  Just to remind me that they have planted a bug inside our house…..it was if they were in the room when I announced my deer repellent plans a few weeks back.

The good news is that the deer in our area only have a couple of small gardens that they can get to on our property.  These gardens are in the front of the house.  The majority of our gardens are in the back of the house where we had a six-foot metal deer fence installed to keep them out.  The black metal fence snakes through the woods and seems invisible when all of the plants and trees are fully fleshed out during Spring, Summer and most of the Fall.  People tell us that a deer could jump our six-foot fence, but please don’t tell them that because they have never attempted it.  The fence allows us to plant a large amount of plants outside and not have to worry about damage from grazing deer.  The battle against the deer is only in the front of the property.  The front yard is the battle field.

Here’s the only rub when deer graze in the front yard.  Everything planted in the front yard was labeled “deer resistant” at the point of purchase.  The front gardens contain such deer downers as peony, bleeding hearts, boxwood, monarda and echinacea.  Plants that just don’t taste good to a deer…or so I thought.  I quickly realized that there aren’t any plants that are truly deer resistant.  These plants (like the Monarda that got eaten in the above pictures) are really just ones that deer don’t care for as part of a regular well-balanced deer meal, but if they are hungry enough, they will eat them.  So we do our best to keep our front gardens protected.  We continue to spray deer repellent a few times a month (it really works well) and, when the deer take time to have dinner in our garden, we do our best to trim the damage and hope that what they ate left a bad taste in their mouths.  A bad enough taste to stay away…..but it never is.