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Archive for October, 2008

As promised, tonight I bring to you the heart-breaking saga of the second Squash Vine Borer (hereafter known as SVB) attack on my beloved b-nut squash.

After neglecting to meticulously inspect my butternut squash vines due to reading somewhere that the dreaded SVB ceases attacking after August, I was horrified to find one Sunday morning three weeks ago that the SVB had revisited, leaving its progeny to decimate my b-nut squash. I had noticed some time before that the leaves on the vine were sort of withering up and turning yellow, but I thought maybe it was because they were older leaves. My squash fruit seemed OK, though small, and I just stood stubbornly steadfast in believing what I read, that I had nothing to fear from SVB after August.

But of course, this is Central Texas, where we continue to experience summer, or at least late spring-like temps well into November. Duh! I fergot! Which means it’s still perfect weather for the SVB to go a-laying its little eggs.

In any case, as I watered the squash that fateful Sunday morn, I decided to remove some of the dead leaves. As I removed them, I noticed the tell-tale sign of SVB infestation: SVB “sawdust.” You can see a picture of it below, after this post. Now, up til this point, I’d never seen it before, but I had read about it, and I knew that this had to be it. Then I found some dark eggs, and more “sawdust.” Then I removed some vine where I found the sawdust, and striped back the stem: yup, there it was, an ugly, slimy, segmented, inch-long larvae munching its way through the vine.

Well, I was essentially heartsick, and mad at myself for being so lax in checking for signs of SVB. I decided I’d try to save my b-nut squash as much as I could, and so cut back vine, but I kept finding more signs of infestation.  I wound up basically ripping out one of the squash plants. Amazingly enough, the other plant didn’t seem to be infested at all, so I was able to keep that. I was so grateful that I had one un-infested plant!

My first-b-nut squash (and some acorns) -- very fall-y

Unfortunately, the plant I had to rip out had all the fruit on it. However, while the fruit was relatively small, it didn’t look like it had been infested. I understand that SVB larvae like to eat the vine, but leave the squash fruit alone. I decided not to throw them out and see if I could still use them. You can see a pix of them to the right.

I was a little worried that maybe the squash was infested when I saw some larvae creeping on the counter I sat them on. I decided if any more crept out that I would cut the squash open to see if it was infested and throw them out if so, and cook them if not. But no more crept out, so I decided to keep them intact until I was ready to cook them.

Last weekend I used one of the squash to make a lentil-ginger-butternut squash soup, and as I tentatively cut up the squash, expecting it to perhaps have some larvae deep within, there was none. I also wondered if the flesh would be any good. I had figured that the reason the fruit was small was that the SVB larvae had stunted the growth of the fruit as they ate up the vine, which is the lifeline for the fruit. So I wondered if it would really be ripe, but when I cut the squash open, the flesh was nice and orange like any b-nut squash I’ve bought from the grocery store. And it worked just great in the soup, so I was very pleased. The soup itself cooked into such a mash that it was hard to pick out exact flavors of some of the ingredients, but there was no bitter flavor that might accompany an unripe squash.

As for my intact b-nut squash plant, I have fertilized it and I now check over it as often as I can. So far no SVB infestation as far as I can tell, and it’s now starting to produce some more fruit, so I should continue to have squash for this season.  I think, however, that the fruit is just going to be small, as I’ve got one that is maturing that isn’t much bigger than the others I harvested earlier.

I figure that growing veggies in containers may lead to smaller veggies. This seems to be the case with the Malabar spinach that I’m growing in a container; its leaves are a lot smaller than the ones of the Malabar spinach in the square foot garden. Maybe it’s because the root system has limited room in which to spread, I don’t know. It’s not a bad thing; the produce still tastes good, it’s just that it’s smaller.

In any case, I’m just glad I was able to save the other b-nut squash plant, and glad I have more fruit growing on it. From now on I will make sure I keep a sharp look-out for any SVB infestation!

Because I couldn’t ever find pictures of either the SVB sawdust or pix of the larvae on the Internet, I decided to take some pix for others who might be curious what to look for. Unfortunately these pix are not in focus very well, but hopefully you can see the sawdust and the larvae. The first picture is of a squash stem with sawdust hanging off of it. The picture caty-corner to it is one of a stem pulled back and exposing the larvae. It’s all white, slimy and segmented and shows up in the middle of the stem.

SVB sawdust on squash stem

SVB sawdust on squash stem

Can you see the icky, slimy SVB larvae?

Can you see the icky, slimy SVB larvae?

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Okey-dokey, after some experimenting, I think I finally came up with a pretty good chia-brown rice bread. I got the idea when I came across Nuchiafoods.com, which sells a chia-brown rice flour product for wheat-free baking. ‘Course, they don’t tell you the ratio of chia to brown rice flour they use, so I had to kinda take a gander. First I got crazy and tried a cup and a half of chia flour to one cup brown rice flour, but, because chia has the tendency, like flaxseed, to quickly absorb liquid and get all gelly-like, the consistency, even when baked was a little odd, plus it was really way too dense. So then I kept reducing the amount of chia flour until I got what I think is the right ratio of chia to brown rice flour, and the right amount of liquid.

In any case, I think that this is a pretty suitable wheat-free, gluten-free recipe for folks who are trying to stay away from wheat and/or gluten. I don’t have a particular problem with either, but I am doing an anti-candida yeast cleanse and one of the specifications is to stay away from wheat (as well as sugar), hence all the wheat-free and sugar-free experimentation that’s been going in my kitchen lately. And, of course, vain chick that I am, the only reason I’m doing this cleanse is because somebody said I’d lose my unhealthy cravings and lose weight. So, what the heck and tarnation! I am losing my unhealthy cravings, and I think I’m losing some weight, though I threw out my icky nasty groddy scale when I moved and haven’t bought a new one yet. But I feel thinner in any case, and I’m finding that I’m not hungry all the time like I was before. Interesting.

Anyway, more on that later, but now onto the chia-brown rice bread recipe!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cup brown rice flour + 2 tbsp flour to flour yer bread pan
½ cup chia seed flour
2 cups soy milk, or other milk
3 tsp baking powder
3 ½ tbsp tapioca flour (optional)
¼ tsp salt
1/8 to ¼ tsp stevia powder or 2 tbsp agave (see comments below on the eevels of agave) honey (preferably raw) or sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter and flour a bread pan (you can use rice flour to flour it – it works just like wheat flour on a buttered surface and keeps yer bread from sticking to the pan, just like wheat flour).

If you don’t have any brown rice or chia seed flour, or want to save money, you can grind your own, like I did. I ground each flour separately in a blender, with the speed set to grind. The brown rice takes longer to grind; I let it grind approximately 5 minutes; chia seed doesn’t take nearly as long; I estimate it got ground to flour in less than a minute. Keep in mind that your mileage may vary according to your blender. I now have a fancy-dancy modern Oster blender that my dad gave me for Christmas a couple of years ago (at my request) to replace my ancient, but still usable Oster blender that my dad got me for Christmas twenty years ago  (also at my request). Even though that ancient Oster blender had a cheap plastic blending container, compared to the glass one I have now, I swear it ground flour much finer and faster than the modern one does. I used both blenders to grind whole wheat, and the ancient one wins, hands down. I mean, the modern one does an okey-dokey job and it’s good enuf for what I need it for, but the other one just ground flour much finer and in far less time, at least as I remember, but my memory is faulty, so who the heck knows? I do still have that ancient blender – I was gonna use it to make things like hypertufa containers and papercrete, but I may have to dig it up to use it for flour!  ‘Course, I recently received my Wondermill Junior hand-operated flour mill that I ordered from USA Emergency (check them out, they’ve got great stuff, decent prices, and very, very helpful customer service), but I’ve been too lazy to try it out.

Anywho, back to the old recipe. After ya grind yer flour, put it all in a mixing bowl and add the baking powder, tapioca flour, salt and stevia. You can also use honey (raw is best, if you can get it ). I previously said you can use agave, which I thought was  a honey-like healthful sweetener made from agave plants. Supposedly it’s suppose to not spike yer blood sugar levels like sugar does, but now it’s thought to be no better than high fructose corn syrup – yikes! See Donna’s comment below for the link to Dr. Mercola’s info on agave.  Or what the heck, use sugar if you like, I ain’t the health police! But you’ll probably need to use at least 1-2 tablespoons of honey or sugar to give the bread a little sweetness. If you don’t like a little sweetness to yer bread, then leave it out!

In any case, mix all yer dry ingredients real good before you add the milk. And if you use honey, mix it when you mix in yer milk, since it’s all syrupy and stuff. BTW,  if you use stevia, the best stevia powder in the whole world is NuNatural’s NuStevia Pure White Stevia Extract. It doesn’t take much at all to sweeten stuff. Other kinds of stevia do the trick, but it takes more to sweeten, IMHO. It’s a little more expensive, but you don’t need as much so it lasts a lot longer than other kinds of stevia powder.

Now comes the slightly tricky part: as I said earlier, chia, whether left as a seed or used as a flour, when introduced to liquid, has a tendency to absorb water quickly and gel up. This is just to say that ya gotta be careful when ya start to pour in the milk, cuz yer gonna need to mix it just as quick as you can before the dough gets too sticky to move.

Mix the milk in quick and when it starts to become a sticky blob, toss it in yer buttered and brown-rice floured bread pan. You may have to stretch it a little to fit the pan. The interesting thing I found, though, is using the chia flour makes the dough of this quick bread much the consistency of yeasted, whole wheat bread dough, and I swear even the dough kinda tastes like whole wheat bread dough!

Now ya put it in yer preheated 350 degree oven and let it bake for 40-50 minutes. Then ya got ya some great wheat-free bread! I myself think that it does taste like a whole wheat quick bread, especially with the sweet stuff in it (whether you use stevia, sugar, honey). However, if yer lookin’ for a wheat-free sandwich substitute, this probably ain’t it. It is rather dense, like a quick bread, and it doesn’t really rise like wheat bread does. But I have put peanut butter or tahini on it with some stevia-sweetened jam, and kinda do an open-faced PBJ (or TBJ if I use tahini).

In any case, if yer in the mood for adventure, give this recipe a whirl and see if ya like it. Lemme know if ya try it and what ya think of it!

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This morning, whilst beginning my day at ye olde soul-sucking job, I was, of course, cruising the Internet instead of working (“Bad Zippy, Bad Girl!”). Salon.com happens to be one of the sites I visit throughout the day, even though I often get annoyed by much of Salon’s whiny intellectuals skeptical over any damn thing that can’t be easily grasped by the five senses and overly earnest liberal do-gooders who would as soon flagellate themselves as to throw away a single plastic bag. See, once in my young life I tried to be a whiny intellectual but decided I’d have more fun being a dang fool enjoying the heck out of life. I’m even known to talk to the Big Dude/Dudette in the Sky a lot, too, though I’ve come to have little use for religion. I’ve also in my young life been a liberal do-gooder flagellating myself, but that’s no fun either, and, well, life is short.

Unfortunately, my verbage isn’t, so let me wind up my wind-baggedness and wind my way around to my points. However, before you castigate me as some Texas redneck sitting on the banks of the Colorado scratching my fat arse, lemme tell ya, I do engage in critical thinking from time to time, I do recycle, I love animals and don’t eat em (well except for a fishy or two now and then), I try to do good to my fellow sentient beings (and often fail at the task), and I pretty much vote Democrat, so there. It’s just that Salon gets a little too carried away with itself, and sometimes the writers and the readers get either pretty dang mean-spirited or self-flagellating, more so in the last several years. Sometimes I just have to quit reading it for a while, but I usually come back, at least to scan the blurbs on the home page, read Keef and his K Chronicles (I love that dude), check on Carol Lay’s wacky alternate universe, read the beloved Opus and occasionally see if Cary Tennis’ advice is poetically spot-on or just wordy and has no point. Oh ya, and I read Stephanie Z’s movie critiques, cuz usually she is right on in her reviews.

Anywho, so I’m reading Salon, and find that they have instituted a nifty little feature series called Pinched: Tales From An Economic Downturn and today’s article is on growing yer own recession garden. You can read it right here. It’s a great article, about how the author decided to quit giving Whole Paycheck so much of his paycheck and started a garden to save money, and discovered its many faceted joys, other than saving money. I loved it.

Then I started reading the reader comments. Ugh, the whiny intellectuals started on their negative rants early this a.m.!  (Cue whiny, intellectual nasily voice): It’s too expensive, it’s too much work, you don’t really save any money, you people who are gardening are idiots fer trying and yer idiocy is polluting the gene pool yada yada yada ad nauseum.

Well, ya bet yer pal Ms. Zippy got in on the action! I don’t often post to forums, but gardening and self-sufficient living has become such a passion for me that I just had to put in my two cents and let peeps know that not only is it not that expensive, it’s also not that difficult, especially if you try some of the less conventional techniques such as SFG, lasagna gardening, Mittleider gardening and even cheap hydroponics! That, and start out with some stuff that’s easy to grow, and save seeds from produce and bulk beans and grains ya buy at Wholieristic Than Thou Foods or yer local organic food source.

I don’t want to reiterate the whole post in this here blog, but in future blog posts I want to expand on the things I said in the Salon post. (If ya wanna read in its entire, click here).

One of the main purposes of this blog (besides letting me ramble relentlessly, unfettered, and unhinged) is to show you, dear reader, that it is possible to do things to live more self-sufficiently, such as gardening, and it is possible to do it at a fairly low cost and fairly easily.

That’s not to say it isn’t a challenge at times (wait til my heart-breaking post coming up on the resurgence of the evil terrorist squash vine borer in my beloved butternut squash), but it is rewarding. To enjoy one’s own basil in one’s own homemade pesto is sublime, to eat one’s beautiful, easy-to-grow and prolific Malabar spinach, stir-fried in olive oil with onions is divine. And the fun I’ve had watching my green babies pop their little heads out of the soil and grow with a vengeance, and encountering various critters such as geckos crawling over the Malabar and eating bugs, and frogs making little dens in my potted plants, is worth any effort I’ve put into these endeavors. I’ve just gone nuts over gardening, I can’t hep it!

And while I’m certainly no expert, you get to tag along with me on this blog and see how I conduct this experiment in self-sufficient living, learn from my mistakes and get the advantage of some of the research I have done. Of course, you’ve already witnessed some of my experiments and challenges, but I will continue to do more experiments, do more research, and post on all of that so that you can learn too, maybe avoid some of my mistakes and find an easier path to self-sufficient living.

Stay tuned for future posts – coming up soon: yes, we’re gonna get to the promised posting on the fall greens I’ve started – mustard, kale, bok choy and spinach, and they’re already taking off (dadgum good thing my fave veggies are greens)! We’ll also have the heart-rendering, tearjerker post on the evil squash vine borer, of course. And yes, I have completed my experiment on chia-brown rice bread and have come up with a yummy, wheat-free recipe that tastes (to me anyway) like whole wheat bread, and is great for a gluten-free or wheat-free diet.

So tune in, don’t drop out and keep those comments and emails coming – I love to hear from ya!

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