Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Not All Pests Are Animals or Insects...

Well, I want to start off the post with something pretty. The Dragonfruit, which go very quickly from bloom to ripe, are ready. I picked this one and another one this weekend. This particular variety has a deep, dark, hot-pink flesh inside its fruit.

I wish it would produce more. The plants, a cacti, have little thorns that keep the animal pests off so I don't have to worry about the squirrels or deer getting to them. They also are very drought tolerant, which would make them ideal if they produced more fruit.

Speaking of pests, this morning I saw a lady come down to our back wall and snatch a large cluster of flowers from our plumeria tree. As you can see above, it grows a bit over our back wall. There's a public jogging trail on the other side.

I guess, I don't mind them taking whatever grows over to the other side, I just hope they don't harm the plants or think they can reach over the wall and take whatever they want. 

How do you feel about parts of your plants that grow beyond your property?  Is is open season on whatever grows there?

In other parts of the garden, you might have heard that California is in the worst drought of our history. The state has announced fines of up to $500 per day for visible water wasting. That's in addition to a conservation rate of 20%...we must cut back 20% on our water use.

I wonder about that last one. I've been trying to cut back for years. In fact, I qualified for a lower sewer service rate because we cut back 20% years ago. Do I now need to cut back another 20%?  What about those around me who haven't cut back at all.  Do they get to waste more water than me?

I tell you, the more I think about it the deeper the confusion is. 

Here's our lawn, which I have on a timer. You can tell it's suffering from lack of water, I'm just trying to keep it alive enough to come back when the rains do. It gets 10 minutes of water very, very early in the morning so that all the water is soaked in before the sun comes up. 

This is typical of what the lawns in our neighborhood look like right now.

A couple of people have stopped watering altogether but that brings up a lot of dust. What to do?  I think I might swing by the city hall someday and see what they will allow me to grow there instead of grass but that also might cost quite a bit.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 28, 2014

CLASSIC TRIP - Monterey, California

Interstate 5 is generally acknowledged to be the quickest route from the southern half of California to the northern half. It’s a no-nonsense, straight arrow, 70 mile-per-hour stretch of freeway through the Central Valley. It’s also one of the more boring drives in the state.

I much prefer highway 99 through the valley or the 101 along the coast where scenery and small towns at least pique your interest now and again. But today, we’re trying to minimize our driving time so it’s up the 5 we go until we get to the pass over to Hollister and then along a busy country road to the coast. Our final destination is Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey and our time to get there is 6 hours, including a gas stop and a Burger King stop in Kettleman City.

Home for the next two nights would be the Doubletree Hotel (now the Portola Hotel - Ed) adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf in downtown Monterey. This would cost us the advertised $89 per night, plus tax and parking...not a bad deal for the location.

It does take some effort to find the driveway to the hotel. The highway dips into a tunnel under it and then offers no place for a U-turn for a mile. Once we double back, the one-way streets that make up the downtown area keep us circling the block until we can arrive at the proper place to turn in. Since the valet only costs an extra two dollars a day, we opt to pull up to the door and let someone else worry about the parking.

I ask, but no accessible rooms are available when we arrive...I was also told this when I made the reservation, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. What we did get was a beautifully decorated room with two double beds, a view of the courtyard, with plenty of room for the chair but none of the usual accessible features such as grab bars. Since it was roomy, we compensated fine. Also, at check in we receive those delicious Doubletree chocolate chip cookies.

The next morning we head over to Cannery Row and have breakfast at the Culinary Center of Monterey, a combination cooking school, kitchen gourmet store, and restaurant. Their all-you-can-eat gourmet breakfast buffet is $12.95 per person with kids paying one dollar per year of their age. The restaurant is on the second floor but the main entrance (in back) is nicely ramped.

The tables here have a spectacular, if drafty, view of the bay and the food is very delicious. A very subtle chorizo and egg dish (the chef has a secret source in Salinas for the sausage), salmon crepes, cornbread french toast, and a fresh-fruit parfait are just a few of the delectable offerings today. We load up on this great food and head out for our day with tummies full.

It’s a forty minute drive north to the beaches of Santa Cruz. The last classic boardwalk amusement park sits on the sand here (Pacific Park in Santa Monica is a new version of these old beachfront parks but doesn’t count as a classic...yet). Admission is free and crowds of people are taking advantage of it this morning.

Santa Cruz Boardwalk and the Giant Dipper
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Larry Pieniazek under CC-BY-SA license

Our goal today is the 1924 vintage, Arthur Looff built Giant Dipper roller coaster. This classic woody is lovingly maintained and is on many coaster fans top ten lists. It’s also appeared in such diverse movies as The Sting and The Lost Boys.

We buy our tickets and check the access. Wheelchair riders enter through the exit where a button can be pushed to summon a ride operator to let you in. You get your choice of seats...we take the front. As usual, you must bring your own help for transferring out of your chair and into the seat, but the seat was just a bit roomier than most modern coasters and therefore just a bit easier to get into.

On Board the Dipper

Although the ride is exciting, the speed and elements seem quaint and tame compared to today’s monsters but it has one element that’s a doozy. When your train leaves the station, it immediately drops into a pitch-black tunnel featuring two very quick u-turns before coming out into the daylight and engaging the lift chain. No other coaster I’ve yet been on gives you such a quick scare and thrill before even starting up the lift.

The rest of the ride is medium fast (top speed 55 mph), with lots of curves integrated into it’s drops. The head-chopper effects are kind of minimal compared to such coasters as Ghostrider, Scandia Screamer, and the Cyclone. It’s a solid minute and a half ride, with one really all-star element...that tunnel drop out of the station.

Afterward, we munch on a mundane order of garlic fries. Not nearly as good as the garlic fries we got at the Date Festival in Indio or at Cajun Way restaurant in Monrovia, but better than nothing.

That’s it for us and the Boardwalk. Classic amusement park ride fans may also want to check out the circa 1911 Looff Carousel here too where you can still grab for the brass ring and get a free ride.

Next, we head over the hills, inland to the little town of San Juan Bautista.

For California history, you need to start with two things. The Gold Rush had a huge impact on the state (see our gold country and Yosemite reports for more), but before that, the Spanish set up a string of missions that every good Californian must visit at some time or another. Missions are special places for us and our family has visited several of them. Heck, my wife and I even got married in one.

The missions were churches, of course, but since the church and state were pretty cozy in those days, they were also forts with garrisons of Spanish soldiers stationed at each one. Each mission was built one day’s horse ride apart from each other in a string up the coastal side of the state. This mission road is El Camino Real. The padres were there to convert the heathens while the soldiers kept the peace and protected Spain’s interests in California.

History lesson over.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Robert A. Estremo under CC-BY-SA license

Here in San Juan Bautista, the mission still sits in a nice, rural setting across the lawn from the old stage coach stop, the livery, and of course the hotel. The hotel even boasts of such modern conveniences as a two story outhouse (what’s it like to be in the bottom one?).

The mission...still an active parish...is a beauty with wide aisles, an ornate altar, and a lovely garden. We wandered around the grounds and found some barn owls living in a palm tree and a young chicken attached itself to me and followed me around like a puppy until one of the nuns spotted us and put the bird away.  Apparently, it had escaped its coop and she wanted to put it back before it became a meal for the local wildlife.

One thing that always gets me when I visit these old missions is the Indian graveyards inside. Usually, a small plot of land will contain the remains of thousands of Native Americans. Here in San Juan Bautista, a plot about a hundred feet long by about fifty feet wide contains approximately 4,300 natives in the soil. It’s kind of a testament to the devastation wrought among the indigenous population via the European explorers and settlers.

Afterward, we have some ice cream over on the town’s main street while many Harley riders loudly start their machines as they leave town. On a side note, why do so many Harley riders take the mufflers off of their bikes? Why is it that they have to impose such a noisy thing upon everybody else? What is so cool about being so loud? Really, I want to know...if there is no reason, please do us all a favor and be quiet!
Back to Monterey...

Attached to the Doubletree Portola is Peter B’s, a brewpub and bar. It was four o’clock and the daily happy hour was starting. Peter B’s has a modern decor with a nice fireplace, a pool table, and many TV’s for the sports fan. We got a cozy table next to the fireplace and ordered some drinks.

The happy hour prices are just a nick lower than the regular prices. A 22 ounce beer was $4.50 compared to $5 regularly, so a screaming bargain this wasn’t. However, the popcorn was good and free and we could charge it to our room so we knocked back a few before dinner. For you whiskey drinkers, they specialize in the stuff along with the very good handcrafted brew.

It’s a very short walk to Fisherman’s Wharf from the hotel. In fact, you don’t have to even cross a street as the hotel sits on a viaduct connecting to the wharf while the highway goes under in a tunnel.

There are several restaurants here and all were gladly giving samples of their food. My wife chose tonight’s place, Rappa’s Seafood, I think mainly because it sat on the end of the wharf offering spectacular views.

Murphy’s rule on restaurants with a view: The better the view, the worse the food. In this case the seafood, at least, was very good with my wife ordering a seafood sampler with many kinds of ocean denizens on her plate. So Rappa’s breaks this rule

Murphy’s rule on seafood restaurants: Other than seafood, everything else will be less than par.

Unfortunately, Rappa’s keeps this rule with a New York steak that needed a healthy dose of A-1 to have any taste at all...a good steak should need nothing else to prop up its flavor. My son’s burger was also a bit less than overwhelming.

After our dinner, we come out to a wharf filled with fire trucks. It appears that the giant trash compactor that serves the wharf has a slow-burning fire deep within. I talk to one of Monterey’s firemen who tells me they will try to get it out but it’s looking doubtful. He’s not looking forward to what comes next: hauling the whole compactor off of the pier and dumping its foul-smelling contents in the parking lot to find the blaze.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the truck, the battalion chief has arrived and is handing out stickers to all the kids wandering by in a bit of impromptu PR.

We walk around the wharf a bit after dinner, checking out the sea lions on the buoys and rocks, a family of otters floating on their backs, and the usual tacky souvenirs on sale at the wharf’s general store.

All those tacky souvenirs makes my head spin!

We contemplate visiting the hotel’s pool and spa but nix that idea when we find it’s in a separate building and we’d have to do quite a bit of walking in the chilly outdoors in our swimsuits to get there. Instead, we visit a jewelry shop where my wife purchases some earrings as a souvenir.

The next morning, we head across the street to the Marriott to have breakfast in their cafe. Due to a quirk in the layout of the land, the Marriott’s coffee shop is actually closer to our room than the Doubletree’s Portola's. After a very nice last meal, we pack it back up and head home down the very scenic highway 101.

Funny, it only took us five hours to drive home on the scenic route when the quick route took longer...

Copyright 2003 - Darryl Musick

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An Early Harvest

This will probably be my biggest harvest this summer. 

While the squirrels decimated my zucchini...I will not get so much as one squash this season...at least the tomatoes and grapes pulled through.

The grapes are usually end-of-summer but this hot, drought parched year made them come in early. Very early. But we did get a good crop. The bunches above represent the last of this year's.

The tomatoes are just starting to come into their own. The rodents attacked them early in the season, even uprooted the vines I have now, but I guess tomatoes aren't to their tastes after all because they've pretty much left them alone since then. 

Now the plants are recovering and producing fruit.

Luckily, the dragon fruit grow on spiny cactus stocks, so we can count on a few fruit from time to time from that.

It won't be long til we're picking Meyer lemons too.

Copyright 2014 -Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hundreds of Free Videos!

That's right, we can now officially add the "s" to make it plural. Our Blue Agave Cocktail Hour video was our 200th video added to our video page.

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Watch the Video - Southern California's Top 3 Margaritas!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Battling Back for a Harvest

So far, my harvests this year have been pitiful. The drought's taking it's toll...not on the plants directly...but driving animals down from the dry, cooked mountains behind our house.

Deer have been using my rose garden as a diner, picking up dinner whenever the flowers are in bloom. Squirrels have invaded, some even trying to burrow under our water heater, and have decimated my zucchini. Although they can't stand the hot chiles, the leaves are to their taste and our pepper harvest is very minimal.

The pest control guy says to just block their access so we try to fill every rodent-sized hole with bricks. Just when I think I'm making progress, I look out and see another squash or pepper plant laid waste.

We have had limited success with our tomatoes, especially the cherry tomatoes I grow in a hanging basket.

The grapes have been my most successful battleground. Years ago, I put up a rodent-deterring cage around the bottom of the vine. That works for the mammals but the birds still have access to the top.

I've tried netting and, while that worked, the fruit was tiny. My wife thinks it constricted the plant too much.

This year I applied holographic tape to scare the birds away. My wife says she still see mockingbirds eating the fruit but even so, some clusters have made it through (I put fruit nets around some of the clusters but not most of them).

The heat and drought have also had another effect. Our grapes usually ripen at the beginning of September. We're harvesting now...the first week of July...and expect to get around 10 pounds.

At least I've had one success this year. Now, if I can just sneak some veggies past the squirrels, I'd be a happy gardener again.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Recipes for a Cheapskate: Stuffed Chiles

Sunday's are barbecue days at the Cheapskate's house. Probably 40 out of the 52 weeks in a year will find me out on the patio grilling some poor, dead creature over flame.  The garden often provides the side dish.

This week, along with some roasted potatoes, it's an extremely simple stuffed chile dish.

These three Anaheim chiles are from our plant. They have somehow made it through the relentless squirrel attacks we've had this year.

Anaheim chiles are very tasty and have just a hint of heat.

After washing, I just score them. The chiles off of this particular plant have hardly any skin on them so I don't bother peeling them.

Not a lot of seeds inside either, so it's just insert a sliver of cream cheese, sprinkle on a shredded jack and cheddar mix, wrap in foil, and cook on indirect heat on the grill along with our main dish.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved