Garden Report 2018

We’ve been growing plants and herbs at the house for a few years now (but not as many as I wish we had in retrospect). But, as far as I could find with a cursory search, I’d never done an end of summer summary of how the growing season went for us. I know there are still somewhere between a few weeks and a couple months before first frost, but I don’t expect anything to radically change between now and then.

This year we planted the following plants:

  • 3 x sweet basil (from a hardware store)
  • 3 x tomatoes (from a hardware store)
  • 2 x thai basil (from a hardware store)
  • 1 x thai basil (mother-in-law planted from some I bought at a grocery store)
  • 1 x rosemary (from a hardware store)
  • 1 x thyme (from a hardware store)
  • 1 x chili (from father-in-law)
  • 1 x mint (from in-laws)

The ones I planted were done around the beginning f the planting season – around when they started being sold at a hardware store (I honestly can’t remember if this year it was Home Depot or Lowes). The ones from my in-laws were around mid-July. We also had mint in the front yard (planted last year) and some fig trees and a persimmon tree that have been with us for around 5-6 years at this point.

So, how did it go this year? Let’s start with the failures and move our way up.

The biggest failure: the front yard mint. Once upon a time it grew so prodigiously that a groundhog thought it made a great place to hide. I was giving away mint at work so it wouldn’t go to waste. Then we had two things back to back from which it has never recovered: a power-washing of our house’s walls with some kind of “organic” soap and the need to dig up the area around it to put some rocks near the porch to stymie future groundhogs. Since then we get maybe one stalk. There are two possibilities – one is that the front yard tree has grown so large that not enough sunlight reaches the area and the other is that I need to put more nutrients into the soil. Or a combination? Or neither? I haven’t really nerded out about horticulture like I have with cooking, computers, and photography. This year I think we got 3 leaves. Pathetic.

One of the tomato plants
One of the tomato plants

Next up were the tomatoes. Every time I talk to anyone else who grows tomatoes they always say they get more tomatoes than they know what to do. Never the case with me. Despite watering the plants twice a day, after their first time flowering, they tend to falter. Right now they barely have any leaves doing well. Over the three plants I harvested MAYBE 12 tomatoes.

 

Sweet Basil
Sweet Basil

About somewhere in the middle is the sweet basil. Being able to go out to the garden to grab it whenever we wanted to make a red sauce or salad was the impetus to start our garden in the first place. Just like the tomatoes, it seems to need lots of water. (Although when we had a straight week of rain, that seemed to be way too much water and the plants seemed to respond badly to that as well) Unlike the tomatoes we’ve had a fairly decent harvest. We never seem to get the enormous basil bushes or two-foot tall plants I always read about, but we seem to mostly have about as much basil as we need at any one time. I might prefer four plants next year and just get creative if things get a little too bountiful. Overall, this is our first successful set of plants on this list.

thyme
thyme

Then we have a tie between thyme and rosemary. With barely any maintenance they’ve both grown beyond my expectations. It may help that recipes for free rosemary and thyme are relatively rare. But I do like how much I get out of it without very much work at all. I may make use of it along with some of the mint for some lamb before the summer grilling season ends. (Not that the end of the season really stops me) I’d like to get one rosemary and one or two thyme plants next year. Fresh thyme just tastes so much better than dried.

rosemary
rosemary

 

mint
mint

Another tie between the backyard mint and chilis. For having been planted so late in the year, both are giving good yields. And, I’ve already harvested some mint before when I had some summer rolls. Will definitely go for a pot or two of mint next year. As for the chilis – my chili needs tend to be very small. A couple poblanos here and there. May a habanero for a recipe. It doesn’t make sense for me to grow any. But if my father-in-law wants to “sublet” some growing space again next year it’s no big deal.

chilis
chilis

 

The winner of the backyard plants is also the one I’m growing for the first time this year: thai basil. Much less fussy about water than basil and the leaves don’t get too much smaller if you let the flowers grow. It has grown so much, that my mother-in-law split some off from one of the plants and replanted it. I wanted to have some on hand because every once in a while we just up and decide to make some phở or other dish and to get thai basil we have to do a 30 minute round trip to the asian market. So I just wanted to have some outside. It’s been more than worth the time and money.

thai basil
thai basil

As for the trees, the fig trees seemed poised to produce a lot this this year, but then we had a freak dip in temperature early in the summer that seemed to kill off a lot of the flowers. It’s been a relatively low yield year for the figs. By contrast, the persimmon tree is producing so many that some are falling to the ground to decay.

 

So, for next year I’d like to do:

  • 1 x tomato – the wife wants to see if we can figure out yield issues
  • 4 x sweet basil
  • 1-2 x thyme
  • 1 x rosemary
  • 2-3 x mint
  • 2 x thai basil

 

I’d also like to do some research and see if I can figure out why the mint isn’t growing in the front garden. Also, and this is quite possibly not going to happen this year, I’d like to toy around with building a gadget to measure soil moisture and see if that can help with the more finicky plants.

The Kids at the Park

Three kids; Three Moods
Three kids; Three Moods

Funny thing about this is that I could say this reflects their moods, but really only Stella is being genuinely Stella. Usually you can’t catch Sam without a smile on his face (although he *is* going through the whiny 2 year old phase), and Scarlett’s the most neutral.

My CHILDHOOD!

I think it’s hilarious that they way they’re capitalizing on my nostalgia for computer games is by turning them into card games.

New Food I Cooked in June 2018

Just a small image gallery of food I tried cooking for the first time in June.

Thunderbird Chicken Scratch

Last time I was in Florida my mom took me to a specialty BBQ store, Just Grillin, off of Dale Mabry in Carrollwood. I didn’t know such places existed. I thought everyone just bought their grills at a hardware store, Amazon, or direct from the company. It was a pretty great to be able to see and touch Yoders, Weber Summits, and other high-end BBQs. They also came by with some chicken they’d cooked in the back using a variety of rubs they sell. Oh yeah, the entire wall behind the register was full to the brim with rubs and sauces – most (if not all) of them local or competition group rubs. Any rub you wanted to try would be poured into a tasting cup. Sure, it’s not the same as having the rub on some food, but it’s certainly better than the blind buying we have to do with supermarket rubs. As a gift, mom said she’d get me any rub I wanted to try, so I picked up Thunderbird Chicken Scratch. Then a bunch of travel meant I had to keep waiting impatiently until I could finally try it. Last night I finally got my chance.

I asked the wife to get me some boneless, skinless thighs and legs from Costco. Boneless for faster cooking and skinless because no one in the house but me eats the skin. I checked the rub ingredients and it already had salt, so I would dry brine the thighs and legs with the rub. A couple hours before I was planning to grill, I patted the parts dry and I placed them onto a baking sheet. There I generously seasoned them – as in put rub over the entire surface by shaking it over the food. I wasn’t looking for pork shoulder-level coverage, but I wanted to make sure every bite had rub on it. Then I put the chicken into the fridge uncovered. I had been planning to cook them on the gas grill for a faster start, but the rub’s label stated it was developed to be eaten with smoked meat, specifically pecan. So half an hour before I wanted to start cooking, I fired up the kettle and placed a couple small chunks of pecan on the coals. I wanted a medium heat, so I spread a chimney evenly over the grill, leaving only a small area for flare control, even though I wasn’t expecting it to be an issue.

Pecan wood in the charcoal
Pecan wood in the charcoal

I grabbed the chicken from the fridge and used a silicone brush to paint some canola oil onto both sides of the chicken. Five minutes later, the grates were hot and I was ready to go. After throwing the chicken on, I left the bottom vents completely open and closed the top vent halfway. This measured 350ish on the dome thermometer which I know is inaccurate, but I note for consistency. I don’t usually bother with accurate measurements when I’m grilling chicken, only when I’m cooking indirectly. After 7.5 minutes, I flipped the chicken – it was looking quite beautiful.

Chicken on the grill
Chicken on the grill

After closing the lid again, I noticed the temp had dropped to 300 (one of the pitfalls of closing the lid with the coals spread everywhere is that it reduces flow from the bottom vent). So I reopened the top vent and it bounced back to 350 and stayed there. After another 7.5 minutes the chicken was at 165 or more on all but 2 pieces. So I left those on the grill with the lid open while I went to the kitchen to get a loaf of bread to throw on the grill. By the time I came back, the chicken was measuring a safe temp and so it joined its brethren in the cassarole dish loosely tented while I raked the coals to one side to create a smokey “oven” for the bread. Ten minutes later food was ready.

The chicken had a nice, seasoned taste with a little bit of a kick. I’m in love with with spicy – I eat Indian spicy, Korean spicy, and only Honolulu Thai spicy was a bit much for me. The inredients list has three types of hot peppers, but they’re in a ratio that provides a heat that doesn’t linger. It says, “hey there, tongue!” and then is gone in the next bite of salad or bread. The chicken was incredibly juicy (I wasn’t sure how it would be – I usually brine in a soy sauce concoction that my wife has adapted with various herbs to suit fajitas, lamb, chicken, and ribs) and I loved sopping up the chicken juices and bits of rub from my plate. I’m not sure how easy it is to get this rub outside of this store in central Florida, but I highly recommend it if you’re bored of your usual chicken taste. (Also endorsed by: my wife, my mother-in-law, and the guy at work that I talk to BBQ about and had a bite of the chicken)

Chicken is Done
Chicken is Done

Another piece falls into place for Docker

Yesterday I was at a conference dedicated to DevOps and so Red Hat and Google were there to talk about containers, especially Docker and Kubernetes. While summarizing it to some of my employees today, I was asked about what I see as the benefits of Docker containers relative to Virtual Machines. I mentioned that one of the great things is that Docker containers are immutable. All of your data’s actually written to a folder that’s essentially mounted in the container.

Then today while I was walking through the neighborhood with Stella I was thinking about that and suddenly into my head popped a reddit discussion I had with someone on /r/Datahoarders. This person had a bunch of computer OS backups with his data intermingled. I mentioned he was doing things wrong – he should have his data on a data drive or in a NAS, separate from the OS so that he doesn’t need OS backups, only backups of settings and his personal files. On my Linux computer I do this by having a separate home drive. On my Windows computer I’ve mapped “My Documents” to a separate drive.

And the lightbulb went off. Right now with my VMs, I’m backing up an entire VM, taking up gigabytes of space and taking lots of time to back up. Instead, with Docker containers I could merely worry about backing up the data store. The containers themselves don’t matter because I can always just grab them again off the repos.

So it looks like it’s time for me to learn OpenShift (since I’m all-in for Red Hat, I may as well learn their distro of Kubernetes) so I can better orchestrate all of this now that I’m moving from just a couple containers. Plus it’ll be fun to learn!