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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the first time in a few years, my mom was going to be in town for Mother’s Day. We didn’t have a ton of events to attend or anything, so I asked her what she would like for dinner if she could have anything. She said she wanted prime rib, so I figured it was the perfect time for me to try out a prime rib roast on one of my BBQs. Meathead has lots of tips for eliminating most of the hassle of making a prime rib roast. First of all, remove the ribs – they only serve to block heat and keep the roast from cooking evenly. Second, use twine to make it into a cylinder so it cooks evenly from the outside to the inside.
I also decided to make some gravy to drizzle over it. Here’s what the stock looked like:
So I fired up the Weber Kettle to 225 F and threw on the meat.
Meathead said it would take about a half an hour per inch and this 4 inch diameter roast took about 2 hours to get to the right temperature on the inside. Now it was time to sear the outside.
And there she is, all cooked up:
and another shot with the gravy:
Here’s the first piece cut off (money shot):
And this was dinner:
One more shot of the inside a few slices in:
So, in the end, the flavor was great. The crust had a nice kick to it as did the gravy. Will I make it again? Probably not unless my mom’s back in town. My wife is all about the steak. This is too much meat without a sear for her. I thought it was better than I’d had at The Prime Rib in Baltimore, but I’m not going to make a whole roast just for myself. Still, it was a fun experience and something I was able to cross off my list.
We were debating what to eat. There are a lot of dishes we like, but it’s easy to forget all of them when you’re constantly thinking of the half dozen foods your toddlers eat and the dozen or so foods your preschooler eats. Lamb was on sale at Costco, so I told the wife we should have lamb and I would cook it outside and we’d have gyros. Well, modified gyros because we used naan for the bread instead of pita. The image above is Danielle’s wet brine for the meat. Based on the size of the chunks Danielle chopped up, I decided to do a reverse sear.
In the middle of the charcoal there is a chunk of hickory. I wanted to just give the lamb a little something extra as an experiment. I didn’t try to make it 225 or 325 or anything special. I just threw a bunch a probes in the chunks and waited for it to get to about 120 F. Then I put it on direct heat until it got to about 135ish.
The wife put together a tzatziki sauce sauce and we created our delicious gyros:
My boss, who happens to be Greek (and not from generations ago) said it was among the best lamb she’d ever eaten. She loved the hickory flavor as it was different than the usual way she’d eaten it before. I shared the marinade recipe with my grill/BBQ buddy at work. He said it was great and his entire family loved it.
I’ve been perfecting my diner style hamburgers (aka quarterpounders) thanks to the tips from Amazingribs.com. But there’s a guy at work I talk to about grilling, BBQ, and smoking. He was telling me about his bacon cheeseburgers. I thought about how I tend not to like bacon cheeseburgers in restaurants. Usually either the bacon or the cheese is substandard and I end up just preferring a hamburger. But then I thought about one key thing – when I make the burgers I decide all the ingredients.
My wife likes Kraft singles for her cheese, but I prefer melting some grated cheddar cheese. If I was going to be making dinner, I didn’t want to make more work for myself or the wife by cooking the bacon indoors. So I put those on the cast iron skillet first:
I use good quality bacon and I can cook it to my desired crunchiness level. It’s bummer I can only fit 2 burger patties at a time if I’m making diner burgers.
Then toast the bread and add the condiments:
One thing Meathead suggested that has made eating hamburgers easier for me to eat is to have the condiments on bottom with the thumbs and all the rest up with your eight fingers. It makes it a lot less slippery to keep everything in. It also allows the meat juice to mix with the condiments.
For a long time we’d been avoiding New York Strip Steak. I’d tried to grill some a long time ago and it just couldn’t hold a candle to a Ribeye. But recently my father-in-law bought a bunch and gave us some so I gave it another shot. I took all I’d learned in the past year or so from Meathead and used my thermometer to get a prefer medium steak. Here’s where I ended up:
With only direct grilling, I got a perfect end-to-end pink and a great bit of taste from the Maillard Reaction. I also decided to experiment with some apples on the grill after reading about others doing so on reddit.
While I am not a huge apple person, I did think it had a nice taste – similar to an apple pie. I simply grilled and then sprinkled sugar. The recipe I was following was something like 3 minutes per side and I think I ended up doing about 2 minutes per side to prevent it from burning or overcooking.
Ever since I bought my house and got a BBQ/grill I’ve learned that most of what I thought of as BBQ growing up was actually grilling. The key difference is that you BBQ at a lower temperature (typically around 225 F) and that BBQ is cooked via indirect heat. Grilling is cooking directly over a fire and, typically, done at the highest heat your BBQ/grill can provide (at the very least starting around 350 F and higher). Although I’ve been cooking ribs successfully on the BBQ/Grill for the past 6ish years, I’ve never really been BBQing them. So I looked around on the web and I found the recipe for Last Meal Ribs.
I thought about the best ribs I’ve ever eaten and one of the aspects that adds a lot of the taste is smoking. So I bought some hickory wood chips. I’d usually done Danielle’s family ribs marinade, but this time I wanted to make it American Style. So I put together Meathead’s Dust rub to dry rub the ribs before I put them on the BBQ.
When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone
One thing that was essential for BBQing that’s not really needed for grilling – a thermometer. BBQ built-in thermometers are just not accurate. Also, they’re measuring temperature up where the lid is, not by the meat. I couldn’t get a photo (with my phone) where both thermometer were in focus, but this one shows the BBQ in focus and the numbers on the external thermometer are large enough to read, even if it’s out of focus.
Another reason you need the thermometer (even if you’re BBQing on a gas grill) is that weather and humidity affect the heat. For example, when I took these photos, this was the setting to maintain 225 F:
Only one of the burners on this setting with the others off. But when I BBQed yesterday, I had to turn the knob to the bottom setting.
So, having now done this twice, what are my lessons learned?
- I need a bigger BBQ if I’m going to feed more than just my immediate family. I can only make about 2 racks of babyback ribs on my BBQ.
- I need to work on getting the wood chips to smoulder/smoke better. I’ve gotten some flavor out of them, but not exactly what I’m looking for. Next time I’ll have to remove the grate and put it right on the fire to see if I can get a better amount of smoke.
- I always preheat the grill first – all high at 15 minutes. That’s supposed to help get the grates into a good state and help some of the fat or anything that remained on the grill melt off. I always wash them before use, but I can’t get everything off without risking ripping off some of the anti-rust coating of the grill.
Overall, I like the texture of the ribs better when I cook it this way. It tastes good when I cook it the old way where I was finishing in an hour, but it’s a bit tougher. When I BBQ this new way, it ends up being just juicy enough without falling off the bone (which is overcooked and probably pre-boiled). Next up for me is to try a Brisket. I’m slightly intimidated by the 10ish hours of cooking time, but I’d definitely like to try it.
On 30 April of this year I came across an article on Eater about how restaurants can deal with No-Shows. I didn’t even know this was a big enough thing that restaurants have multiple strategies to deal with it. Every time I’ve made a reservation to a restaurant, I’ve gone. I set reservations because I (or I and my wife and whoever else is involved) have decided to go out to eat and want to be sure we’ll not have to wait too long to be seated. Or, in the of exclusive restaurants, ensure we’ll actually get a table. I could understand people not showing up because of a life event – someone gets sick or dies. But I don’t understand the mindset of making a reservation without an intention to attend. Additionally, the biggest reason I make reservations is, as stated above, to ensure I get a table in a reasonable amount of time. Nearly every place I’ve ever made reservations at has a line out the door and even with a reservation I sometimes have to wait 15-30 minutes for my table. That said, they wouldn’t write this whole article if there weren’t a bunch of people skipping out on reservations so I wanted to answer their suggestions.
The first one is to not take reservations. You know what this gets you? It means I don’t go to your restaurant. I value my time and I appreciate restaurants that value my time. The lobby area is usually not amenable to socializing or eating. So if I’m out with friends I want to get to our table so we can talk and have fun. If I’m with my family, I want to eat and GTFO so I can get back to having fun. And the larger my party is, the more I NEED a restaurant that takes reservations because we require more empty tables to make up our eating area. So on the times that would have been most lucrative for the restaurant – parties of 10-15 people – I avoided them due to a lack of reservations. And the workers REALLY missed out because usually if it’s that many of us, it’s my in-laws. And they usually insist on paying. And they tend to tip 20-25%. (They really value good service)
Overbooking is somewhat dangerous. My wife and I are fiercely loyal. We’re also fiercely shunning. There are restaurants we have completely sworn off because of a bad to horrible experience there. And one of our peeves is not being seated within a reasonable time with reservations. Now, we’re intelligent folks. We understand that managing restaurant flow is an art. You have no idea how long your customers are going to take. My mother, when out with only adults, might be at the table for 2-3 hours. My wife and I have closed two restaurants when eating out with her friends. My father-in-law insists on leaving the second the check is completed. And he’s asking for the check the second he’s done eating. So if I have a reservation for 2000, a busy time, I can tolerate being seated at 2015 or even 2020. But after 2030, I start wondering and commenting aloud on what the purpose of reservations are if I’m not seated at that time. After all, when I go out to eat I like to enjoy my food, so I often make sure not to eat any snacks. I want my stomach ready to receive as much food from your restaurant as possible. So I’m usually hungry as I stand there.
Requiring credit cards is OK. As I said, I always make my reservations with the intention of fulfilling them. But you better have a rational way for me to cancel without penalty. If I get the flu a few days ahead and call you, I better be able to get all my money back. And, ideally, you’d combine this with the next suggestion of tracking cancelers. Because I believe everyone should get one freebie. If I get sick on that day or get in a car crash or my mom dies or something and you charge me for not showing up like some kind of jerk – you can be your food I will never show up at your restaurant again. And I may be a lowly blogger, but for something like that, I’d do my best to make sure it gets out there – because that’s a jerk move. And by tracking, you’d be able to know that it’s not like I’m on my third mother dying, if you catch my drift.
The pre-paid ticket system COULD be weird. I’m not completely against it, unless it ends up becoming something where the tickets are sold on the second-hand market at a premium. Like if one guy can buy most of the tickets and then sell them for more – I don’t care how awesome your food is supposed to be. It could literally be orgasm-inducing and I wouldn’t go. I know damn-well that my wife wouldn’t let me spend more for food than the food actually costs – which is what the ticket system would represent – buying a ticket to a fixed price menu.
Public shaming would only work together with tracking. Again, don’t be a jerk if you don’t know all the details. If I’m already depressed because my mom died, I’m not going to feel a whole lot better because some jerk called me out on twitter or Facebook. That’s the kind of stuff that could lead to the mentally unbalanced taking revenge. Don’t do it. It’s tacky.
Again, I’m not in the restaurant business so maybe this is a HUGE problem. I’ve never seen any evidence of that in any of the restaurants I’ve been to that range from medium class to high class. They always seem to be packed and have tons of people trying to get in. But if you do feel that you need to take these steps – beware. I’m sure I’m not the only person out there you might be shunning from your restaurant. And, really, your goal as a businessman (or woman) is to make as much money as possible so you shouldn’t be turning people away.
Rather than pile up my daily photos whenever I forget to post them, I’ll just post them one at a time and build up a stream of photos. I haven’t been in much a textual blogging mood recently. Perhaps that’ll return eventually.
Whenever I’m in Oahu, I love eating at this ramen joint. If your only experience of ramen is cup o’ noodles, you haven’t had real ramen. Check it out next time you’re in a heavy Japanese neighborhood. This place has good price and service and the food is pretty filling – especially if you get the rice and dumplings.
I’ve recently begun to notice a disturbing trend: anything that’s good for you will cost you more. The most serious infraction comes from the food supply. When I go to buy ground beef, cheapest of the beef products, there are three tiers of product available for me to purchase. The cheapest product is ground beef with the default amount of fat. Since ground beef is already among the scrap left from a cow, this fat content can be pretty high. Since I eat ground beef fairly regularly, about once every two weeks or less, this is unacceptable. So I can choose 95% lean ground beef or 97% lean ground beef. However, these products are more expensive. In other words, economics would tell me to eat the meat that was worse for my body. However, I am a rational human being who is not a slave to any theorems of economics; I choose to buy the expensive 97% lean ground beef. Of course, if I really want to get a leaner beef product, I can go from ground beef (where $5 will feed me many times) to filet mignion (where $16 will feed me twice – max). Not only will it contain more vitamins and less fat, but the tenderness of the meat is also healthier for my digestive system, and, to a trivial degree, my teeth.
Ok, what about other foods? Consistently throughout the market anything that is good for me costs more money. For a week’s worth of tomatoes I usually spend about $15 on a cheap week. By contrast, a week or two’s worth of potatoe chips is $3 when it’s not on sale. Even among fruits, those laden with pesticides and (potentially, though not yet proven) harmfull pesticides are cheaper than the organic, locally grown fuits and veggetables. It IS a proven fact that the closer to the original source of the food you are, the less preservatives in it, meaining the food is more valuable to your system as usable fuel. This is why microwaveable food is crap and really not worth eating because it’s just processed stuff that the body just throws out, while a home cooked meal will result in a healthier body.
Moving to automobiles, what examples of this behavior do we have? It is the higher end vehicles which have more airbags to protect the passengers in the event of an accident. Even beyond that, I recently saw a Lexus commercial touting that the new filters on their cars don’t let pollen or other pollutants into the car. So are we saying that it’s ok for people who can’t afford a Lexus to breathe in pollution while those who have them enjoy healthier lungs?
This is all amounting a a very subtle form of class discrimination. If tomorrow someone was to say that the cure for cancer had been discovered, but only rich people could use it, there would be public outcry. In fact, riots or even revolutions would occur. Why are we allowing the same things to happen in other realms? For example, the current grocery prices force poor people to eat unhealthy foods. If they have to decide between having a place to live or eating healthy, they will certainly select to have a place to live. I am not a communist, I believe that those who have worked hard deserve to have their perks. However, there is a difference between perks and health. I don’t think it’s unfair if a poor person has to watch tv in a smaller tv than a rich person. Tv is an extra. Being healthy is not an extra it is a fundamental right of all humanity. Especially in the United States, the most modernized of all countries in the world, we should not be tolerating this.
Is there an easy solution? Yes there is an easy solution. Currently the government pays farmers subsidies in order for them to purposely plant less crops. Due to supply and demand principles, this artificially inflates the prices of produce. You may be thinking to yourself, “no don’t do that to the poor farmers!” But in reality, ever since the Great Depression of the 1930s, there has been a steady decline in the independent farmer. Currently a VERY large percentage (I think 80% or more, but don’t have solid figures) of farming is done by HUGE companies that own most of the land and pay their workers minimum wage. In fact, there aren’t even too many workers now that most of it is mechanized. With the cars, there are two solutions. 1) mandate that all features relating to health must be included in all cars without significantly raising their price 2) subsidize the cheaper cars (eg ford focus) so that poor people can afford to breathe without Asthma.
Be certain that if I ever make it to Congress, these items will be on my agenda.