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Posts Tagged ‘garden’

 

Last year at this time, we were watching in shock and horror as our lovingly planted and tended first vegetable garden was eaten away, root by precious root, by a devilish little animal known as the gopher. And by devilish I don’t mean impish or naughty in that mischievous yet still somehow adorable way.

No, no, no.

Gophers are truly the devil (picture rodents with pitchforks) of any backyard garden in our neck of the woods.

Be warned: no raised beds, no hardware cloth, NO veggies! Set traps, get a gun, blast sonic waves. Do something or those subterranean bandits will steal the fruits of your labor and make you cry. Seriously.

But this year is different. Thank goodness. I am very happy to say that as I look up now from the kitchen table and glance out the screen door and across the horse pasture and into the far corner of our field I can still see the tomato plants green as the oak leaves on the hill.

Whew! Breath with me. One big sigh of relief.

Every night we visit the garden to make sure everything’s still standing and in good working order. Mainly, though, we go down there just to delight in the growth spurts of our Sun Golds and Cherokee purples and Odorikos (The Odoriko, a Japanese tomato, has actually grown to E-normous proportions. That is one mother of a tomato plant!)

There is something magical about watching tiny plants shoot up toward the sun, grow new leaves, flower, and produce fruit. So basic and yet so rewarding.

The deep color and smooth, glistening skin of our eggplants:

The sweet, licorice aroma arising from a crushed leaf of Thai basil:

The irony of a delicate cucumber tendril, stronger and more persistent than anything else in the garden:

 

Good stuff, right? And in just a few weeks, it’ll all be ripe, and we’ll be eating ratatouille and pesto and tzaziki and gazpacho and lemon basil sorbet and and and…

Are you getting excited yet?

I am.

Three cheers for gardens! (And one big cheer for hardware cloth!)

 

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There’s nothing like house guests to propel you off the couch and out of the house.

It seems that every time we have visitors, we discover something new in our own backyard. Just when you think you know your neighborhood pretty darn well (especially when your town and all the towns around it are the size of postage stamps), an out-of-towner comes along and opens a previously unopened door and you think, how did I not know about this thing or place or person?

This was certainly the case this past week with my dad out in Drytown from Boston for eight days. We did our fair share of lounging around the house, attempting to keep cool in 100 degree heat, and we revisited some favorite haunts, but we also discovered a few amazing (a-ma-zing) new locations.

Over the year and five months we’ve been living in Amador County, we’ve started to rack up some great restaurants, bakeries, markets, hikes, and other fun local activities that are noteworthy enough to jot down for future days when guests are in town. Until now, though, they’ve been stored away in the cobwebs of my brain. For readers planning to tour the area or for those who just want a glimpse of life in gold country, I’ve decided to add a new feature to the blog, Foothill Finds.

The Foothills are nestled north to south along the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This is where the gold rush took place in the 1850s, and many of the towns here were once booming enough to be considered as potential state capitols (Drytown, which is now just a blip along Highway 49, once had 26 saloons in town!). Today the region is rural and sleepy, but there are plenty of historical points of interest, antique shops, good vineyards, good eats, and gorgeous landscapes to draw tourists to the area.

Foothill Finds will be part travelogue, part travel guide, a section in which I’ll share notes on where we’ve been that’s worth a detour.

So here goes, Foothill Finds, take one.

***

Point of Interest: Imperial Hotel

Location: Amador City, CA

Activity: Drinks in the garden

Just three miles from our front door is the Imperial Hotel in the charming town of Amador City. We pass through there regularly for bread and pastries at our favorite local bakery, Andrae’s, and I go zipping through on my way to work at the Cheese Shoppe in Sutter Creek. But until last week, it had never occured to us to walk through the doors of the handsome 1879 brick facade of the Imperial.

So when Dad suggested we pop over for a drink, after hearing about the hotel all the way back in Boston, we jumped at the chance to investigate a new watering hole.

We drove the back road from Drytown past the Fremont and Bunker Hill mines and then down the hill into quiet Amador City, my favorite “city” in the area. The hotel sits facing the rest of town with a second story balcony that hangs out over the front of the building. The front door leads you straight into the saloon with an attractive barroom maintained in the style of what one would imagine were the glory days of the hotel.

We thought about sitting with the cowboy at the bar, but the room was heavily airconditioned, and I wanted to sit outside, so we walked through the long, exposed brick dining room to the back of the restaurant, where glass paneled doors led to an unexpected find, a European style garden.

Young olive trees, trellised vines, mini cypress in terra cotta planters, a bubbling fountain, and white globe lanterns overhead made us feel like we had stepped out the door into an Italian courtyard. What a heavenly perch for a pre-dinner drink.

Channeling my mother, my first reaction was, What a great spot for a party! And, as it turned out, they were hosting a rehearsal dinner in the garden an hour after we arrived. Had we not had to vacate our table for the incoming party, I could have easily whiled away the evening there. But an hour-long cocktail was plenty to appreciate the tranquility of the place and to add it to the “must return here” list.

Bastien and I ordered cosmopolitans, and Dad ordered a glass of Chandon Blanc de Noirs. And for $9, we split a Mediterranean Plate with house-made hummus, baba ghanoush, pita, greens with olives and roasted tomatoes. The rest of the menu advertises French and Italian influenced American bistro fare. A few highlights from the menu include Liberty Duck Breast ($29), Chicken Marsala ($23), Pumpkin ravioli ($13), and Bistro steak ($24).

The food, unfortunately, was the one disappointment of the evening. Someone in the kitchen clearly has yet to discover salt, and the hummus and baba ghanoush were completely bland. I can’t report on the rest of the food, as we didn’t stay for dinner, but as you can see from the photo below, our enjoyment was unmitigated by the flavorless appetizer.

It won’t be long before we’re headed back for more cosmos in the garden!

 

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Bastien turned 30 on Friday. The big 3-0. It was a low key birthday celebration, no dancing til dawn or next-day hangovers as there surely were 10 years ago. But there was plenty of good food, good wine (a bottle of Perle d’Antan from la Tronque, his family’s vineyard, arrived in the mail), kayaking and sunshine on the menu. And a big cadeau waiting for him–a new camera!

No, no. Not the Polaroid in the picture. That was just for presentation purposes. B’s first DSLR camera. The kind that you jauntily sling over your shoulder because it won’t fit in your pocket or your purse. The kind that makes people look at you twice and think, Now there’s a photographer. The kind that says, Let’s get serious or I mean business.

And, I hope, the kind that will take great pictures for our blog!

As with most high-end gadgets, there can be a steep learning curve at the beginning. But as always, Bastien just dove right in. He had already learned a ton from every photography blog, review, YouTube video, and personal scrap of advice he could get his hands on over the past month (and no matter how hard I tried to throw him off track and maintain the surprise, he was pretty convinced there was a camera coming his way; apparently I’m no good at hiding these things).

Now, with camera in hand, it is just a matter of practice and of trial and error.

Out in the garden, I thought he was taking pictures of our flowering tomato plants…

…but the new camera has a wide angle lens (and a sneaky photographer behind it), and it turns out he also caught me talking to the tomatoes! Grow little ones, grow! And produce lots of sweet, juicy fruit!

Apparently, there is no subject too small or too banal when one is practicing with a new camera.

Later, when I turned around at the dinner table and ooohed and aaahed at the purple and rose sky out the window behind me, B was out the door like a shot, without a second’s hesitation. I remember as a kid, well before the days of digital cameras, when my dad would blow through an entire roll of film on a single sunset. He would try to capture every angle, every color nuance, every pink cloud. We must have boxes of those slides and snapshots and negatives collecting dust up in the attic. But when I see a sunset like this, I get why he was so snap happy. Truly. What great light to experiment with.

Look at those stunning colors. There’re almost unreal.

We couldn’t take the camera kayaking, but there will be plenty of other summer trips and visits to document before long. And the progress of the garden and the guest room/office. And summer recipes. Many more photos coming your way soon!

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post-gopher garden

Sniff. Sniff. Above is the sorry state of our garden, which I explained yesterday has been demolished by some gleeful gophers who wreaked havoc on the lush green of our tomato plants. There are a few tenacious golden cherry tomatoes that are still hanging on for dear life, but as you can see, everything else has shriveled up.

But really, the gophers are just one in a long line of critters that has been plaguing us for the past few weeks. I talked about the ants way back in May. They’re still around despite numerous attempts to flood the nest, repel them with a homemade organic peppermint essential oil and alcohol spray, and block their entry with trails of Borax. We’ve learned to live with them. Unless we’re willing to spray with chemicals (which we’re not), I think it’s best we just accept they’re here to stay. And since they’ve stuck to the kitchen and aren’t doing any damage or increasing in number, I can deal.

But recently we’ve moved into a new class of animals: rodents.

I returned home one night from my writing class in Sacramento, tired after a long drive in the dark, and as I stepped wearily onto the porch I heard rustling in the bushes in the yard behind me. Must be Marley, the neighbor’s cat, I thought, looking casually over my shoulder to discover a rotund skunk rapidly bounding in my direction. Yikes! I was now wide awake as I fumbled with the door and nearly dove into the house just as Pepé le Pew hung a left into the side yard. A near miss. And he’s still lurking with the missus somewhere out there.

But I’ve saved the best for last. Well, in this case, the worst (Mom, you might want to stop reading here). Two weeks ago, I walked out onto the porch mid-afternoon to do a load of laundry and heard rustling in the wisteria. I looked up from the towels, assuming I’d see a bird (don’t you love how I always assume the best when I hear rustling in the bushes?) and set eyes upon three static creatures perched on the ledge just under the porch’s ceiling. No birds in sight. Am I looking at a rat?, was the first question that popped into my mind, but I quickly shook off that unpleasant thought. No, couldn’t be. I lowered my sunglasses (prescription–I’m nearsighted) onto my face and squinted a little harder in the direction of the wisteria. Six beady eyes were staring back at me, and I realized that yes, indeed, I was staring at a bunch of rats. At which point I turned on my heel, towels still in hand, and closed the door firmly behind me. I then proceeded to close all the windows leading onto the porch, call my landlord, and assess the scene of the crime.

I wish I could tell you there were only three rats out on our idyllic wrap-around, farmhouse porch, but truth be told, there was a giant rats’ nest out there, full of hungry babies and scavenging adults. Mind you, these were country rats, not New York City metro ones, but that only made them slightly more tolerable. Ultimately, rats are rats, and I wasn’t too happy about their congregating in the shrubbery nor was I thrilled about the prospect of their becoming house guests. I wish I could say we were able to deal with them humanely, organically, but there was no time for that. They reproduce too quickly, and short of turning the house into a laboratory, there was nothing to be done but, well, send them packing.

There will always be gophers and skunks and rats out there, but I’d like to think we don’t have to share our porch or tomatoes with them. And if I look on the bright side, I can say that I have not come across a rattlesnake yet (though Bastien cannot claim the same).

Oh the joys of country living. Despite it all, we’re still loving it here.

But it does look like we need a cat.

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It’s finally tomato season here in Gold Country! Due to a cold, wet spring, things got off the ground (or into the ground as the case may be) about a month later than usual, which has thrown all of us tomato lovers for a loop!

Bastien and I were so excited to have our own beefsteaks and romas growing in the garden, so you can imagine our frustration when we discovered a few weeks ago that all of the tomato plants that we had so excitedly selected and that Bastien had so lovingly planted had been butchered by a couple of pesky, no-good gophers. Grrr! We had noticed that the plants were not looking too happy and had thought it was an issue with the drip irrigation system, but it turns out the stinkin’ gophers (I’m trying really hard not to swear here) had been merrily munching on the tender roots. As a result, we were able to harvest a single basketful of beautiful red and gold cherry tomatoes (see above), but the rest is history. No roots, no water, no tomatoes. And no peppers or eggplants either for that matter.

Sigh…

On the bright side, we relished in the sweetness of our mini-harvest. Man, those golden cherry tomatoes were good! And we’ve learned our lesson…it’s time to get a gun. Actually, no (though it was suggested to me when I solicited ideas for dealing with gophers), we’ll just have to get smart about our veggie garden set up. The trick is 12 inch raised beds with hardware cloth (a galvanized wire mesh) tacked to the bottom to keep the critters from nibbling at the roots. Unfortunately, though, the gophers aren’t the only garden predators we’re dealing with. There are plenty of deer out there, too. So when all is said and done, our garden will probably end up looking like San Quentin or Sing Sing. Unless we decide to build a moat…Alcatraz!

For now, though, we’ll be heading to the farmers’ markets for our tomatoes. If you’re in the area, stop by!

http://www.amadorfarmersmarket.com/

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More images from our week of home improvement…

Our mesquite wood (or so we were told) kitchen table, which had been scarred by burns by it’s neglectful previous owner, required quite a bit of sanding. (Mom recommends starting with an 80 grade sandpaper and then finishing with a 120 grade for a smoother finish.) Opinions were mixed on the aesthetic: some said the dark marks add character, others thought they mar the look of the table.

Either way, as you can see below, I wasn’t able to get them out entirely. Nothing wrong with a little imperfection (says the perfectionist!). Here I am, oiling up the table after sanding it down.

Burns or no burns, the table still makes for a great surface to showcase our garden’s blooms, all of which we unknowingly inherited with the house and were ecstatic to discover flowering in the yard this spring. Oh the color! Roses and iris abound, and the honeysuckle has just started to come out. Mixed in with the sweet scent of orange blossoms next door, the perfume in the air will tickle your nose, wafting by when you’re least expecting it. Almost drowns out the odiforous putois (skunk) that has taken up residence somewhere in our vicinity!

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