Tuesday, July 29, 2008

WACKY Popcorn

I'm probably the biggest POPCORN FANATIC on this side of Texas. Just ask my friends... I'm the one who brings POPCORN to events. I've been known to skip dinner and just eat popcorn. I even went and bought those cute little popcorn bags.

Well, one day I was researching online for some popcorn recipes and I kept stumbling over this popcorn cookbook. The reviews were great! I placed it in my shopping cart on Amazon.com and technically forgot about it...

Then one day I was on Amazon and I purchased a garden book. I didn't realize until I got my confirmation email, that not only did I purchase the garden book, but I had also purchased the popcorn book! Say what? Ooops! I forgt to remove it from shopping cart when I checked out!

No biggie! I dug into the popcorn book expecting all kinds of cool recipes. What I didn't expect was stuff like, Bacon and popcorn, mushrooms and popcorn, tossed salads and salsa with popcorn...

Ummm... Okay.

I'll just take my popcorn salted with butter, thank you.

I did find a couple of recipes that had a normal dessert theme. I'll post the recipes later when I try them out (especially the birthday popcorn cake!)

For the moment, I want to talk about regular popcorn.

I've read a lot of discussions on WHICH types of oils are better for popping popcorn. I tried most of them. My most recent was the coconut oil.

To be honest, I've found that cheap VEGETABLE OIL works/tastes the best. Season with salt, or that ACTII popcorn salt (that you can buy at Sam's) and use REAL BUTTER.

Don't use margarine as it's really just water and it will shrink your popcorn! REAL BUTTER will magically soak into your popcorn and they'll taste light and fluffy! YUM!!!!

Here's a childhood popcorn horror story of mine. If you want, I'll wait until you finish popping your popcorn before you read.


I was staying the night with my friend Vena who lived in the country. We had built this clubhouse in a tree and decided to camp in it. That night, her parents took us to the drive-in movies.

We went to see the horror show, THE EXORCIST.

As you can imagine (for a young pre-teen mind) the show was DISTURBING. Needless to say, Vena and I chickened out when we got home. The moonlight shining over the darkened trail to her clubhouse didn't seem like a great idea. On top of that, we couldn't even sleep in her bed! (Have you seen the Exorcist?) Sooo, we dragged her mattress off her bed and took it to the livingroom. Afraid to turn off the lights, we decided to stay up all night watching TV.


We popped some popcorn. We melted two whole sticks of butter and it ooozed to the bottom of the bowl --- then we dug in. About an hour later, I was holding my stomach. Swirls and swirls of nausea swept over me. I swore that I would NEVER EVER eat popcorn again! Never!

The next morning I caught a mouse in her kitchen by its tail.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Heirloom New Zealand Spinach!

New Zealand Spinach

Wow, I couldn't believe my eyes when I checked my mail today. Talk about FAST shipping! I went online and ordered more heirloom seeds Wed, and here it is FRIDAY.

I decided to order the New Zealand Spinach. This spinach is especially hardy in sweltering hot climates and can tolerate drought conditions. It's also a rare variety, so I wanted to pass on the heritage and grow my own each year.

I also ordered a batch of heirloom broccoli, peas, and more lettuce.

My hybrid tomatoes are thriving and doing very well. This will be the last season I grow them as I plan to start fresh heirloom tomatoes. I have several varieties of the Brandywine. I'll probably grow the Brandywines in the front yard until my hybrid tomatoes are past their season. This will prevent any risk of cross pollination.
My hybrid bell peppers are thriving as well. I have two varieties growing.
I have three varieties of heirloom bell peppers started -- the yellow, red, and green peppers. As soon as I feel they're strong enough, I'll be transferring them outdoors.
Heirloom lettuce. I'm hoping to keep batches growing fresh in the greenhouse to add to the varieties of spinach for salads.

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Garden friends

Last week, I received in the mail my copy of the book, Common Sense Pest Control.

To be honest, I've been doing a lot of thinking about BUGS and why they are here. Sometimes it's instinctive to kill every bug in sight.

Yet, after spotting lizards, frogs, Ladybugs, and beneficial bees, I feel guilty everytime we spray the yard for mosquitoes. It makes me wonder what ELSE we're killing. Something's not right. And just like our appendix, or our 97% junk DNA, everything serves a purpose. God is not wasteful.

With that thought in mind, I've been trying to find a way to live PEACEFULLY with bugs.

Before I go any further... I'm not a whacked out, tree-hugging, earth and sun worshipper. When I say that I want to live "peacefully" with bugs, this doesn't mean I'm going to hold my front door open and set out the food dish. What I mean is that I'm going to educate myself on WHY they are here and how bugs are BENEFICIAL to our environment.

And this is where I talk about my garden.

When I ordered this book, I wanted a COMMON SENSE approach to handling pests in my garden. After all, instinctively I KNOW it's wrong to take a spray bottle and just go nuts killing everything in sight.

For example, it was just in the news where a guy blew up his apartment by setting off pesticide bombs. I don't blame the guy, as he was probably at his wits end, but there ARE ways to control and eliminate unwanted guests (without blasting out our windows.)

I started to realize that having bugs in my garden is a GOOD thing. Many of the critters are beneficial and of course, some are not so beneficial. BUT, for thousands of years, our plants have adapted and became immune to many pests. This is where HEIRLOOM SELF-POLLINATED plants come into the picture. These ancestral plants have been around for many years and have built in immunities.

When we purchase our (sterile) HYBRID seeds from the grocery stores, many of these seeds have BUILT IN PESTICIDES within their DNA - so, yes, they WILL look better, seem to be thriving better and handling these pests... but think about what the cost is to our health and environment?

Our farmers are using the ROUNDUP pesticide and it's working because their hybrid crops have been programmed with pesticide DNA to protect it from being killed by Roundup -- thus their crops are thriving literally pest free. And Monsanto is getting richer and richer.

But what happens if/when insects and weeds build immunities to Roundup? Oh yes, it's going to happen. Considering the fact that THOUSANDS of our heirloom plants are disappearing and going extinct, this means we could be facing a SEVERE CROP shortage, due to us being at the mercy of man's tampering with plant DNA and pesticides.

Here's food for thought, as this is already happening:

The DNA of a moth has been inserted into our potatoes

Flounder DNA in our Tomatoes

Fire fly DNA in our corn...

Doesn't it make GOOD COMMON SENSE to let nature take its course? The natural and best thing to do is to allow our gardens to build their own healthy immunities. A good heirloom self-pollinated plant will adapt itself to its environment, and grow its own resistence to pests.

If you've been swinging the pesticides around your yard, you may need to give your yard some time to recuperate. After all, you need your beneficial friends to return.

Happy gardening!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Homemade Blueberry Pop-Tarts

Pamela's been feeling under the weather all week, so thought I'd perk her up with some homemade blueberry Pop-Tarts!

I wanted my Pop-Tarts to be flaky and taste exactly like the stores. After giving this recipe a whirl, I do believe it tastes just the same if not better!


4 cups flour
1 3/4 cups vegetable shortening
2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup cold water
1 teaspoon vinegar
Blueberry jam

In a large bowl, cut flour and shortening with a pastry blender, or a butter knife until completely blended and resembles crumbs. Add sugar, baking powder, salt, egg, vinegar and cold water. Mix with hands until mixture forms ball.

Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Divide dough into fourths, refrigerating the unused portions. Take first 1/4 dough and roll out onto a floured surface.

Cut into rectangles using a sharp knife, or a pizza cutter. Be sure to make the rectangles the same size as each piece will need to fit evenly over one another.

Of course, you can pick and choose your own ingredients for your Pop-Tarts.
Be creative!
I decided to use cream cheese and blueberry jam.

Spread jam/ingredients on one half of rectangles (mine look more like squares), leaving half an inch or so on the edges without jam. Cover with the other half and crimp edges with fork. (You might want to dip fork into water to make sure edges become merged.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until pie dough is evenly browned and cooked through. Cool completely and place into ziplock bags for storage until ready to eat. Can be kept for up to 1 week or several weeks if frozen.

Recipe for glaze:

Powdered sugar
Vanilla extract

Mix sugar into milk until desired consistency. Let glaze dry hard before bagging Pop-Tarts.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Genetically Modified - food for thought

My book, Heirloom Vegetable Gardening - Master Gardeners Guide to Planting, Seed Saving and History was being held for me at the local library. I picked up the book Saturday and while downtown, my family decided to visit the Farmer's Market.

What better way to show our support for our local farmers than to patronize their fruit and vegetable stands - all grown LOCALLY!

Unfortunately, I was disappointed when I asked each vendor if their produce was open-pollintated, non-hybrid. I was really looking forward to bringing fresh veggies home to eat and to cultivate for my own garden.

Not one single farmer had a heirloom vegetable to offer. What's worse, I could tell the drought had taken its toll - many of the vegetables were stunted in growth. Disappointed, I did manage to purchase some red onions, red hot Serrano peppers, and two small cantaloupes for .50 cents apiece. I also purchased a large 64-oz bottle of locally harvested honey.

Okay, so what's all this talk about genetically modified foods, right? No big deal, you hear about it here and there on my blog, on the news, but can you really depend on FOX NEWS for the REAL SCOOP?

Look at it this way:

What if science offered you a pill that could rend you completely IMMUNE to any type of illness on this planet.. Would you be tempted to take a pill that promised you better health and vitality? But would you take this pill if it rendered you STERILE? Or worse, you produce weak and sickly children? What if taking this pill meant that you would owe the pharmaceutical companies a royalty fee each year for your good health?

This is what MONSANTO is doing with their hybrid seeds. Farmers are taking the bait "for healthy and viable disease free crops" but they are at the mercy of Monsanto and their pesticides.

PS) Monsanto is also the creator of NutraSweet/Equal

What a shame when we invaded Iraq and imposed our Monsanto monstrosities. Think about it... We (the USA) via Consulate Paul Bremer, imposed an order (81) that future farming would require the Monsanto genetically modified seeds. This in return will FORCE the Iraqi farmers to PAY A PRIVATE SECTOR (US based Monsanto) a royalty fee for their crops and be at Monsanto's mercy for their future generation crops --- not to mention (once in the grasp of Monsanto) it would be against the LAW to cultivate their own seeds like they have been doing for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. (Research Monsanto in India and the farmer suicides - go to YouTube.)

I'll cut this short but keep in mind two key points.

1.) A study HAS been done on GM foods - But, the scientist was SILENCED upon his discovery that genetically modified (GM) foods caused liver damage in rats. (Research Arpad Pusztaid)

2.) The Bacillus insecticidal gene has been inserted into our seeds/food crops so that we can enjoy a pest free crop. Yes, insecticides have been INSERTED into the DNA of our food crops, not a "spray" where we can wash it off under the sink --- The thing is, Bacillus/pesticide is the same family of ANTHRAX. Have we opened up Pandora's box on our future health?

Here in Austin alone, I've seen the environmentalists shut down key areas in favor of PRESERVING the fast-becoming extinct beetle, or the Salamander, or whatever. Yet very few people are speaking out against Monsanto ---- literally THOUSANDS of our vegetables are going EXTINCT in favor of NEW and IMPROVED genetically modified hybrids that cannot be cultivated, because these private sectors playing God want to line their pockets with blood money.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: He who controls the food, controls the world...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Homemade Pizza

Here's a recipe for quick homemade pizza - Approximately 30 minutes to prepare and cook.

You'll need:

Pizza crust mix
Grated Mozzarella cheese
Spaghetti sauce
Grated Parmesan cheese
Ground beef

** The packages/ingredients shown will yield approximately 2 large 12" pizzas - add or subtract toppings of your choice.

This is for your basic meat and cheese pizza. Cook about 2 cups of ground beef and drain. While meat is frying, preheat oven to 450.
Pour mix into bowl, add hot water (as pkg specifies) and mix, adding a little flour if sticky - knead, let rise for 5 min. While waiting on crust, check ground beef, drain if finished and grease 12" pizza pan.
Spread dough evenly to the sides, working from the middle.
Prick dough with fork and place in oven for about 2 min.

While dough is heating, you can repeat process for 2nd pizza.

Pull dough from oven and spread spaghetti sauce evenly over crust. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese.
Spread ground beef, pepperoni, and Mazzarella cheese evenly.
Place in oven and cook for approx 10 min or when cheese is lightly browned.

Finish process for 2nd pizza while cooking the first. Cool for about 5 min, slice and serve!

Snow in July...

Gosh, I don't know why I hadn't done it sooner, but today I dragged out my nostalgic snow cone machine. This nifty little machine was very affordable and will turn a bowl of ice cubes into yummy and refreshing snow cones! I purchased this last summer after realizing we were spending a small fortune downtown on Hawaiian shaved ice! This past week we got up to 105 degrees with no relief for this weekend!

You can find snow cone syrups in most stores, but I like to make my own.

Mix together:

1 packet of Kool-Aid

1/2 cup of sugar

1 cup of water

*I prefer using those picnic style ketchup/mustard bottles with the attached lid.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Expired garden seeds...

While going through some garden seeds from last year, I pondered over the expiration dates. Do seeds REALLY expire?

I searched for the information in my gardening books --- although seeds don't really "expire" some do lose their vitality. It really depends on how well they are stored.

I've been reading a lot about how genetically altered hybrid seeds are not good for cultivating. This is why I'm so interested in heirloom gardens. Due to hybrid marketing, plants are becoming more and more extinct.

Seed Savers is a wonderful place to find rare seeds and to share and learn with other heirloom gardeners - http://www.seedsavers.org/

One of the headlines that really captured my attention was the 2000 year old date palm that was excavated in Masada - a cliff-side fortress in Israel where the Jews had killed themselves to avoid capture by the Roman soldiers.

The date seeds were found in storage rooms, stockpiled by the Jews as they hid from the invading Romans. 40 years ago these seeds were discovered and placed in a drawer until scientists decided to have them germinated.

This extinct Judean date palm sprouted and has been named, Methuselah.
I won't be tossing away any of my "expired" seeds after all. I figure if science can revive a 2000 year old date palm, I can plant seeds that I had purchased in the year 2000.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hershey's Chocolate Cake

Today I made a Hershey's chocolate cake from scratch. It's been a while, so I was very surprised to see how much sugar goes into a cake. (2 cups sugar for cake/3 cups powdered sugar for icing.)

I also pondered on whether it was actually cheaper. I used a lot of ingredients in comparison to paying a buck at the store for a box of Betty Crocker cake mix.

I normally pay around $2.50 for store bought cake mix/icing. Yet when I figure in the costs of baking from scratch -- flour, sugars, eggs, milk, I wonder if I did save money? Anyone want to do the math on this?

The next cake I'll reduce the sugar by 1 cup and substitute with real butter instead of using oil.

The bundt cake when frosted looks like one giant chocolate donut.

Of course, serve with a glass of cold milk!


2 cups sugar
1- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup Hershey Cocoa
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1- ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven 350 degrees – Grease and flour two 9-inch baking pans or bundt pan.
Combine dry ingredients in large bowl, add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into pans.

Bake 30-35 min. or until tooth pick comes out clean. Cool 10 min.


1 stick butter or margarine
2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter, stir in cocoa – adding powdered sugar and milk, beating on medium speed to spread consistency. Add more milk if needed. Stir in vanilla. Approx 2 cups of frosting.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nothing to chirp about...

This morning, Pamela and I noticed several birds were boldly hovering over our tomato plants. I couldn't believe it as I was earlier pointing out that the decoys were WORKING.
Upon closer investigation, we spotted a baby bird. Two robins and another bird were nearby, chirping and prodding the baby bird along. Pamela and I stepped aside and allowed the adult birds to prod the baby bird to safety.

It was really neat watching it hop, flap its wings, and make it safely across the yard onto a tree. Satisfied it wouldn't fly into the pool we left the birds alone.

I guess I won't place my fake owl on retirement after all.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bean busy...

Thought I'd update ya'll on the garden thing... I've bean busy getting my front yard hoed and ready for the garden. My heirloom bean plants have already sprouted and as you can see, they are craning their necks for the outdoors. The thing is, I thought I'd have the garden fenced and ready before the beans sprouted.

Breaking the ground and digging up the grass (on hard soil) was harder than I thought. We did manage to get some rain this week, but we're back in the 100 temp ranges (101 tomorrow and Sunday) so this means the ground will be like cement again.

Zucchini on the left, and beans on the right. The yellow and red bell peppers are sprouting too.
The Malabar is shown with two variations of stem colors. Growing but still waiting on garden for transplant.
Pamela planted lettuce and we are looking for a nice long pot to transplant to maintain in greenhouse. My green onions are thriving and its been a treat plucking them in the mornings to fry in our eggs.

Here's my latest decoy to prevent unwanted birds and pests in the garden. I strung a CD from a plant holder and the wind takes care of the rest. It's actually very pretty when it reflects the sun and casts twirling shadows and rainbows around the garden. So far so good! Been enjoying fresh tomatoes ever since!