Archive for July, 2011

Another Take on Macaroni and Cheese

I do not buy box meals, and my children have not grown up with this staple. I have made macaroni and cheese from scratch, but my daughter and I came up with a different take on this classic.

I had the chance to cook with my daughter Katya last night. I use to prepare meals all of the time with my son, but with the two girls, I have not done so as often. The problem has been that I have to be more cautious with my youngest, which makes the meal preparation take much longer. Sakura was asleep, and Katya was excited to be the assistant. They have never experienced macaroni and cheese from the box. My son, who is quite a bit older, went through a phase at one point where he wanted this meal. He had it at a friend’s house. This is not a hard dish to make from scratch, which I did for him, but he wanted that artificial flavoring. When Katya and I started the meal, I was not planning a specific meal, so this dish evolved as we were cooking.
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Baked Okra for a Simple Dinner

Do you like okra? Is it too slimy for you? Maybe you should consider baking okra for a quick to prepare dinner.

Everyone seems to want their home inspections on the weekends. On Sunday, I was already driving all over the area, when I had a call asking me to do one more inspection that day. I try to be helpful, but three inspections in one day with many hours of driving was not for me. Furthermore, the heat was a bit too much. Home inspectors have to work in environments that are inadvisable for health. Needless to say that I was worn out by the end of the day, yet I had to make dinner for the family . I wanted to do something simple, which often means a pasta dish for me. With so much okra available, I hit upon a baked dish that was easy to make.
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What Happens When You Have More Light in Your Yard?

Pruned trees may change the amount of light reaching your garden beds, so you may need to reorder your garden.

The yard crews came through to clear the trees away from the power lines. Neighbors had already pruned their trees. My shade garden found itself in full sun. Has this happened to you? Since I have been in my home, the quality of light has changed greatly over the years. You do not expect drastic shifts in light, but I guess that I should have been prepared. I am not sure sometimes what reasoning is used to clear branches from the power lines. I noticed that the crew was about to remove a branch tat was fifteen feet from the lines, but then they stopped. One of my trees was devastated one year by this crew, while the neighbors trees that were in the line were basically left alone. This year that jungle of branches over the fence was pruned well back.  The dense cover that had shaded my yard was gone.
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Hardy Volunteers: Letting the Seeds Fall

My goal is to have a garden that has the plants return year after year without having to buy new ones. In other words, I am looking to make the garden sustainable through hardy volunteers.

The drought may be taking its toll; the heat and humidity has made some outdoor work unbearable; yet I have been delving into my garden. The biggest project, which is still ongoing, has been the treehouse. This is a platform above the shed, which is below the canopy of a tree.  This space has been great for lunches. Most other work has revolved in preparing the garden for different events around the home (my older daughter’s birthday being the prime event).  I still want to fuss with the plants, and somehow work more towards my vision of a sustainable garden. I saw that a few peanut plants were popping up, which made me think of hardy volunteers. I had never concentrated on peanut plants, but I think this one may have come from a squirrel dropping the seed. I did have a few lettuce plants grow from seeds that had fallen, so why not try again.
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I’d like to follow the theme set by Frank’s recent posts on sustainable gardening (like this, this, and this), but with the slight handicap of not having a garden.

Not having a garden probably seems like a large setback for a gardener. And truth be told, it is. But, testament to humans’ desire to innovate and adapt, ways of getting around this obstacle exist. A wealth of blogs are dedicated to gardening without a conventional garden; The 6×8 garden and Green Roof Growers are two examples of many, but all are maintained by more professional gardeners than I; this post aims to share with you the basic lessons learned in growing chillies in a gardenless student house this year.

Credit goes to my former housemate and internet-wary friend Paranoia Boy (PB) for these chilli growing tips. PB was in charge of ‘Harvey’ the chilli plant, who was grown from seeds, originally in a window box and later in a planter when ‘he’ outgrew the box. On choosing the healthiest seedlings, PB says after planting many seeds in very moist soil, select the biggest, strongest looking (and especially green) ones as they are more likely to grow into healthy plants. The plant was kept nourished through a mix of store-bought tomato feed, and working coffee grinds into the soil every now and then (though the latter technique should not be used too often).

Harvey fruited nicely around April after being planted in late autumn last year. Chilli plants thrive when kept consistently above 20°c, and frequently in the sun. Watering the plant every morning (around half a pint / 250ml) seemed to be the best time, and watering slightly less than the suggested amount seemed to make it flower better. Chilli plants flowering is a good sign, but in order to make them fruit, they need to be pollinated. PB’s policy was to leave the window open in the hope that a bee would fly in and pollinate, and it seemed to work. Manual pollination can be achieved though, through collecting pollen on a small brush and applying it to the center of the flowers you wish to fruit.

Where to go from here? I’m living in student housing again next year, and have every intention of continuing to grow what I can. I may branch out to something more adventurous if time allows; herbs and spices are a possible avenue of exploration as I’ve heard good things about growing basil, oregano and such. Tomatoes are another possibility, although it depends how easy they are to grow because I’m not a huge fan, and as a result the amount of effort I’m willing to spend in growing them is reduced.

Thanks for reading this guest post which Frank kindly allowed me to write. My name is Chris, and I keep a blog myself at although it’s a bit disorganised at the moment. My layman’s interest in gardening / growing was inspired by some work I did on behalf of Tiger Sheds.


This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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