A busy birthday week in Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas is a beautiful city to visit, especially when the weather is cold in my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  Last week I surprised my sister for her birthday, spending a whole week with her visiting all of the popular tourist spots and catching up on sister stuff. The surprise party was held at Talon’s Sports Bar, owned and operated by friends of my niece, and a great location for the party to kick off the birthday week…

191158_168146446569665_2840614_o

 

As mentioned in my previous post, I did manage to get some gardening in by planting a garden in my sister’s front yard.  I do love seeing the different varieties of plants that grow in the places I travel to.  I knew that succulents and cactus are prevalent in Texas, I just never knew there were so many varieties of each…

 

Another great thing about vacations is that I don’t have to cook.  This past week I experienced most of the culinary delights Texas has to offer.   At restaurants, a few of which are located right on the water, I feasted on seafood, including delicious crab cakes and gumbo, Mexican, Italian and Thai food,  and of course steak, a Texan favourite.  Home-made, deliciously spicy, chicken tortilla soup, pico de gallo and guacamole prepared by my niece, as well as jalapeno peppers stuffed with cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon, grilled to perfection and served with sausage wraps on the beach by her husband.  I think I will stay away from the scales for a few days…

 

To wear off some of the calories, I was coerced into dancing, Texan style, at my sister’s favourite nightclubs Whiskey River and  Ropers . Thanks to her very patient and kind dancing friends Sinoel, Martin, Benny, Ray and others, I had lots of fun and many laughs trying to master the art.  One-two-three and quick-quick-slow are still echoing in my head…

 

Of course, when heading south to escape a Canadian winter, you have to go to the beach. The beaches in the Corpus Christi area of Texas are spectacular and plentiful.  Padre Island National Seashore, McGee Beach, North Beach, Packery Channel and Mustang Island are just a few popular spots.  Even though this was my fifth visit, I still find the waterfronts confusing.  Bay, gulf, channel, port…

 

My last day in Texas was the only one warm enough (78F or 26C) to hit the beach.  Although I found the water was too cold for anything more than dipping my toes, there were a few brave people playing in the waves.  It is winter in Texas too, although winter temperatures there are much more enjoyable than those here.  We walked the beach during the day and then enjoyed a bonfire on the beach using dried out Christmas trees collected from curbs in my sister’s neighbourhood…

 

We spent a few hours shopping for bargains too, and even though the Canadian dollar is currently so low in value, I was still able to get a few good deals on clothing.  Although we did not venture across the border into Mexico, I picked up a few Mexican inspired souvenirs in Texas, including an adorable ceramic gecko for my garden and some tequila…

IMG1941

 

The best part of this trip to Texas was the opportunity to spend quality time with my sister, her children and grandchildren.  I kind of put her on the spot by showing up, not just for her surprise party, but also announcing that I was staying at her place for a week.  I had already made arrangements with her son to use his bedroom in her home for the week.  Thanks to Facebook messaging, I was able to make plans with my niece and nephews before my visit without my sister suspecting a thing.  The only time she was suspicious that something was going on was when her son got up early the morning of my arrival to clean up his room.  Also fortunate, and much appreciated, was the fact that she was able to play hooky from work all week to spend time with me, thanks to her staff Cristi, Chrisy and others.

The birthday week in Texas was a huge success and tons of fun, but over much too fast.  Reality has called me back home to Canada and my sister back to work.  Arriving back in Ottawa via Houston and Toronto, I was greeted by snow and missing luggage, both indicators that all good things must come to an end…

1

 

Please be sure to visit my other blogs:

Laugh out loud (LOL) with me at YOUR DAILY CHUCKLE

and

be inspired and motivated by famous words of wisdom at WoW

My gardening website can be viewed at GARDENS4U

 

 

Advertisements

Mangoes and dragonfruit

Dave, an employee in the produce department at my local Sobey’s grocery store, supplied the inspiration for this blog post.  I knew that mangoes and dragonfruit are not grown here in Canada due to our weather conditions. I also know these two exotic fruits are delicious, but that was about the extent of my knowledge of them.

Mangoes are imported from Brazil, at least the ones at the Sobey’s in Kanata are.  Most mangoes are picked and transported before they are ripe, then allowed to ripen in the store or in your home. Dave told me that Palmer mangoes however, are picked when they are ripe and then transported quickly to keep them at their peak.  This difference in harvesting makes the Palmer variety of mango sweeter without the characteristic sharpness of other mangoes.  Palmer mangoes also have a pale yellow flesh instead of the typical orange. Palmer mangoes are slightly more expensive than other varieties because of the expedited shipping, but well worth the difference…

Whatever the type of mango you have, you can tell when they are ripe by pushing gently on the skin with your finger, similar to testing the ripeness of an avocado.  If the skin dents, it is ripe.  If it remains undented, it is not yet ripe, and will taste bitter.

The biggest obstacle when cutting a mango is the large, almond-shaped pit in the center of each mango.  Cutting or slicing mangoes can be done in several ways…

  • slice the mango in halves or thirds, then carve a checkerboard pattern into the flesh of each slice without cutting into the skin.  From the skin side, push the cubes so that they pop out.
  • cut the mango in wedges, using the pit as a guideline for the knife.  Then eat the pulp from the skin, similar to eating a slice of watermelon.
  • after cutting in wedges as described above, use a drinking glass to remove the skin from the pulp.  Simply put the lip of the glass between the skin and pulp of each slice, and gently push.  The glass should slide along the wedge, neatly and cleanly removing the skin.

Since our mangos are imported from Brazil, I thought I would ask my favourite Brazilian, my son’s girlfriend, whom I have nicknamed Stella Bella, which way her family peels mangoes.  Apparently mangos are not such a big deal in Brazil, probably like our very common apples here.  She did say they use the drinking glass method to peel them…

pictures compliments of thekitchn.com

I also had the opportunity to taste test white and red fleshed  dragonfruit.  Dragonfruit, also known as Pitaya are imported from Asia.  Dave suggested that red fleshed dragonfruit cut into cubes and frozen makes great ice cubes for the Christmas season.  The mild flavor of the fruit will not alter the taste of the cocktail and the bright red color adds a festive touch.

 

Thanks to Dave and Stella Bella for the lessons learned!

please be sure to visit my slightly more humorous blog YOUR DAILY CHUCKLE  It is guaranteed to make you LOL.

 

 

 

 

My new garden toy is a Toro Ultra Plus

I love my new garden toy.  It’s a Toro Ultra Plus leaf blower, vacuum and mulcher all in one.  I spent a few hours in a client’s garden today sucking up leaves with the vacuum attachment, then dumping the leaf bag full of finely mulched leaves onto her gardens.  I then covered the mulched leaves with a commercially prepared triple mix of soil, peat moss and compost.  This procedure is a great method for improving the quality of the soil in your gardens, especially if your soil is full of clay like most soil here in the Kanata suburb of Ottawa…

I also discovered, inadvertently,  if you forget to zip up the leaf bag after emptying it, the leaves you suck up off the lawn will get mulched as they enter the bag, then go right through the bag back onto the lawn.  I might try this on my own lawn, as mulched leaves are great for lawns too!

I researched this type of garden tool before purchasing the Toro Ultra Plus.  I chose an electric one as I did not want to be hauling oil or gasoline around in my van.  The battery operated ones were an option, but we have several battery operated tools at the cottage and the batteries always seem to need recharging, not to mention the batteries are expensive. The electric Toro Ultra Plus that I decided on was awesome to use; not too heavy (about 10 pounds), easy to assemble, and not too loud. The mulch came out incredibly fine; I estimate one bag of mulched leaves is the equivalent of at least 4 regular lawn bags.

With the beautiful weather we are experiencing this week, I hope to get a few gardens prepared for spring using this method, including my own. Perhaps I will do the lawn too…

What’s better than your own tomato harvest?

What can get better than harvesting your own tomatoes?  Taking home someone else’s tomato harvest!  I was cleaning up a client’s garden recently and came across a few grape tomato plants in amongst the perennial flowers and shrubs. I picked them off the frost-bitten vines and left the tomatoes in the sun to dry while I finished working on the garden.  Sun dried tomatoes must need a whole lot of sun to dry them out as these grape tomatoes were still soggy and soft three hours later.  My client didn’t want to bother collecting and cleaning the tomatoes to use in her kitchen, so I brought them home with me.  I shared my bounty with another client that lives next door to the tomatoes…

I took my share of the grape tomatoes home, washed and strained them, then cooked them up in a pasta sauce for dinner…

I sauteed crushed garlic, onions, olives and turmeric in olive oil for the main ingredients, added cooked and drained pasta (gluten-free for my wheat allergy) then stirred in a beaten egg and parmesan cheese to make the sauce creamy.  I seem to use turmeric in just about everything these days, since I read it is a powerful anti-oxidant.  I would have added roasted red peppers if I had some in my fridge to roast that day.  The pasta dish was reasonably good, although I think I left too many green tomatoes in the sauce as it had a bit of a sweet and sour taste.

Dog strangling vine prevalent in Kanata, Ontario

This dog strangling vine is one of the vines I was telling you about in a recent post that are very invasive, but also dangerous…

IMG1619 IMG1620

I have seen lots of these vines in my fall cleanups of gardens here in Kanata, Ontario.  The leaves of the dog strangling vine are unremarkable, blending in with others in your gardens.  The seed pods are more distinctive; they look like yellow string beans, making it easy to recognize the vine this time of year.  If you encounter this vine in your gardens, pull out the vine by the roots before the seed pods burst spreading seeds everywhere.  Be sure to discard the vine, its roots and seed pods into your yard waste; do not add them to your compost bin.

I haven’t seen or heard of this vine strangling any dogs, but I have seen it strangle the life out of a fully mature tree, so beware!

Coleus in annual planters provide colour highlights in shade gardens

When planting containers of annuals in the spring, I try to choose annuals that will look good for a long time. These coleus certainly fit the bill in the shade of this garden.  They are still going strong after a few light frosts.  I didn’t have the heart to disturb them while performing a fall cleanup in a client’s garden last week. Recently I wrote a post about the wonders of COLEUS and how adding them to your gardens can provide pops of colour, especially in shady areas.  These planters provide that burst of colour all summer long under the shade of several large trees.

Include vines in your gardens for colourful vertical drama

Vines make wonderful additions to gardens, providing colourful vertical drama to otherwise horizontal landscapes.  They can be used to cover unsightly fences, utility boxes or pipes, storage areas and more.  They make great privacy screens too, shielding your yard from neighbours’ views.  There are many things to consider when choosing a vine for any of these functions…

  • size matters: consider the coverage you need.  Some vines cover a small space, others need lots of room to sprawl
  • invasive:  some vines can be invasive and very hard to remove from places you don’t want them to grow
  • damage:  some vines can cause incredible damage, destroying eavestroughing, fences and even brick!
  • color: some vines change colour in the fall, an added bonus to landscapes.  Others are a bright, chartreuse green contrasting with other green plants in your yard.  Some have flowers, others are grown just for the foliage.
  • pruning/cutting back: some vines require more maintenance than others.  Many die back to the ground when frost hits them making cleanup easy.  Some have to severely cut back in the spring to prevent them from taking over your yard.
  • annual or perennial:  the vines I use are perennial meaning they come back each year on their own.  Included in the perennial category are clematis, ivy, golden hops, hydrangea, bittersweet, honeysuckle and silver lace. There are also many annual varieties available such as morning glories, sweet peas, black-eyed susans and more.
  • Here are a few I have in my gardens…

Choose a few vines to add vertical drama to your landscaping, just do your homework first so you will be pleased with the result.  As always, if you have any questions, please contact me, I would be happy to research the perfect vine for your garden.

New garden toys from Home Hardware

During a downpour of rain recently I stopped at Home Hardware and bought a few gardening toys…

The first one is called a Hopper Topper, an insert that fits inside a lawn bag to keep it from folding or tipping over when you add yard waste to it.  It looks like a great invention; I hope it works!   I needed a new set of pruners or secateurs and can always use more gloves.

Although I didn’t purchase one, I also saw some cool winter shrub protectors that I will recommend to my clients…

1 2

Any newly planted shrubs or those pushing the limit of your hardiness zone in your garden will benefit from protection for the winter. They protect the shrubs from cold winter winds and prevent snow from damaging young, fragile stems.   It is best to wait until the ground freezes before covering your shrubs with these protectors.  Be sure to remove them fairly early in the spring to prevent the shrubs from rotting.

I dread the coming winter, but it is best to be prepared.  The shrubs in your garden will thank you for it in the spring with a magnificent performance.

Night photography

I started off taking pictures of the lunar eclipse Sunday night…

but then the clouds moved in blocking our view of the moon here in Ottawa, so I switched to taking pictures of the plants around me…

proving…you can take the girl out of the garden, but you cannot take the garden out of the girl LOL

Spectacular coleus for your gardens

These pictures of various coleus plants were taken in a client’s garden.  They were planted to fill in bare spots between perennials and are quite striking at this time of year, brightening up shady spots in gardens.  Their leaves look like red velvet with splashes of green  The coleus are annuals that will die off when frost hits so new ones must be planted each season.  Coleus prefer shade, but will tolerate some, but not full sun.

I do not usually plant annuals to my gardens each season, preferring to use them in containers only.  After seeing the display these coleus put on each season however, I decided to try some in my garden this season.  They do not look as beautiful as these ones do, but are still nice pops of colour in my garden.  Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?