Friday, September 30, 2011

A few bricks shy

At 117 years old, this house has seen a lot of modifications and upgrades, some of them welcome, some dubious. I really should see what permits were pulled over the years. I'd like to know when the aluminum siding was added, for example.

The previous owners removed that siding and painted the bricks, but left some remnants, such as around the downstairs bathroom window. Problem is, they also left some pretty large gaps where the wind can get into the walls. That would explain the frozen pipe issues I've had.
The neighbors hired a mason to do some tuckpointing, so I commandeered him to patch up the most glaring gap – this missing lintel brick –and a couple of other spots. We'll just paint over it and no one will be the wiser.

He also pointed out several places where foaming insulation would go a long way toward reducing the wind in the walls.
Winter's just around the corner, after all.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Biological pest control

There aren't a lot of loose cats around the neighborhood, but we do see a few. They come into the yard for the big pot of catnip the Sergeant cultivates for our two felines. I suspect they stay for the mice.

While I was photographing the little rat bastard the other day, in fact, the dogs found this pretty creature up in a tree that overhangs the yard. We've had one previous encounter; he or she is very skittish and might be a genuine stray.

Next year, maybe we'll put pots of catnip in the vegetable garden. I know people try very hard to keep cats out, but we'd rather have cats than mice.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Just hanging out

The fence pumpkin is about as big as it's going to get and is coloring up nicely. We're glad it's somewhat shielded from view from the sidewalk; the Sergeant is sure someone would take it otherwise.
But. No one has made off with our fence squash yet. It's a buttercup variety, hanging right next to the sidewalk. When I'm working in the garden, I often hear passers-by stop and talk about it:
"Is it a watermelon?"
"No, I think it's some kind of squash."
It may be safe from predation because people aren't sure what it is. We'll see!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A cruel blow

The dog park bee tree is not faring well.
The photo on the left is from June 2, the one on the right from Sept. 23. I noticed a couple of weeks earlier that yet another trunk had blown down, but I kept forgetting to take my camera and veil with me so I could get some closeups.

I had my camera on Friday, but no veil, and the light was not great, but so it goes.
The hive is still quite active, despite being miserably exposed. Lots of traffic meant I couldn't get very close.

I feel very sorry for these bees, who probably won't survive the winter. I think about how I could help them. A piece of waterproof canvas? A three-sided box? It's probably not feasible to try to remove them – the queen would just hide in a crevice, and bees without a queen have no hope at all.
I will keep checking on them as the year advances and the temperatures drop.

Meanwhile, my own bees are working from sunrise until after sunset to prepare for winter in their cozy box.
The Sergeant planted marigolds underneath it and added a mini-sprinkler. The marigolds flourished, as well as a couple of squash vines that meandered over from the vegetable garden.
There's one good-sized pumpkin under there, and a buttercup squash. We've started seeing some powdery mildew on the squash leaves, but there's not much to be done about that this late in the year.
You can see that the bees have nearly filled the box with comb. It looks to me like they're putting their honey closer to the entrance, where it will be added insulation.

Street-spam signs also make for good insulating material on the window covering.

I suppose I am a bad beekeeper for not inspecting the hive more thoroughly by opening the box and lifting out the frames. But since I have no intention of harvesting anything until their second year, there doesn't seem to be much of a point. I will cross that bridge next spring.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Little rat bastard

This is how bad they are. I saw a mouse scampering under the squash vines. I went inside to get my camera. I stood next to the tomato vines, aiming toward the squash. Well, you can see where that mouse was headed, bold as you please.

Savor the sunbeams

Autumn is upon us. As the sun sinks lower and the days grow cooler, take the time to appreciate those precious rays.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Silver lace vine goes to town

In October of 2009, someone on my gardening listserv was giving away a silver lace vine (polygonum aubertii), that was too vigorous for her small yard. I'd admired this pretty vine on fences around the neighborhood, so I was happy to go dig hers up.
I planted it on the other side of the fence, and this is how big it got in only its second summer. Wow! It's quite the grower. And the bees love the flowers. They have a pretty, delicate scent.
Here's a picture from another angle:
Turns out silver lace vine is also called Mile-a-Minute, growing up to 40 feet in a season. In some parts of the country, its relatives in the Polygonum family, also known as Mile-a-Minute vine, are considered noxious invasives (though not this particular ornamental).

The winters here are a deterrent, I think. But I'll be pruning the heck out of it next spring to keep it in check.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Damn mice

My tomato harvest this year is not going to be as great as in years past, in part because I let the vines get too crowded and didn't prune the heck out of them. Next year I'm going to try a different trellising setup.

And then there are the mice.
This has been a crazy year for mice. We're seeing tons of them outside, all over. Because it was so wet earlier in the summer, there's lots of food for them and their population has exploded.

The little bastards have been getting to the ripe tomatoes before we can. They eat half the larger ones and suck the smaller ones dry.
When the weather starts getting colder, we're going to have a real problem with them trying to come into the house. Ugh.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dinner at ChoLon Bistro

I've been hearing about ChoLon for a while. It opened maybe a year ago downtown. On a rare recent weeknight off, the Sergeant I headed down to try it. (I hate trying to find parking downtown on weekends, so there's probably a lot of good places I'm missing out on. Euclid Hall, for example, is another place on my list.)
ChoLon has a week night prix fixe dinner for two that is a good deal – $55 for six dishes. We ordered soup dumplings, pot stickers, lemongrass-beet salad, vegetable fried rice and kung pao chicken. (Oh, I just noticed they misspelled "prix fixe" on their menu. Whoops!)

We got seats at the kitchen bar because I like to see the cooks at work. We could also watch the final touches of the plating.
The first order of business was the drinks. The Sergeant ordered an Old Saigon, which is simply an Old Fashioned with basil added. And a nice Luxardo cherry.

I ordered a peach cocktail whose name escapes me and which is not listed on the website (Note to self: Always photograph all menus). It had rum and coconut milk, a touch of chili, and boba pearls in the bottom. Tasty! And entertaining. But too easy to slurp down quickly, so I had an Old Saigon after that.

Then came an amuse bouche: a giant puffed rice cake, propped up on a stand and served with a flavorful and spicy tomato jam.
The first course was soup dumplings. I thought they were going to be dumplings in soup, but no, they were dumplings filled with soup!
More specifically, French onion soup with gruyère. Oh my goodness, these dumplings are good! Apparently soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, are a Shanghai specialty. The onion soup is a ChoLon twist.

(In case you're wondering, the chef's name is Lon Symensma – he's using a classical Western culinary background to translate Asian dishes. The restaurant name is a play on his name and the name of Saigon's Chinatown, Cholon.)
Then there were pork belly pot stickers with a ginger mustard sauce, and the lemongrass-beet salad. Both were lovely. I'm usually not fond of frisée, but this was tender and not too bitter, with a very light dressing.

A bonus course also arrived, compliments of the chef: rib-eye satay. Rare and very tender and flavorful
As we nibbled and chatted we also enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Many of the reviews I've seen complain about the noisiness of the restaurant, but we had no trouble hearing each other because most of the noise was behind us. The very friendly staff checked in with us regularly and answered our questions in detail. As a bonus, the lighting at the kitchen bar is much brighter, so I could get some decent food photos.
Doesn't this fried rice look delicious? That's a poached egg on top. I was very happy that the dish was not oversalted, as fried rice often is.

The main course was the kung pao chicken.
The chicken is brined and deboned, then folded into a tight bundle and cooked sous vide – sealed in a plastic pouch and immersed in hot water at a consistent temperature for many hours. The process results in very tender, succulent meat, which is then served with a kung pao sauce with vegetables. Ordinarily I would like some plain white rice with such a dish, but with so many earlier courses, I was happy to have just a couple of pieces. The rest of my share I took home for a delicious lunch over rice the next day.

I needed to save room for dessert!
Molten chocolate cake with salted peanut ice cream and toasted marshmallows. Quite a decadent treat and more than enough for two of us to share.
If you have a week night free or can plan ahead and make a weekend reservation, ChoLon is definitely a place to try. They do lunch, too! More soup dumplings are in my future. Maybe in yours, too.

ChoLon Bistro
1555 Blake Street #101
Denver, CO 80202

Monday, September 12, 2011

Humming right along

Here are some little friends we spotted at Perennial Favorites on Friday:
Who doesn't like hummingbirds? They're just so darn cute.
I wish we had more hummers in Denver proper. How are they where you live?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Royal Gorgeous

The Sergeant and I went for a little jaunt down to the foothills west and south of Pueblo this last week. This wood-planked bridge was our chief destination.

Pretty, isn't it? It's even more impressive when you look through a knothole in the wood.
The ground seems pretty far away.
Yes, that's the Arkansas River, 955 feet down, with train tracks running alongside.
The Royal Gorge suspension bridge was built in 1929 as a tourist attraction. It's been restrung with fresh cables since then, happily.
(If you have a pair of red-blue 3D glasses, click on this 3D photo of the cables that the Sergeant took with his homemade 3D camera. It's pretty cool!)
There's an incline railway (built in 1931) that you can take to the bottom of the gorge to see the bridge from below. Not that you can really see much, that far away!
The Sergeant and I are not fond of crowds, so late in the day on a September weekday was a good time to go. We got on the incline railway without much of a wait, for example.
I think it's unfortunate that they do allow cars to cross the bridge. What can you see from the car? Not much. But on foot, you can examine the bridge up close ... once the friggin' cars have passed. (That's the Sergeant's picture of me, shooting through the knothole.)
Visiting the Royal Gorge bridge is not cheap, at $25 a person, but there's a bunch of rides included, like the incline railway and the aerial tram. If you stop at the visitor center in Cañon City first, they have discount coupons. I was lucky and bought a 2-for-1 Groupon back in May.
If you happen to be passing through Colorado on U.S. 50 (or visiting kin at the nearby Supermax federal prison – the Unabomber's there, for example), be sure to swing by!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

What is it? No. 34

I haven't done one of these in a while (almost a year, in fact). Can you guess what this is? Click on the photo to see the answer!