Getting Ready for My New Job…. Urban Gardener

We have planted several dwarf fruit trees during the last 5 years, most in large pots.

At Christmas we had a bumper crop of lemons, limes and mandarins. I love citrus, easy to grow in Riverside, and the fruit has a long shelf life on the trees. Most of the limes and lemons ended up in the freezer for drinks this summer ūüėČ

Mandarins

We made a quick visit last week to our home in California to visit with my Mom (cool) and Social Security (ugh).

But it was spring! The skies were blue and the hills were such a strong green with no hint of the summer brown coat they would soon wear.

Inspirational weather for creating a vegetable garden!

This is our fifth year at our townhouse in Riverside and the first time we will not be heading back overseas. So I used the quick visit to set up a vegetable garden.

Previous owners had used railroad ties beyond the retaining wall, so I don’t trust the quality of the soil for food that will go into my mouth. Besides, that land is bunny country.

bunny country

I use the area for some of our potted dwarf citrus.

What I am left with is a large deck area and the retaining wall. I started by filling pots with eggplants, tomatoes and peppers.

After I bought the pots, I read about the virtues of fiber pots and decided to experiment with those too.

This fabric bag is 50″ across and takes 100 gallons of soil. That was a lot of bags in our little Prius.
10 gallon fabric bag was $2.60 and the 18″ five gallon box was $3.40 each.

I also decided to add a vertical component on the retaining wall using window boxes. I planted the Chiba Green soybean, which can be used as edamame, a family favorite. This was the most expensive part of the project as it required a new hammer drill to get through the wall… but I do love the drill!

If this works out, the wall has room for at least another 12 feet of boxes.

This is California, so I needed to update my drip system. I elongated the stems and added more manifolds.

The water manifolds appear like the alien machines in War of the Worlds rising above the plants.

Putting the pieces of drip irrigation lines together can be a real pain… literally, but a simple trick is to soak the 1/4″ hose ends in hot water before you try to fit them together. They slide on easily and form a tight connection.

A green stem rises between the spaghetti lines.

All of the seeds I used were from Burpee Seeds. At one point in the 1900s Burpee was the largest mail order seed business in the US, but my relation to them was more personal. One of their three factory locations was in the Arlanza area of Riverside, California,  just down the street from where I grew up. The Burpee site is a great place for tutorials on container gardening.

Still room for more pots!

That’s all I could get done between visits to my mom and the Social Security office.

But in 8 weeks we will have lots of time to get to the other tasks like….

Replanting the vertical herb garden.
Sending prayers and plant food to the hydrangea.
Planting a vertical garden against the garage wall.
and watching the fruits of our labors grow…

Breaking Bad in Kathmandu

Sorry, the title was suppose to be “Baking Bread in Kathmandu,” but the typo is a lot more catchy.

Each Monday, my boss asks “Did you have a good weekend? What did you do?” Probably because we both came from jobs that occupied our weekend space, the novelty of weekends is still new to us.

My response is usually, “Went to the market, and baked bread.”

That leaves room for lots of other activities such as exploring Kathmandu, or binge watching “A Handmaid’s Tale”.

Bread making is not labor intensive. It does not require a bread machine, lots of kneading, or lots of time. From start to finish it only takes about 14 hours! Most of the time however is waiting around for the little sourdough beasties to do their job.

I’ve written before about making Sourdough bread in California. This is a little bit better guide from Kathmandu.

I use a sourdough starter that originally came from Breadtopia via Amazon.com. For a couple of years now it has been cultivated here, so it may have acquired some characteristics of the locale.

I store the starter in the fridge in a closed Rubbermaid container. Glass in not a good idea if you have the container sealed as it could crack the glass container. The microbes in the dough thrive in the cold. Here’s what it looks like when I open the container:

Hot mess of primordial bread gooeyness

After stirring the starter it looks more harmless:

Note the viscosity. Not that it is important… just note it.

My recipe calls for a quarter cup of starter. It is not a chemistry class, to paraphrase Jack Sparrow, a recipe is a “guideline, not a rule.”

I pour the starter into one and a half cups of water.

Today I am making two loaves, so I repeated the process for each cup of water and then stirred the water/sourdough mixture.

Now it is time to feed the starter. For each loaf I am making, I add back to the starter one fourth cup of water and one third cup of flour.

Then mix and seal it back up and store it in the fridge.

Now it is time to mix the bread ingredients.

3 cups of flour.

One half cup of whole wheat flour.

One and a half teaspoons of salt:

One third cup of cracked wheat (bulgar is a-ok):

Then I whisked it all together:

Then I added the starter-water mix to the dry ingredients:

I spooned it together and then got my hands dirty making sure it is all mixed together.

 

If I have some dry ingredients not joining the rest of the mess, I might add a few drops of water, which I did it this case:

 

Without too much effort it will look like this:

 

Then it time to throw them into the garbage (just kidding).

I put the bowls into garbage bags and stored them overnight.

The next morning the dough has doubled in size (It’s a live!) and I spread it out on a floured board:

 

I then folded the dough and let it rest (covered) for 15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, I got ready the “proofing” basket. This is where it will do a final rise before baking. I used a colander. I sprayed it with vegetable oil and added sesame seeds to it:

I rolled up the bread after it was done resting. I then added more sesame seeds to the outside of the dough:

Then I added it to the proofing basket:

Then covered:

I set a timer for 90 minutes and played a computer game with my brother.

After 90 minutes, I started up the oven and put in our Dutch oven. There is no temperature gauge on the oven, but if it went to 10, I would set it to eleven. It should be hot.

I set the timer for another 30 minutes.

At the end of that time, I dumped (literally) the dough into the Dutch oven. Covered the pot and put it back into the oven. The heat of the oven caused the dough to rise again.

After 30 minutes, it is time to remove the lid and put it back in the oven for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes, it was time to dump the bread onto the cooling rack:

Time to Eat!

Recipe:

1/4 cup of sourdough starter added to 1 and half cups of water
3 cups of unbleached bread flour
half a cup of whole wheat bread flour.
a third cup of cracked wheat
1 and half teaspoons of salt
Mix the water and starter together.
Then mix the dry ingredients
Then mix the wet and dry ingredients together. The mixture should be damp. Add water or flour as needed.

In the Hood

Spring had arrived and it was a sunny day. Great time for a walk in the neighborhood. I put on my tourist look: shorts, The Exorcist ball-cap my daughter gave me, and my camera with a giant telephoto lens bouncing on my gut that in some cultures would appear as an obvious phlallic display.

One of the first things I noticed was a “weed” growing against our wall. I wondered how tall it would get?

Two years ago this month, this dirt park was filled with make-shift tents when people abandoned their houses after the big earthquake.

My sister and brother. Camp Anza was a WWII mobilization center. You can still see the barracks if you drive down Cypress Avenue in Riverside today.

Really a step-up from where I grew up in Camp Anza (now Riverside, CA). Our ballpark was a corner of the parking lot of a nearby factory. It was only dirt, with a fence backstop. It was also used by the factory workers for softball games that could send hard-hit balls into the toxic waste drain that bordered the field.

Finally after an earthquake, then followed by an economic blockade, construction is in full swing around the valley, including in our neighborhood.

Need a wrench? The window of a hardware store.

 

The next time you complain about your job, think about this poor guy with the load of cane on his back. He probably has the same worries you do. You know, like where is going to sleep tonight and what will he eat, then again, maybe you don’t have those worries.

Here is some trivia for you. What famous movie featured a Lifebuoy quote?

Answer: A Christmas Story – After his mother washes his mouth out with Lifebuoy for swearing, Ralphie dreams that he is blinded and his father cries out, “I told you not to use Lifebuoy!”

Below the min-bus conductor looks for more riders, though I have no idea where he could put one. During the embargo, you would see riders on the roof, no longer though.

Lots of traffic on the road and lots of ways of getting around.

Water tankers are very common as running water is still a pipe dream.

Sometimes it is easy to only see the dust, the pollution and the chaos of life in the valley, but it is also colorful and full of life. Cheers to looking for the later.

My favorite photo of the walk.

 

An Indecent Proposal While Exploring a Tourist Hot Spot

This has been a stay-at-home spring break for us which is easy to do when you live in the middle of a mix of fascinating cultures.

We went shopping in Thamel, the tourist heart of Kathmandu. While Linda bargained with vendors I wandered the streets with my camera. The tourists have returned and the shops were generally busy.

Signs of prosperity

We had lunch at the RoadHouse Pizza where the featured product is baked in a wood oven.

Hot work

On our way back, our driver suggested we stop at a nearby area where a large chariot was being prepared to celebrate the upcoming rains (amongst other things) called Rato Machendranath Jatra. The chariot will be moved to various sacred spots in the city during the next month.

The chariot is that very large “tree-like” structure.

The chariot will be pulled by human power.

Cable service may be disrupted

The yoke of the wagon.

Kids on the chariot. When we were there, no one was climbing up and down the structure. Two years ago, just before the giant earthquake, two people were crushed under the wheels as it was being moved.

While waiting at the intersection a man approached me from behind “Want a massage? Ultimate end, you decided. Great sex.” No, this is not one of those Paul Theroux stories where I will go on to describe in detail a sexual encounter with a prostitute. Nope, not my thing. There are many stories of Nepali girls sold into labor only to end up in prostitution, a sad result of poverty and a lack of respect for humanity. However, I shared the story with someone and they suggested that the guy may have been the masseur, not the pimp! Good point. What a sad life, nothing great about it at all.

Masseur or Pimp?

 

 

Rampaging Gang Invades Our Home in Kathmandu

A loud crash on the patio announced their arrival.

 

We ran to the windows and looked out. We were surrounded! There were at least 8 of them. But not to worry, this is a daily happening for us. The “gang” is a large family of Rhesus Macaque, the temple monkeys of Nepal (and India).

Can you spot the youngster eating the trumpet flowers?
A large adult is watching the young one
Snapdragons are yummy too

Before we moved to Kathmandu I had dreams of growing fruit trees much like Southern California. The climate is very similar. It seems that anything you thrown into the soil here will sprout. But the first time I saw the monkeys demolish our papaya tree I realized dreams of fruit trees at our Kathmandu home would be fool’s errand.

Not every home in Kathmandu is like this, but we seem to be on daily migration route of this particular troop of monkeys. Some say they are part of this group: Gangs of Swayambhu

Years ago when they attacked the papaya tree, I went outside banging a pot and yelling at them. The largest one only paused a moment and barred his teeth at me. At that moment I did not think I was such a great ape and retreated inside.

You can see what effect my growl had on the monkeys who were ripping the branches off our pine tree yesterday.

More fun with the Ricoh Theta S camera

One of the challenges of 360 photography is finding sites that take advantage of the technology. Just uploading the image to Blogger for example makes the image look like it was taken in a fish bowl.

A 360 image embed from Flickr works, but it takes you to Flickr to open the file.
Fortunately I found a great site from Kathy Schrock that covers the “how-to” of displaying these images. That led me to Pannellum. Pannellum will take a spherical image you have hosted on the internet, such as Flickr and give you an embed code that allows you to show the image as it should be seen. Below is this side of Kathmandu from the rooftop at work. The camera was held over the ¬†railing on a tripod.


The temple on the hilltop is Swayambhunath

A larger version of the image can be seen on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/148854208@N08/30696342250/in/dateposted-public/

Halloween Fun and a new Camera

While in Vietnam two weeks ago, I was introduced to a new camera, the Ricoh Theta S. It has a lens on each side and takes 360 degree photos and movies.

The camera is small and extremely light weight. Fits easily into a pocket, or with a small tripod into a purse or backpack.

The camera take selfies to a whole new level. For example, tonight’s Halloween visitors (try rotating the image with your mouse down):

Happy Halloween! From Kathmandu

 #theta360 РSpherical Image РRICOH THETA

 

 

Baking sourdough bread in SoCal

Sourdough bread has been around for a long time. Both beer and sourdough bread appeared around the same time in ancient Egypt. Two great uses for grains! Sourdough fermentation also changes how people digest grains. See

I started making sourdough loaves using the instructions from Breadtopia.com. They sell the starter through Amazon. It takes a few days to grow the starter from the small package to make enough to continue growing and give you the 1/4 cup you need to make the bread. There is a great “no knead” recipe and video on Breadtopia. Breadtopia’s recipe is simple:

  • 1/4 cup of starter
  • 1 and half cups of water
  • Two and half cups of bread flour
  • 1 cup of whole wheat
  • 1 and half teaspoons of salt

For my SoCal recipe:

  • 3 and a third cups of unbleached bread flour with a third cup of cracked wheat and no whole wheat (it was not in my cupboard!)
  • Mix the water and starter together.
  • Then mix the dry ingredients
  • Then mix the wet and dry ingredients together. The mixture should be damp. Add water or flour as needed.

Covered the bowl with a plastic bag and let it sit from 8 to 12 hours. The longer you wait, the wetter the mixture gets. The mix will increase in size.

The mixture is dumped on to a floured surface and flattened and rolled (see video on Breadtopia.

The roll is allowed to rest for 15 minutes.

While it is resting for 15 minutes, prep the next surface. I use a colander. Oil it and add sesame seeds or wheat germ.
 Then take the roll of flour, ball it up and put it into the colander.
Leave it covered and turn on the timer to 60 minutes:
After 60 minutes, turn the oven up to 425F. My oven in SoCal burns very hot, so 425 is more like 500F. I set the timer for another 15 minutes. After lining the interior of the Dutch oven with parchment paper, it is put into the oven,  After another 15 minutes, the dough is ready to be dumped into the Dutch oven. The cover of the Dutch oven is removed after 30 minutes. 15 minutes later the bread is ready:
Now we have a loaf of bread to carry in our luggage to use in Kathmandu!
The last act for my sourdough starter is to preserve it for the next visit. The starter is spread-out on parchment paper and dried:
The flakes are stored in a baggie in the freezer, ready to be re-hydrated for our next visit.
5000 years after the first loaf, sourdough bread is still great to eat. Just don’t eat one that is that old!

Somewhere from the cold and dark…

Years ago we participated in the National Geographic’s Genographic Project. We sent away our cheek swaps and they either tested the Y-Chromosome for male or the mitochondrial DNA for your female ancestors. No surprise, the Willises were some of the first cave dwellers in what is now Britain. Likely surviving through the millennia by being first in front of the fire, and habitually late to wars and other property conflicts.

Recent events have put me in touch with my cave dwelling forbearers. Dry weather has reduced the amount of hydro-electricity available to Nepal. The lack of fuel due to the blockade has both reduced the amount of gas available for personal generators and the LPG available for heaters.

It is dark. This was today’s power schedule:

The times indicate when the power is OFF. So today we had power for 4 hours, from noon to 4 PM. During the power ON time we charged our batteries… literally:
  • The house has a large battery inverter that keeps the internet running but not enough power to keep appliances running.
  • We charged a couple of lanterns, they can keep a room bright for about 6 hours.
  • We have small LED lights stuck on the walls powered by rechargeable batteries.
  • Charge the laptops, thank goodness the MacBook Airs have a long battery life.
  • Charge the iPhones (also our backup internet if the inverter fails).

It is not terribly cold here, but cold enough that we don’t worry about the food spoiling in the refrigerator. The house doesn’t get warm. No heating. The cold morning fog seeps through window sills, and crawls beneath the gaps in the doors. It clings to everything and sucks out the warmth by your touch as sure as a vampires embrace.

We walk through the house in long underwear, fleeces, and down booties. The house is large. During the winter we don’t use the second floor at all. The third floor only for the laundry (when there is power). And on the ground floor we only use the kitchen and dining room during our waking hours. In bed, I don’t do my normal toss and turn. Beneath the 10 inches of blankets and down, I am pinned as well as any insect on a display board. Even so, it is my favorite place.

 In the evening the heavy curtains are drawn over our openings to the world. We sit before the glow of modern technology. We are in our cave.

Laxshmi puja – Let there be light

Today is Laxshmi puja, the day to welcome the goddess of good fortune to visit your house. We checked the batteries of our solar lights, and strung the bulbs across our second floor patio.

Houses in the neighborhood are decorated with lights and candles:

A mandala will help the goddess find the entrance to your house:

Notice the red blur in the picture, near the mandala. Is this Laxshmi?