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Category Archives: Hobbies

Pilgrimage to Penzeys

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Ever heard of Penzeys. The spice place. Known to bakers, cooks, and those who love the freshest of ingredients. I went there today to find fresh whole spices for Indian cooking.

Because of this cookbook.

The October selection of our cookbook club. A cuisine that we both have loved ever since we first met. There are many excellent Indian restaurants in our area. Ananda comes to mind as a personal favorite. And, garam masala is a staple in my cooking.

But, this book is different. Home cooking, not restaurant meals. Simple, flavorful, and tempting me to create my own garam masala from scratch. And, to make simple dishes like the masala omelet.

I think I am set to continue my cooking, and to grind my own masala. Not pictured are the peppercorns. I do have cloves which are also called for in her recipe for garam masala.

Penzeys store is located in Rockville, even though their website says Penzeys Bethesda. Just south of MD 28 on Rockville Pike. Right now, if you go to their store and spend $50 (not hard to do with spices), you get two free jars.

Not going in my Indian cooking, but definitely a plus for some of my other recipes. Their prices are actually comparable to good sources of spice in specialty stores, but they are so fresh.

I also stocked up on a few staples, like these.

Yeah, I know, addicted to cooking. Just like my mom, who couldn’t pass up a yarn, knitting, craft store.

You can also buy online, if you don’t have a store close to you. What’s to keep you from having some awesome dinners?

 

 

A Record Year

On the garden yield. The 2017 tomato crop has blown away all my previous yields.

This was probably my heaviest harvest in August. Over 20 pounds. So far this year my grand total has exceeded 171 pounds, and the cherry tomatoes are still producing.

My previous personal best was 139 pounds the first year I moved to a community garden plot. I thought that was an immense amount and now I am dealing with another 30 some pounds. The freezer is full. I have been gifting a half dozen friends regularly. The food bank and the Wine in the Garden auction basket winner have benefitted from my harvest.

I keep extensive records. By variety. Number of tomatoes. Number of ounces. Every time I pick. I sort. I weigh. I process.

Doing this allows me to decide what to plant again. What to give up. This year? The last of the pineapple tomatoes. They disappointed me for the last time. I love how they look, and how they taste, but they are fickle and fragile.

My replacement for them. Striped German. In the top picture, they are the very large yellow tomatoes with the green stripes. Those were picked a bit early, just before a predicted rain. If I left them on too long, they would split.

In this picture, you can see what happens when the rains come and split the tomatoes. My other favorite from this year, the small cherries with the darkest color, are prone to splitting too. These, the black cherry heirlooms, and those Striped Germans were bought from Love Dove Farms. I bought a market pack of four Striped Germans, and two plants of the black cherries. They will most certainly be grown again next year. They were superior in taste and both produced well.

San Marzano and large cherry tomatoes also did well.

I had two San Marzano plants that produced more than 20 pounds of tomatoes. The red cherry and tomato berry plants also went crazy in late July.

My freezer has dozens of containers of oven roasted cherry tomatoes. All winter long, I will be enjoying them over pasta or mixed with couscous or rice. I freeze them in single dinner size. Enough for the two of us to share.

The plants this year were spectacular.

Ringed by rebar and string to keep them upright. Many reached over six feet high eventually. I put in 32 plants this year in two long double rows in the garden. I lost two of them early in the season. Thirty plants. Averaging almost six pounds per plant. Since eight of the plants were cherry varieties, that’s a healthy return on “investment”.

One other surprise. The purple bumblebee hybrid, which isn’t purple at all.

Do they look purple? Not to me. They do have a great taste. Next year, they will return with the black cherry, striped German, and the San Marzanos. I will probably also repeat the Brandywine and the Rutgers.

It may be the end of the season, but the planning never stops. And, let’s see if I can get to 175 pounds before the first frost.

W3AO Field Day The 2017 Edition

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Another year goes by. This  is the 8th time I have supported Amateur Radio Field Day here in Howard County. It’s the 20th anniversary of W3AO being on the air for the 24 hour event.

I want to write more about what goes on, down in the trenches, to make any large event like this, composed completely of volunteers, successful. I could call this year’s effort “Doing More with Less”. Less people in total. Less stations set up. This year the club dropped down to 16 Alpha. That means, capability to simultaneously transmit on 16 radios, using generators as power.

A cheat sheet on one of the computers. You try to contact as many regions, as many states and provinces, as you can, during the 24 hour operating period. When you establish a radio contact, you exchange the following information. Their call sign. Their number of transmitters and a letter that tells you if they are using generators, batteries, are mobile or at home using commercially supplied power. Their section. We are MDC, Maryland/District of Columbia region.

The interesting thing about our set up is the sheer number of portable crank up towers. Twelve in all.

On Friday, three small teams of volunteers put up the towers, build the antennas, roll out the coaxial cables and it all fits inside a 300 meter diameter circle on the property between two county schools. They also string wire antennas between some of the towers. Additionally, we set up a satellite communication capability.

It’s fun to head down there when a satellite comes within range and watch them track and make contact with other operators while the satellite remains “open” to both stations.

Things inside the main tent are also interesting. It’s a juxtaposition of really old and really new. As in the Windows dinosaur computers, in order to use logging software, called CT. It doesn’t work on newer operating systems. Put that next to a “K3”, one of the fanciest radios out there, and it becomes one very jarring visual.

Band captains bring their own radios. Their keyers. Their headphones. Sometimes their monitors and other accessories. They don’t mess around.

We set up three generators, and the county loans us a spare, in order to power all this “Stuff”.

And you thought setting up your TV/VCR was complicated?

Really, though, I have such a great time watching this all come together in order to have a successful weekend.

It’s a great team. More in another post in the next few days. Incuding, logistics, and scoring.

Otherwise, the official team photograph.

Instant Summer

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Just add heat and humidity, along with all the pollen. This week is a scorcher. Out of nowhere we went from cool and rainy to hot and humid. I have been planting vegetables like crazy in my garden, and trying to keep up with the watering to help them acclimate.

Just a few really interesting views on what is happening.

Native coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens

It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Supposedly a rare native butterfly, whose name escapes me at the moment. This beautiful plant is in the children’s garden at the Howard County Conservancy community gardens. I am attempting to maintain and catalog what is there.

Including this.

Poppy family, maybe? I am learning more about flowers these days, while still maintaining my vegetable plot.

On the home front, the warm weather triggered the rhododendron.

There are two bushes in our yard. One, my favorite, the white one, doesn’t always display a large number of blooms. This year, yes, it has.

Anything new and exciting in your gardens this year?

In Vino Veritas

Spring came to our area last weekend. It doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. It was a perfect weekend for a winery trip, and we didn’t even have to leave the state.

Maryland has over 60 wineries now. When we first got married and interested in local wine, there wasn’t much out there. Byrd, Boordy, Basignani, Fiore, Elk Run, Linganore, and Montbray are the ones I remember. Back then, we were looking to buy a few Maryland wines to have with our wedding anniversary dinners. Knowing that most of the wines weren’t made to age for decades, we focused on whites for the first few years. We also looked for those specially made reds, or dessert wines, to get us through our second decade of marriage. Byrd made decent reds in 1980. So did Elk Run. Not much else. Cabernet Sauvignon wasn’t widely planted in the state. Now, it’s different.

On the Maryland Wine website, I see that we’ve visited 14 of the 68 active wineries. Quite a list to ponder future destinations.

For this “trip”, we went to two of the closest wineries to our home in Central Maryland. Black Ankle and Old Westminster. We have been to these wineries before. I have written about their wines in my local dining challenges, and just in my locavore posts.

Why were we visiting wineries this weekend? Black Ankle, because it was wine club pick up weekend. Old Westminster, because the weather was gorgeous and we hadn’t seen the new tasting room, which opened last year.

If you have good local wineries where you live, you might want to consider their wine clubs. There are many different models. Look into them, you may find one that fits your budget, and your desired types of wine. Also, compare, some clubs are extremely flexible about exchanges and substitutions.

The clubs are very popular. They also give you special events, and small lot wines not available for general purchase. We belong to three in Maryland. Big Cork, Black Ankle, and as of yesterday, Old Westminster.

Why these three? Convenience of pick up, flexibility, and quality/consistency of product. There are quite a few excellent wineries in the state these days. For us, it came down to location coupled with selection. We enjoy the events at the local wineries. We tend to take picnic lunches or dinners with us when we go to get our quarterly allocation.

All three of these wineries allow you to bring in food, and have ample space for you to picnic on their grounds. I finally figured out what drew us to this model. It was simple. Feeling as if we had returned to the days where you could pack a picnic, spread out a blanket, listen to good music, eat good food and drink good wine. We lost that model in our communities and our parks. Restrictions on alcohol, due to liability issues, mostly.

But I digress. We had a lovely weekend around here. It warmed up enough on Friday afternoon for us to take a small cooler with some salads, fruit and yogurt and head out to Mt. Airy. Black Ankle is open from noon until 8:30 PM on Fridays.

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Every Friday night they have live music, year round. Winters, they are indoors. In good weather, they set up out front and tables, chairs and picnic blankets cover the lawn.

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Second Saturday nights, every month, are member only music events. After the winery is closed to the general public. Black Ankle has over 2300 wine club members, so there is always a crowd. A much younger crowd than what we used to see at wineries. Which I think is a great thing. A few decades back, we would only encounter people older than us at winery events. Nice to see the resurgence in interest in good wines. Black Ankle’s wines are pricey. But worth it. Consider a Friday night there as a better choice for dinner and music. Yes, the wines begin at $28 a bottle. They are a bargain compared to spending that much in a chain restaurant for a bottle that retails for $6-10. They are also very well made. All of them.

Yesterday, we headed up to Old Westminster to visit that new tasting room.

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So did many others as seen in the picture taken as we were leaving, just before closing time at 5pm. The building is sleek, clean lined and there is adequate space to host events for the over 1000 club members here. A relative newcomer to the Maryland wine scene, Old Westminster began selling wine less than 5 years ago. They make very, very good sparkling wines. One of only a handful of wineries in our state that make sparklers. It’s the reason we joined their club. Limited numbers of their premium wines.

We will be getting our first trio of wine in March. Looking forward to it. Also interested in food truck Fridays at the winery. They should be fun. Coal fired pizza with wine, anyone?

Stay tuned this spring and summer when we wander the state to see what else is out there.

Bugs and Brews

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Thursday night. One of the more popular events for the over 21 crowd. Out at Mt. Pleasant, Howard County Conservancy picnic grounds. The second in the series of annual “cocktails and nature” themed events.

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Dr. Mike Raupp, the bug man, famous in this area for his vast knowledge and enthusiasm for all things buggy. Dr. Paula Shrewsbury is also presenting and she and Mike will be leading an informal walk through the meadow trails to search for interesting bugs, bees and butterflies.

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This year the theme is Bugs and Brews. Heavy Seas beer is available to enjoy. The event is free. The beers will be a nominal charge. You don’t have to imbibe to attend, but the beers are excellent.

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This was last year’s crowd. As I said, this event has been a big success. Thursday night we hope to see all of Mike’s fans, and lots of beer lovers, too.

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For those of us who have been here a long time, Heavy Seas Beer is the very popular craft beer company started by Hugh Sissons. Sissons opened in Baltimore back when I was a newlywed with Baltimore roots. A pub we visited on our trips to the Inner Harbor. It’s still going strong and held by Sissons’ family members.

Come join us. Six PM is the starting time of the event. Have a beer. Talk to Mike and Paula. See what interesting insects they bring to the party. August 25th.

W3AO Field Day 2016 Never A Dull Moment

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So, what do you do to make Field Day for Amateur Radio operators more interesting? Put it on a site that recently had a drive by tornado? Add a warning for a young black bear in the area? Have both generators not work because of battery problems? Have the replacement generator experience power surges to 150 volts which fried a few power supplies? Have the tent supplier substitute two small tents for the one you ordered?

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The reason we operate this exercise, is to show we can be responsive in the event of a local or national emergency. We certainly had our share of excitement this year.

How did we do? We don’t know yet, but it should be great, since we put so much effort into fully embracing the activity. This year they added a new bonus category. Social media promotion. We created a Facebook page and uploaded quite a bit of video and photos to show how much effort (and fun) went into field day.

We also were encouraged to add the younger set into our Get On The Air (GOTA) station. Which had many, many little ones making contacts after simple coaching.

field day gota

All in all, it was another perfect weekend. Weather cooperated. Lots of new visitors learned how we use radio to supplement the other communication devices, in the case of emergency. Rather important for us these days. As we definitely had communication problems in west county last week, with downed telephone wires and damaged cell towers.

Thanks also to Howard County Office of Emergency Management, who loaned us a generator.

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