109. Garden Fail – Birdhouse Gourds

On Thanksgiving Day, our (very) local neighbourhood gardeners and friends/family get together for the annual vegetable contest.

Now, I am not competitive at all, but I am a gardener, and I like a challenge and a deadline to jumpstart my creativity.

So in the spring I signed up to receive the little 3-seed packet for this year’s vegetable. We usually are challenged to grow something that matures near Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving, about 6 weeks before American Thanksgiving). This year’s vegetable was a birdhouse gourd.

All three of my seeds germinated. I planted two of them in pots, and one in the herb bed in the rooftop garden. These five gourds were all I could grow, and they are too small to dry out and use as bird houses. Our best gardener was able to grow a bunch that were big enough (about 14″ – 16″ tall.)

So I had to fake the birdhouse, by painting a black hole on each. Then, I faked actual (is that an oxymoron?) birds, too, by painting five of our favourite local birds right onto the gourds.

I have a bird colouring book the right scale for the gourds, so I traced the bird onto the gourd using a ball-point pen and tracing paper.

Then I painted them using the acrylic craft paint I had on hand. 

Of course, I needed a display box. I made one just the right length using scrap wood. The two sides are the last bit of what, in this family, we call “Grandpa’s Post.” Grandpa’s Post was salvaged from his workshop before the house that he built 60 years ago was torn down. It was a gorgeous piece of 4×4 fir, that I sanded down and intended to use for our bannister, but it wasn’t long enough.

The post sat protected in our crawl space, until our favourite daughter was making her bed, and she was able to use it for both footboard posts. There were two beautiful thin wedges left over, placed into the burn pile for kindling. I just couldn’t burn them – they were too precious to my heart. I trimmed them down to use in the box.

Sanded, then whitewashed the box. Inserted the gourds. Went to the contest. There were a bunch of clever and humourous entries, some done by children.

Won the prize. Obviously not for biggest gourd. The prize is re-awarded every year, thank heavens, because it is the ultimate in tacky. Witness yourself:

I have to keep it for a whole year, taking it out of hiding if any of our neighbours should pay a visit.

What’s green about this post?

  1. the gourds
  2. the gardening
  3. the recycling
  4. and the neighbours, who are green with envy that I have this fish-like thing in my house for a year




108. Little Bitta Fall Goin’ On


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107. How to be an Entrepreneur

Craftsman front door with boots

A pair of saleswomen came to our door this morning. They taught me about flawless customer service. Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

(ipod rock music playing)

Me: Hi, how can I help you?

SW#1 (carrying a container with coins): Well, we have a cleaner bottle here. It’s for your clothes. But we haven’t tested it.

Me: Great, how does it work?

SW#2 (carrying a bag with small spray bottles in it): Well, you spray it on your clothes before you put it in the laundry. We have tested it. You can also spray it on your skin and it will clean your skin.

Me: So, I could use it to clean my hands after I have been gardening?

SW#2: Yes, just spray it on and rub it.

Me: Do you make this product yourselves? What’s in it?

SW#2: Well… we smash up one of those bath balls. And it has water, and what’s that purple stuff?

Me: It looks like lavender flowers. Is that it?

SW#1: Yes, it’s lavender.

Me: How much does it cost?

SW#2 (looking at the container of coins): It’s two dollars.

Me: I’m afraid I don’t have enough coins. Can I give you a bigger bill and you give me the change – do you have $8 worth of coins?

SW#1: Yes, we can do that.

Me: So, here’s ten dollars. Can you count out $8 worth of coins?

SW#2: I’m not good at math.

Me: Okay, you hold the $10 bill, and I’ll help you count out your coins. This is two dollars and this is one dollar. How many dollars is that?

SW#2: Three dollars.

Me: Okay, these are quarters, and four of these make one dollar. So if I add four of these..

SW#2: Four dollars (continues to count as I add piles of four quarters)..five..six..seven..

Me: And these three quarters make seventy-five cents. Do you know how many cents are in this nickel?

SW#2 (looking closely at the coin): 5 cents.

Me: So that added to seventy five cents is…?


Me: Eighty cents. You have seven dollars and eighty cents in coins. So I can give you an extra twenty cents for my bottle of cleaner. And I give you this ten dollar bill, and keep your coins, all right?

SW#1 (with a furrowed brow): That’s not a good deal for us.

Me: Will you be able to get change for your $10 bill?

SW#2: Yes, yes we can get it at home. We have coins at home. (Turns to leave.)

Me: Okay, may I have my cleaner then?

SW#2: Oh, yes, here it is.

Me: Thank you. Good bye.

(I drop the coins into my change purse, then:)

Knock, knock, knock!

SW#1: We want our money back. You can keep the bottle.

I dig into my change purse, and put all my change into their container, without counting it. They give me my $10 bill back.

Me: Okay, I’ll owe you two dollars then. It’s easier to divide coins between you, isn’t it?

SW#1 (to SW#2 as they walk away): I feel much more comfortable with that.

SW#2: I feel better, too.

What did I learn about running a new business? For CEOs:

  1. Your sales force should consist entirely of six-year-olds.
  2. Money isn’t everything. Customer service is.
  3. Engage your customer in the math process. It makes her feel needed and guarantees she’ll test your product.
  4. You want your salespeople and customers both to end the transaction feeling satisfied. (Is it fair to quote Maya Angelou? She said, “People will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”)

106. Garden Tour – First Day of Summer

We have been blessed with both sun and rain in good measure, so the garden is growing great. This is a picture-heavy post – no deep thoughts here, except to say:

Nothing brings more peace and meditation to my day than sitting or crouching in the garden, weeding, for an hour or so. The birds are diverse, and their songs and activities make my serotonin levels surge. Fortunately for me, there is no shortage of weeds to offer me those daily opportunities for quiet contemplation.

There are also garden pests – it seems like a new one pops up in profusion each year.

Pulvinaria acericola (cottony maple leaf scale)

Pulvinaria acericola (cottony maple leaf scale)

Tomato plants chomped on by deer

Tomato plants chomped on by deer

Unidentified greenhouse pest damage

Unidentified greenhouse pest damage

But right now is the best time in the garden. Here’s a shot of my medicinal garden.

and rooftop garden:

I have started to harvest raspberries:

The new beehive:

(The digging in the upper left of the photo above is the beginning of our Hugelkultur bed. We’re filling it with wood/log green waste, and our compost and mulch on top. It will require no watering all summer, adding to our existing xeriscaped yard.)

We have a small orchard beside the studio, with a frost peach, two apple trees, and raspberries. The deer broke into the fence, and did some damage, but I caught it early. This is not a great photo, but it’s hard to get a view:

Tireside garden

Tireside garden

and a bunch of other shots:

herb tower on deck

herb tower on deck

cucumbers in greenhouse

cucumbers in greenhouse

Mason bee condo

Mason bee condo

granny's roses

granny’s roses

I hope you enjoyed the garden tour at This Green House. Seeing it all in one post makes me appreciate our garden anew.

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Sunny Simple Life, Life on Lakeshore Drive, Over the Moon, Amaze Me Monday, June Garden Party with Friends, Coastal Charm, Cozy Little House (FEATURED!), Talented Tuesday, Savvy Southern Style (FEATURED!), Creative Muster Party, DIY By Design, Simple Nature Decor, Rooted in Thyme (FEATURED!), Hometalk #LandscapeLove




105. Taco Bar for 120

Do you do this too?

You know, stick up your hand habitually, when something needs to get done?

Something you care about, passionately?

Like, one of your kids decides to get married? At a campground?

And, you are smitten with the opportunity to get right in there and help make it happen?

I know my limits. And I know, from experience, some ways I can effectively help. Two years ago, our son got married, and I stuck up my hand: “I can cater this wedding!” said I. And, along with some amazingly helpful people, I did.wedding buffet

This month, our daughter got married. I stuck up my hand. “I can do this!” Most of the “Ten Habits for a Green Wedding” from our son’s wedding were repeated, including everyone had their BYOC(up) and we used returnable kegs of beer and cider.

Rather than renting the dishes and cloth napkins this time, we used 120 mis-matched plates and cutlery provided with hall rental, as well as miscellaneous tablecloths – mostly dropcloths from our son’s wedding – and cloth napkins. Can you believe I own 95 cloth napkins, all by myself? And I have dear friends to lend me 25 more cloth napkins, as well as huge pots, chafing dishes, more cutlery, and stainless steel serving bowls.linens ready for wedding dinner

I LOVE the eclectic look – so funky. In fact, I’m thinking of using mis-matched dishes and linens on our own tablescapes.

table setting

Fortunately, this time the hall where we did the food prep had a great compost bin (unlike our son’s wedding where we had to discard the compostables.) The table decorations came from the forest surrounding the hall, and returned there after the festivities.

There was little traditional about the ceremony or the party afterwards. A posse of friends baked sweets for dessert. The bride and groom wore purple and white. About 80 guests rode their bikes onto the ferry and over to the campground. Any residual headaches the next morning were banished by a nude group swim in the ocean by 50 of the guests (all young!)

The bride and groom decided on a big ol’ taco bar for their celebration dinner. We brainstormed what foods we might include in a taco bar. We considered food sensitivities (gluten/nuts/dairy, for example) and came up with this menu that would suit meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans, who select their own fillings and toppings from the taco bar:

Taco Table Menu

(100% nut-free, gluten in wheat tortillas only)

Tortilla chips (12 large bags)/ Salsa (6 quarts)

Corn Tortillas (180 6″)

Wheat Tortillas (180 6″)

Hard Tacos (48)


Pulled Pork with  BBQ Sauce (27 lbs pork shoulder)

Ground Beef (see recipe – 15 lbs beef)

BBQ Garlic Margarita Chicken (15 lbs chicken breast, shredded)

Tuna and Salmon (10 lbs total, breaded and fried and see recipe)

Fried Tofu (2 lbs), Chopped hard-cooked eggs (2 dozen)

Refried Beans (84 oz – 6 cans)

Chopped Tomatoes (5 lbs) / Caramelized Onion (26 lbs onions)

Shredded Lettuce (2 heads iceberg) / Shredded Spinach (4 large bags)

Olives (1 quart sliced) / Jalapenos (1 quart sliced) / Mushrooms (7 lbs, sliced & sauteed)

Sweet Peppers (12, chopped)/Red Cabbage (1 small head, shredded)

Shredded Jack & Cheddar Cheese (10 lbs total, grated)

Smashed Yams (6 with cumin and curry)


Spanish Rice (see recipe)

Bean & Corn Salad (see recipe)



Sour Cream (2 quarts)

Guacamole (see recipe)

Cilantro (medium bowl, chopped)

Green Onions (6 bunches chopped) & Red Onions (2 chopped)

Lime Wedges (12, cut into quarters)

Mole Sauce (see recipe)

Pumpkin Seeds (1 lb)


Tea, Herbal Tea, Coffee

Sparkling Water (10 bottles) Lemonade (see recipe)

Almost all of the greens and herbs came from my garden.

We had a revolving door of fantastic kitchen crew members, many of whom had restaurant experience. In fact, I can honestly say I barely had to lift a finger – I just barked orders: “Here’s your list of food to buy.”, “This is the recipe. Can you make it happen?” “You’re in charge of all the drinks, okay?” “Can you chop 36 peppers (36 avocados, 30 pounds of onions, etc……?)” “These 48 lemons or 8 jalapenos need to be juiced/chopped. Oh, do you have scratches on your hands? Sorry about that!”kitchen crew

Some food was prepped in advance, such as Theo’s pulled pork (12 hours in the smoker!)pulled pork

We scheduled about 3 hours of food shopping and fourteen hours of prep, and I’m proud to say that the dinner was on the table at exactly the scheduled 7 pm.

Even though I’ve catered several other large events and am a Home Economics teacher, I still lack confidence about appropriate quantities. In case anyone wants some guidelines for your own event, I include some recipes below and quantities above. I have adjusted them after the fact to reflect our event’s actual requirements. Keep in mind that most of the guests were hard-working, fit young bicycle riders with great appetites. There were even a few competitive athletes. My goal for quantities, if I’ve planned it right: there will be enough of everything with a modest quantity left over.

We shopped in the big city before heading over to the island, and left the fresh produce and dairy for last minute shopping locally.

It was a challenge to get everything and everybody into and onto the truck, in the rain.

packing the cooler

But, “we” did it!

I made a diagram of where each food item on the taco bar would be located, repeating the same foods on each side of the table for flow.
taco table map

Here are some recipes, to serve 120:

Spanish Rice: 1. In a 20 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid, simmer 9 cups brown rice in 20 cups vegetable stock until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes (keep an eye on it!) 2. In a heavy casserole, heat 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. 3. Add 4 chopped onions, 1/4 cup fresh garlic, 4 chopped green and 4 chopped sweet red peppers, 6 minced fresh jalapeno peppers, 3 Tbsp. cumin powder and 1 Tbsp sea salt. Saute until onions are translucent. 4.Mix saute with cooked rice and 28 oz tomato paste. 5. Heat through and garnish with 2 bunches of sliced green onions. Serve with sour cream.

Guacamole: Mix all these together: 30 just-ripe avocados, mashed with a potato masher. (Our avocados, purchased 3 days before the wedding, were quite firm. We put them into a brown paper bag with ripe bananas, on the counter. I think it worked.) Juice from 10 juicy limes. 2 red onions, minced. 3/4 cup of minced garlic. 3 Tbsp. ground cumin. 8 chopped tomatoes. 1 Tbsp sea salt. 1 tsp. ground black pepper. 1 Tbsp. cayenne or 3 Tbsp. hot sauce. Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Lemonade Concentrate: juice 3 dozen lemons (enough to almost fill a 2-litre pop bottle), and mix it with 2 cups of warm honey. Infuse 1 cup of boiling water with a handful of fresh mint leaves for about 1/2 hour, and mix all together. Add 5 cups water to 1 cup of the concentrate for lemonade. Add ice if desired, to serve.

Bean and Corn Salad: For dressing: Mix together 1 cup lime juice, 1 cup olive oil, 2 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1.5 salt, and 1 tsp. ground cayenne powder. For salad: In a large bowl, mix 2 19-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained, a 2 lb bag of frozen corn, 2 chopped avocado, 2 chopped red peppers, 4 chopped tomatoes, and 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced.

Mole Sauce: 1. In 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, saute 4 chopped onions, 2 Tbsp crushed garlic, 1 tsp ground cumin and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. 2. Add 2 tsp coarse salt, 4 cans whole tomatoes, 4 large chipotle chile in adobo sauce, 2 cups raisins, and 12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped. Simmer to blend flavours. 3. Blend sauce to a smooth consistency. 4. Serve at room temperature with cilantro on the side.

Marinated Fish: 1. Put 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, into a bowl, and cover with red wine vinegar. Set aside for 30 minutes to several weeks in the fridge. 2. Mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 1.5 tsp ancho chile powder, 1tsp ground cumin, and 1 chopped jalapeno. Pour over 5 lbs fish, cut into strips, and marinate for 20 minutes. 3. Put fish into a pan, top with onion mixture, and bake in a 350˚ oven for 20 minutes.

Ground Beef: In a large wide pot, scramble-fry the ground beef until cooked. Drain the fat. Chop 10 large onions and saute until translucent. Add to the beef, along with 28 oz tomato paste, 1 cup mild chili powder, 1/2 cup ground cumin, 1 Tbsp salt, and 1 Tbsp black pepper. Heat and stir mixture for 10 minutes to blend flavours.

One tip I have for storing the prepared food in the fridge for reheating just before serving: Use extra large ziploc bags – you can store so much more food if you have limited fridge space.

Our last minute crew was a well-oiled machine – everyone did their job: reheating food, lighting the fuel under the chafing dishes, making coffee and tea, setting up drinks, putting all the foods into serving bowls, cleaning dishes, and clearing surfaces. That hour flew by in about 3 minutes, and we were suddenly ready. A shout-out to my helpers – about a dozen of them made it happen. So grateful.

And, as a total non sequitur to this post about food, my toenails matched my polka-dot dress. 

What the heck – it made me happy.

 Sharing with: Simple Saturdays, Hey What’s for Dinner Mom, Silver Pennies, Rustic & Refined, Nifty Thrifty Sunday, Cozy Little House, Our Home Away from Home, Savvy Southern Style, My Own Home, Simple Nature Decor, DIY By Design, In the New House Designs