Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Painting Chocolates

Painting some silicon chocolate molds this evening with my wife.  These I painted half red and put white on the little divot in the mold.  Otherwise it will look like a mistake instead of intentional design.

As we wait for them to dry though I remembered a lecture we went to about paintings.  Way back, canvases were so expensive paintings were often painted over with other paintings.  One such painting was found this way.  It had been seen as a background image in another work and was thought to have been made up until X-ray scans of another work revealed it had been painted over. In chocolate molds it would be the opposite since the first thing you will likely see, unless the chocolate is too hot and remedy’s everything, would be the paint that was put down first.  In this case I could wash over the entire heart with a third color after this one cools down and you would only see what hadn’t already been painted.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Cacao Repotted

We finally repotted the cacao tree into its own pot as well as several of the new saplings about ten days ago. Finally getting around to posting it's progress though and it has also topped three feet tall!  This little guy has really taken off compared to the other trees.

Another couple of inches and I'll remove the box it's sitting on so it can have more room above it and it will still be fairly close to the overhead light.  I want to keep that as constant as I can as it grows up.

I think I see a small side leaf poking out about seven leaves from the top.  Hopefully this is the first sign of it branching out.  This should be happening about now, if not sooner.  Two of the other trees already have side branches and are much smaller than this one so I wan't sure what to expect.

It's still a long way off until we can expect any pods though. A minimum of four more years I would expect.  Before that time comes I should have already repotted this guy again in something twice as wide and at least a foot and a half tall if not two feet. Still thinking on that one. Aesthetics vs. root space.  We'll see which one wins out.  A shorter pot is usually more common in an office environment and would give it more room to grow up but a taller pot would give it more room for root support for the grownt I hope it gets.  Hard to decide until I see how it goes.

On the side there you can see the vanilla plants.  They've gotten so long I've draped one of them over the cubicle wall and the other one you can see the pot.  They're now nearly ten times the size from the time I got them.  Faster growing than expected for such a sub par environment.  I have been misting them with water though so maybe that's helped more than I thought it would.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fake Chocolate (Chocoverse Book 3)

Book three of the Chocoverse Series is in the works and, for all the fans out there who have stuck by Bo and her friends through all of their adventures from Earth to Zant and beyond, Amber has decided to enlist your support to help make this a reality.

A lot goes into making books.  As you can see from the graphic, the book cover has to have some awesome art, something to make you go WOW.  This is after all book three where we get to wrap up a lot of what's going on with earth and how the impeding invasion turns out.

Of course the cover is what will catch your eye but even more goes into writing, editing, and proofing the manuscript to make sure this book is the best it can be and so you, the reader and supporter of the series can have the same captivating experience you've come to expect from the Chocoverse series.  There will be aliens, spaceships, drama, and of course Bodacious herself with all her  hopetastic optimism that everything is going to turn out just fine if only they can.....

And in case you're still not convinced.  We will find out how Chestla's love life fares.  Who does she end up choosing?  The friend from her past who shares her culture or the new flame that started in the rain forest?

As an added bonus there are lots of goodies for those who want to help even more.  Just go to Indiegogo through the link below to see how you can help.


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Cacao 30 Inch Goal

With the three new leaves coming in she's not topped 30 inches in height (measured from the top of the soil).

The pot on the right is where she used to sit and at this point, if she was still there, would be hitting the ceiling.   That should tell you how high the ceiling is from the comparison of heights.  Another 8-10 inches and I'll be lowering the pot again.  Currently she sits on two boxes which can easily be removed one at a time.

If you've been following this at all you can probably tell I still haven't repotted anything.  It's on my to do list.

That being said, the new saplings are doing pretty good. I have full confidence in about 24 of them and fairly sure 3 more will be ok.  A total of 27 out of 40 survivors of this last planting.  I a full grown tree can produce enough to make 2 pounds of chocolate a year that would be 54 pounds of chocolate or nearly 500 chocolate bars.  Still a very small batch compared to most but that would be kind of awesome.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Hot Cocoa Recipe

The weather has gotten colder (a nice cold front moved through DFW last night) and it's getting to be fall.  Which of course means hot beverages and soups.  We've probably all had a nice cup of cocoa on a chilly day but have you had a really good hot cocoa yet?

This is one that you can use Hershey's cocoa for.  Of course if you want to fancy it up any cocoa will do.  For me it isn't the cocoa but the milk that makes it better because frankly there's a lot more of it.  If you were on the other hand making drinking chocolate I'd suggest a nicer chocolate with a more complex flavor.

Here is my take on cocoa for the coming seasons.

Hot Cocoa

Take a tablespoon of both cocoa and sugar and mix them with as much whole milk (cold is ok but warmed milk will mix faster).
(People will tell you that 2% or skim milk will do, but not really unless your doctor says otherwise.)

Mix this together until it forms a thick consistent texture.  Let it sit for a few minutes so the sugar has some time to dissolve and the cocoa has time to absorb the liquid. Your mixture should thicken up quite a bit.  This will allow it to mix well with the rest of the milk when combined.

To prepare your milk, heat it on the stove on low to medium heat, depending on your stove, stirring constantly so it doesn't scald on the bottom.  When the milk gets steamy and starts to form little bubbles it's ready to mix. Depending on how rich you want the chocolate flavor you can mix anywhere between 4 and 8 ounces of milk into the chocolate.
Optionally you can add a little vanilla extract, peppermint oil, salt, or other additives to your taste.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Kit Kat’s

People here in the United States typically think of Kit Kat's to be something we alone eat and that it's only one of the many chocolate bars at your local convenience store.

This is much further from the truth than you might think.  We had known about the Japanese craze over Kit Kat's and just had to go see one of the stores for ourselves.  We found ourselves in Ginza for a little shopping and of course where we wanted to see the Kit Kat store.

We were a little overwhelmed, not because there was a great variety of products, but because the cost of getting Kit Kat's.  This isn't a convenience store.  This is Japanese people going nuts over a chocolate bar.

One of the things I realized much later and should have realized when I went in there in the first place is that most of the Kit Kat's were not milk or dark chocolate but white chocolate with flavorings. Lavender, Matcha, Lemon, Apple, and several others.  The reason I started thinking about this is because Ruby Chocolate (raw cacao bean flavored chcolate) was first sold as a Kit Kat bar.  Probably right along all these other flavored white chocolate bars.  It was the perfect starting ground.  They should rebrand matcha chocolate as Emerald Chocolate.  It would probably make just as big of a wave.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Ruby Chocolate

So what is this craze people are talking about?  I recently attended the 10th Dallas Chocolate Festival and more than one person asked me about this.  Fortunately I've had a little experience trying some of this elusive chocolate specifically at one of the book readings my wife had in Minneapolis at Maggers & Quinn this year as produced by Sweets Engineer.

My response was a less than glowing review.  It tastes ok but not really my thing.  The flavors really haven't been developed.  This is mostly because the beans haven't been fermented.  The red color comes from the natural color of the bean which is a darker form of the color you see.  The cocoa butter, sugar, and other ingredients that might be added to it lighten it to this reddish pink color you see in the picture or probably it's more accurate to say the cacao colors the other ingredients.  Really what you have is a colored white chocolate.  It would be interesting to know if the cocoa butter comes from the same beans.  I would be shocked if they were since the ruby beans are supposed to be so special.  Typically you add extra cocoa butter to chocolates.  So in this case that's a lot of extra cocoa butter.  Callebaut is claiming 47.3% cocoa content.  Looking further into it's ingredients shows 2.5% fat-free cocoa.  This would be your red cocoa bean with cocoa butter removed. So total cocoa butter would be (doing the math) 44.8% and still sugar is the #1 ingredient.

At the Dallas Chocolate Festival we took a chocolate making class where ruby chocolate was discussed briefly.  The consensus was that it wasn't necessarily bad but also wasn't real exciting to those giving the class or any of the participants who had tried it beforehand.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Cacao Survivors

So not all of the beans that sprouted are doing well.  I resorted the cups into probability of survival.  That would seem a little heartless if these weren't plants but in the world of plants it's normal.  Often you will plant multiple seeds in a single location and remove the plants that are weaker and merely throw them away.  This is especially true with flowers and vegetable plants.

So in the bottom left (which is the bottom right usually but I'm tried to make sure all the trees were visible in this shot) you have the obvious dud.  He's already dead and starting to rot.

The front 8 I really have very little hope for.  As you go down the line though you can easily see many of the trees are doing well.  Over half have leaves forming although none of them are really "set" yet.  By that I mean they are still in the formation stage where it's still easy for them to get shocked and fall off.  My revised estimate is that from 10-12 of these 40 plants will not make it.  That still leaves 28-30 viable trees though.  Not bad for putting seeds in dirt and remembering to water them.  Of course soon the'll need a lot more dirt and bigger pots and better locations for growth.  Fortunately I work in a large enough office that there are plenty of places for that to happen.  My current hope is to have enough trees to have a small crop in a few years and be the first person to go from planting the trees to bonbons, at least in Texas.  There are already some in Hawaii and some in other countries that do this, like Che'il Mayan Products, Nina Chocolates, and Loiza Dark.  But here trees have to be grown indoors making it a bit more difficult to keep them healthy and productive.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

UTZ Certified Cocoa (What is it?)

It's another in a long list of companies and organizations that are all trying to make you feel better about the chocolate you are eating.

If you were told that your chocolate was grown by an aging man who can barely get by.  A man who uses old tools that should have been replaced years ago and who works twelve hours a day for barely enough to buy some of the things he can't get locally or make on his own.  Who's children work along side him and at the end of the day still have never even tasted the final product we know as chocolate, a substance that often gets thrown away by those who don't know any better when they see a white dusting look on the outside (still perfectly good chocolate).  A family sleeping in conditions that we wouldn't force our dog to sleep in.  Then you might be a bit outraged and demand someone do something about it.

What you get is these companies that will tout all they have done to improve the industry and the relationships from farmer to product.  How much does this really affect the product in the end. Almost none.  In the end what you get is to feel better about eating a product even if you have no real proof of any tangible improvement overall.  Not saying these people are evil or taking advantage of anyone.  They may well be trying their best to improve conditions of the farmers and the methods they use for producing and harvesting.

UTZ does not just deal with cacao farmers though.  They do coffee, tea, cacao, and even nut production.  That's pretty thin to spread any company.

What about companies that aren't part of this UTZ certification?  Are they necessarily bad companies? If you look at some of the bean to bar makers I don't find any of them that have this certification but they're doing much of the same things on a much more manageable scale.  They many times go personally to the farmers and not only help them produce better cacao crops but know the people that are working for these plantations.  Is this any better of a guarantee that everything is on the up and up. Maybe a little but really after they leave there's still no micromanaging of these places.  You really can't tell what goes on after visitors leave.  They do claim to pay better than the bigger chocolate companies though and if so that at least would be a big boost to their ability to live better.  Note that these certifications also only cover one single ingredient of the chocolate which can easily have a dozen or more ingredients from various sources, none of which might be certified in any way.

I have to say that I don't think my little forest will ever be certified by anyone. Many much larger farms and plantations also don't get certifications such as organic, not because they don't or couldn't, but because the cost of certification isn't worth it.  So don't knock a company just because there isn't a certification since all that really means is that at some point (hopefully regularly) someone who was given authority went there and checked certain aspects of the company/place being certified.

Another note.  The wording of certifications and claims might not be what you expect.  The names of these certifications usually sound better than what actually happens.  If you want food just like it came naturally then you would have all sorts of blemishes, bugs, and smaller crops.  Everyone uses some form of chemical on their crops if they have any real scale to their operations, even organic.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Struggling Sprout

One of the seeds was having a bit of a problem getting out of the ground.  On more thing the testa does apparently is prevent the seed from sending roots into itself before coming out of the ground.

When I checked it I found that it had sent little roots into the seed holding it under the dirt while at the same time trying to get out of the dirt with this loop of a stem. I cut around the seed to free it from the roots and as you can see it is already coming up out of the dirt.  It had been completely covered before.  Just hoping it's not too late for it to develop properly or if this might be some odd way of twisting the trunk.

We'll see how it comes out in the next few days.  I'll try to make sure no new roots try to grab hold of it in the mean time.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Full Sprouting (40 of 40)

AS of yesterday we seem to have a full sprouting of all forty seeds!  One of them you can see in the picture is just a green stem loop and hasn't really popped up yet but it is definitely growing.

Part of this I attribute to peeling the testa (seed coat) away from the seeds before planting.  The seeds didn't have to wait for the testa to determine if the conditions were right for sprouting and so just did their thing.  Since the seeds were planted in good potting soil there is little worry about fungus, bugs, or other problems you typically find in the wild.

In this way they are very different from things like butterflies who need the process also of breaking out of the chrysalis to develop properly. If you see a butterfly emerging it's best to leave it alone so it can come out and develop properly. Unless you're skilled (properly trained) you are more likely to injure it than help it survive.  Cacao seeds can be nicked pretty good and still grow just fine. I nicked a few of these while peeling them (wet) and they've sprouted just fine.  The part of the seed that was injured is merely a food source and there's still plenty of it left.

For those of you who might be wondering, yes this might be termed growing cocoa. Cocoa and cacao are often used interchangeably although they are technically different.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Cacao Seedlings (35 of 40)

Looked this evening to see how these fellas were doing and to give them a little water, because of course the'll need regular watering, and did a quick head count.

So far at least 35 of them can easily be seen sprouting out of 40.  A couple of them might be moving a little but I couldn't really tell unless I dug around a little in the dirt.  At this phase I don't really want to disturb them and accidentally cause any damage.  So happy they're growing well though and so far no real issues.

Unfortunately I didn't score any new pods to ferment or grow but the Dallas Chocolate Festival was still pretty fun and got to talk to lots of folks we knew and some new ones we didn't.  Looking forward to next year.  Who knows what will happen then.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Cacao Seed Peaking Up

You can just see this one peaking up over the rim of the cup it's in. There are a good dozen who are growing now.  Tomorrow we're going to take some video that we're putting together for how the process works.  From planting to potting and possibly repotting.

I already have a few people who want to take one of these babies home with them.  I cant blame them they're a neat plant to have especially if you are a fan of tropical, unusual, or merely uncommon plants grown in your area.

I have to keep them watered regularly though since the cups they're in are so small.  Moisture regulation is a much narrower window.  Leave them alone for more than a day and they can easily dry out and die.  Not what you want in tender shoots.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Cacao to the Festival

In two days we're going to the VIP party for the Dallas Chocolate Festival!  It's a fun place with more chocolate than you should reasonably eat in the few hours we'll be there.

Sander has suggested I can see if the Fine Chocolate Industry Association might want it at their table as a conversation starter.  I'm thinking they might.  Of course it's only to baby sit it for a little while.

Currently she's nearly 28-inches tall and growing pretty fast these days.  There are two new leaves forming up top and that usually prompts another growth spurt.  In the wild these will easily get 30-feet tall if not 40 or 50.  Of course inside the max height I can let her get is 7 feet (plus 1-foot for the pot).

Little sister is coming along too since I still haven't had the opportunity to repot them yet.  It will give a good example of needing to space them out if you want them to grow well.

Friday, August 30, 2019

One Week to the VIP Chocolate Festival Evening

Can you believe it's only one week away until the VIP party?  I'm bringing this plant with me to show people how much cacao can grow and what it looks like as a plant.  Last year there were a couple around the showroom but none of them were quire this large.  Maybe I'll have some competition and get to see a plant from last year come back.  That would be awesome!  This guy wasn't even... Ok so it was concieved.  I mean it was already in pod form so it was concieved seeral months earlier.  But it wasn't planted until after last year's festival.

Since last post of this guy, it's grown over 4 inches.  This kinda looks like a split photo a little to me with the taller and shorter split by the cubicle wall.  If you look on the right of the shorter one though there is an offshoot that has also grown a few inches and will likely overshoot the main plant trunk.

If you look behind the plant on the left you will see one of the vanilla orchid pots.  I decided to give it a little more sun so I rigged up a solid copper wire hanger. I knew keeping a bunch of copper wires would come in handy some day.  It's in the shape of an iron hanger with the loop that goes around the pot but it's so much easier to work with copper.  I had that thing bend into shape by hand in no time.  Yet is's strong enough to hold the pot with no issues.  Can't say the same for holding a larger pot but a little three inch pot is fine.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Recent Cacao Cookery

Before making anything with a cacao pod there are different things you need to do with it.  In this case we're not making chocolate but cacao pulp and husk additives for flavor and pectin.

Also we unexpectedly found out that you can also eat part of the pod itself.  It's not very flavorful and it's quite slimy but in the end it can keep you from being hungry if you have nothing else.  It reminds me a little bit of the pad of a prickly pear cactus, minus the spines.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Vanilla Orchid Progress

This is only one of my vanilla orchid pots that I got back in January.  They've tripled in size and are still growing.

To see just how fast that is I've decided to do a time lapse set.  I will be taking one picture a day for a currently unspecified time from about the same location and see how these little guys are really doing.

I have a newly acquired lamp shining on this on now so it can imitate getting better lighting  that it has been getting.  Maybe it'll help it grow a little faster and with larger leaves.  The current new leaves are significantly smaller than the ones it came with.  It's at least still growing though and faster than I figured it might.  The control pot is still just getting the office fluorescents. Really how can you tell if something really helps or not unless you have a control group.  This not only tells me if the extra light helps but if fluorescent light is good enough for growing vanilla orchids in general.  The light I'm using has three settings, off, low, and high.  I start and end (not including off) with the low setting for half an hour to mimic the sun rising and setting.  Unfortunately it doesn't move.  That's a bit more realism than I', willing to put the work into doing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Continued Cacao Growth

The cacao trees are still growing and really leafing out well.  I keep telling people I'm going to repot the plants soon but still haven't gotten around to it yet.

These trees of course are still the same trees that I started from seeds late mid last year from seeds collected from a fresh cacao pod I received from Sander Wolf from the Dallas Chocolate Festival.  We had the privilege of helping out with the festival last year and hope to be able to do the same this year.  After the festival though last year Sander was giving some of us the cacao pods that were used as decoration at the festival and of course I couldn't pass that up.

This year marks 10 years of the Dallas Chocolae Festival which will be held September 7 & 8 with a VIP party on September 6.  Tickets will be on sale starting August 1.

This year, being a milestone, they are holding an anniversary dinner commemorating the original chocolate dinner where "seeds" of the Dallas Chocolate Festival were first planted.  Thinking about taking these lovely plants back to the event to show just how much they can grow in just a year.  The event has grown so much since the first time we attended.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Office Bunny

This adorable bunny has been eluding my coworker for weeks now.  Fortunately he's perfectly happy hopping around an munching grass while I soak up some rays during lunch.  Maybe I'll bring him some parsley soon and have lunch with him.

Some of our friends have pet bunnies and they're just so smart. He's not a pet of course but it's almost like having a little buddy at work.  I do however have a good idea of what bunnies want to eat though.  Parsley is one of a bunny's favorite snacks.  Forget the carrot, ok don't forget the carrot, they're good too.  Also watermelon, bananas, apples, and all sorts of herby greens.  Not too much though or they can get an upset tummy.

Note: I haven't really gotten close enough to know if he's really a him or not.  This may well be a girl.  Either way he's adorable!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Cacao Progress

The cacao trees are really growing.  The new (yellow) leaf in the middle just started growing yesterday.  And you can barely see over the rim on the left tree that it has started a new branch only a centimeter long at the moment.

When we went to Monterrey, Mexico recently I was hoping to see some more cacao trees in the wild but we were apparently a little too far north of the cacao growing region. I was told that the cacao generally came from around the Tabasco and similarly southern areas of the country and wouldn't survive too well in Monterrey.  The owner of one of the shops even said they had a cacao tree that was indoors but they put it outside one day in not so favorable conditions and it died on them.

I really need to keep that in mind that even if the tree has gotten a bit bigger that it is still a tropical plant and I'm sure Texas heat and cold are just as bad.  It did hit 115°F while we were there so I don't think I can say Texas is necessarily hotter even if all of the locals were saying that they weren't used to it getting too much over 90.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Mysterious Bugs

Found these little guys clinging to the underside of a branch of a crepe myrtle tree.  At first I thought they might be a kind of butterfly but, as I watched and came back later to check on, the never moved.  Pretty sure they're dead already.  Not sure what could have killed a small group like this but I'm suspecting the torrential rain we had a week or so ago may be the culprit. They were obviously trying to find shelter and all had the same idea but the rain was pretty hard and may well have still drowned them or at least made conditions not suitable to live.  Again still not sure what they even are.

One coworker said she found out what they were and had told someone but apparently quickly forgot and still can't remember what she said or even where she got the information.

The closest thing I can find that even resembles them is lady bugs.  Yeah, not so sure but that's my closest guess. If you know or have a guess of  your own, please feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Vanilla Air Roots

The air roots shown here are growing even faster than the vines themselves.  They really are trying to find something to hold onto.  Gong to have to get some kind of support for these to grow on soon so they can really take off.  Once vanilla gets going it can grow upwards of half an inch in a day (or a foot in a month).

With all that growth you'd think they wouldn't take any time at all to make those lovely vanilla beans.  Surprise! It can take around a year from pollination to harvesting of vanilla beans.  On top of that there's the post processing which takes even more time.  No wonder there's a world shortage of real vanilla.

And even if it could be grown in the states easily, the cost vs. the time wouldn't be anywhere near a living wage.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

There Are Herbs In My Chocolate Book Launch Party

The official book launch party for There Are Herbs In My Chocolate is going to be held this Thursday at Kolache Korner outside the Lorenzo Hotel in Dallas.  We'll have samples of the Sicilian-Style Meatballs with Cocoa Nibs, Chocolate Gingerbread, and Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes with Lemongrass Frosting. And of course copies of the book on hand.  The Kolache Korner will be selling drinks and hosting the party.

The event runs from 7-9 PM and all are welcome to attend.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

There Are Herbs In My Chocolate Release Day

At long last the book has been re-released in it's awesome expanded edition. There's plenty in here to make anyone want to come back for seconds.

Chocolate has always been a slight obsession with us, not that we eat a ton of it.  Chocolate comes in so many forms that it's nearly impossible to really experience the whole range of what it can do unless you really try to expand and play with all of the little nuances.  Even then I'm sure you'd never really get to it all.

Sweets are usually the first thing people think about when they hear chocolate (cookies, pie, candy) but soon you might switch to mole which is unsweetened cocoa in savory dishes.

My absolute favorite part of seeing what can be done with chocolate though is the use of the cocoa butter and white or dulce chocolates.  These give a flavor and creaminess to foods that you'll probably not expect. The bruschetta as pictured on the cover and toast were both made using cocoa butter rather than regular butter and it gives them almost a brown butter feel to them with that hint of cacao nib flavor at the end.  It really plays well into the other flavors that go with it.

So if you haven't already ordered a copy then now's a great time to pick one up from one of these fine retailers.  Or on Amazon in either Paperback or Kindle Edition.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Dandelion Poof

This picture is from a friends Instagram post.  At first it might seem like an art stylized version of a dandelion but it's really just a near perfectly dewed poof.  Not enough dew to collapse the poof entirely but just enough to give it that glistening look like a jewel in a field. (I think this one was in a parking lot somewhere though by the looks of it.)

My wife has always liked dandelions, not sure if it's the simple beauty of the poof or the way the seeds gracefully float through the air after blowing on them.  Either way they really are pretty.

This one reminds me of a sundew.  Of course the "dew" on those plants is actually a sweet sticky substance meant to trap insects so the plant can eat them but they're still interesting.

Of course it also reminds me of the grand agave that survived the frost that covered it.  A very similar look.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Golden Angle

I'd rolled up this plastic binding strip months ago not really thinking about what to do with it later.  I took the rubber band off of it a couple days ago just playing with it and noticed the spiral pattern it was making.  I realized it had set in an elliptical shape rather than a circle and after unrolling it formed this pattern. Although not specifically the same as the golden angle, it sure resembles it to a degree.

For those of you who don't know, the golden angle is the smaller of the two angles whose total is a complete circle if the ratio between the two angles was equal to the ratio between the larger angle and the complete circle.

It is most apparent in tightly growing clusters like pine cones and seed or flower heads but also has a role in the growth pattern of leaves as was shown in the picture of my agave plant that I had years ago as posted in the Gardening Forums, said picture was actually an old one from this blog.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Apple Sprout

It's been some time now since I've tried to sprout an apple seed (about 21 years).  The last time I did so, we decided to go camping and left for the weekend. When we came back it had rained and the poor little tree was underwater and dead.

It only had around ten leaves when that happened.  Of course apple trees seem to grown leaves faster than cacao.  The whole tree was no more than six inches tall.

My problem then was that I had put it in a glass bowl with dirt to grow in and left it outside. In southeast Texas it rains so often I should have known better.

This time around well, it's still in a container without drainage but it's inside the office and will probably stay there for a while until it gets big enough to plant in the ground.  At the new place we've moved to there are plenty of places I can plant it, I think.

If I had planted that tree 21 years ago I'm pretty sure it would be producing pretty good by now.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

There Are Herbs In My Chocolate - Cover Reveal

My wife and I are releasing the new expanded and revised version of There Are Herbs In My Chocolate, a cookbook we originally made for supplementing her lectures aboard Royal Caribbean cruises.  Because even the Olympic athlete who was doing performances on stage had a workout video they were selling.

We're happy to have added about 30 recipes and have given it an updated feel.  We have included one of my favorites, a chocolate pear tart with sweet dough crust.  The crust was a recipe handed down from my grandmother and, when I was growing up, was used only for special occasions.  Of course I give ALL the correct ingredient amounts.

The book is available for preorder on any of the sites listed here and it will be coming out on May 7th. We hope you are as excited to try some of the recipes, all tested by us (one recipe didn't make it into the book, it was just bad).

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Cherry Blossom Season (Japan)

Our one trip to Japan was not during the cherry blossom season.  Don't get me wrong, it was a great trip as many of the trees were already getting fall colors.  Although we saw a lot of flowers, like the rose gardens at the Total Recreation Park Rose Garden (バラ園), blooms like these were no where to be seen.

Some of our friends from over there have been taking a lot of pictures and posting them or sending them to us.

At one point I sent a picture of what we get for a short time, the pear blossoms. They were politely impressed but it really doesn't compare in display or longevity.  Maybe some day we'll be able to go see the cherry blossoms in person and really get the full effect of the season because I'm sure the pictures, although wonderful, don't do it justice.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Apartment Move

So we're moving apartments.  The new place is a little smaller but the kitchen is way better.  And there's still enough room in the living area to play VR.

The outside area and the side study right by it though are the real draw though for growing things.  Sure it looks out to the garages but there is a good bit of sun coming in and it can be open more or less a good bit of the time.

Those days when you have the windows open and the outside shines in are the best.  Seems we're only really getting rid of a desk and  possibly a file cabinet.  The floorplan showed another window on the far right wall of the bedroom but there isn't one.  It also wasn't very well drawn to scale.

Also thinking about getting a small chest freezer.  Back when we got married, one of the first things we got was a large chest freezer and we had it for almost 20 years.  It was great for freezing leftovers and being able to buy bulk items that needed freezing like meat.  And we could make large batches of chili, soup, or such and have it handy for days we didn't feel like cooking.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Cacao Leaf

Translucent Cacao Leaf
I think I've said this somewhere before but it's amazing how much like a city a leaf looks.  You have the main highway down the middle of the leaf with collector streets merging at intervals and little neighborhood streets coming off of those.

A leaf really does have the water and sewer system going on through the veins you can see.  They do double duty though unlike a man made city where you'd better separate them or face a major disaster.

Even the drainage, or rainwater, that hits the leaves will travel down these paths and end up flowing off of the point of the leaf.  Trees that are more adapt to a rainforest environment even have a more pointed tip to the leaves to assist the water as it pulls together toward the tip and falls off of the leaf to minimize the weight, and thus potential damage, on the branches.

Pine needles are really good at this.  The pointy long leaves barely hold any water at all, dripping like nobody's business.  We used to camp a lot and the piny woods of East Texas was a favorite.  The smell of a pine forest after a summer rain is something you don't soon forget.

A good leaf picture also makes a good desktop wallpaper.  Not sure if this works real well since it's only taken with my iPhone, but it could be worse.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Dried Green Beans

Dry White Green Bean SeedsI know I like green beans and I know I like dried beans.  But I never thought to see if I like dried green bean seeds, which are of course dried beans.

It takes longer to get them and you can get dried beans so cheaply in the store so It's probably why I never though to grow my own.  Finding references to doing so was also not easy to come by but there are some.

So instead of taking the green beans and eating the young pods, I'm going to be patient and wait for these guys to mature and make beans.  Not sure yet if I want to make a bean soup or possibly try to do a white chili. One of our friends said they don't think they've ever had white pepper, although I'm sure they probably just didn't notice there was pepper in the food since it doesn't give it that distinct peppered look, for instance in alfredo sauce.

Any way you look at it though I was going to make sure some of them dried anyway so in the end I'll just see how many beans it makes and make sure to save enough for later planting and eat the rest.

So far it seems like you don't have to soak the beans for very long if you have to soak them at all and the flavor is supposed to be even better since they haven't really fully dried.  Hopefully I'll get a good recipe I can share later.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Bloomy Magnolia Tree

Purple Flowers
In the courtyard of the apartment there are these trees with big flashy pink flowers on them.  After looking them up they seem to be some sort of magnolia tree, possibly the bloomy magnolia tree.  I've only been used to the grand magnolia tree which grows everywhere in southeast Texas but not so much these.

They really are a nice showy pink flower that I'm sure will all fall off in a week or so.  There were already some petals on the ground and no new buds.  This would be an interesting tree for landscaping but it's a very seasonal color for an area.

I've seen some really nice colorful plantings at the Fort Worth botanic gardens.  These were mostly anuals though, not trees, but I've heard of seasonal layouts that come back year after year and these trees are a perfect example of a usable tree.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Asian (Asiatic) Jasmine

If you've lived in, or even visited, DFW for any real length of time, you've seen asian jasmine.  It's everywhere.  Any place someone doesn't want to maintain very well and is all by itself in a boxed area or even lining sidewalks, this stuff is used like a cure all.  But it's far from it.

Asian jasmine will take over areas before you know what happened.  Sure you think it's nicely isolated by a five foot sidewalk, but no....  It will send roots under and vines over that sidewalk to reach the other side.  And then it will just keep on growing.  It's not as fast or invasive as kudzu or as entrenching as some bamboo but it's doing its best considering its size.

So is it always a bad idea to grow asian jasmine?  No, but you have to keep in mind what it is and the time it will take to keep it under control.  I've seen it used very well around trees where grass won't grow and kept there with a beautiful lawn surrounding it.  You just have to keep at it.

That being said, if you do have lots of it growing and you want to replace it with say, a little garden.  You have to more or less cut down a ways and pull up the roots, sifting the dirt as best as you can to make sure it doesn't pop up and choke out a once thriving tomato plant.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Edible Office Beans

Indoor Office Green Bean Plants
The little beans have gone from cute to ready to eat, not that there enough of them right now to make a side dish.

I'm going to wait until these guys get bigger and form viable seeds though so I can replant them later.  This wasn't really for a crop of beans.  It does show though that you can grow your own vegetables in your office cubicle even if you only have room for one pot.

When I worked in Dallas I tried growing some plants in my cubicle and they did pretty good. One such plant was a sunflower.  I don't think it would have produced well but it grew nicely in the little cup I was growing it in.  They really do require full sun though to mature and make seeds.  I also had a little bonsai tree. I don't recall which variety it was but it lasted nearly a year. Lastly that was where I started my first lemon tree which lived in a pot for a good long while. You can see an old post here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

False Garlic (Poisonous)

False Garlic Toxic Flowers
Here's a favorite flower of mine.  Back in southwest Louisiana these things grew everywhere.  In every field or yard that wasn't really well maintained these guys would spring up and make a nuisance of themselves.  They were pretty to look at though and so I really liked them.

My mom specifically told me not to eat them though or I'd have an upset stomach.  I of course didn't eat them but I did decide one day that they would make a great flower bouquet for mom.  So I went around the neighborhood and picked what seemed at the time to be thousands of them although it was probably closer to twenty.

I could tell she wasn't really thrilled to get them but she still thanked me for the flowers and put them in a jar of water so they would stay as long as they could after being picked..  I'm sure some of them were already wilting and I soon forgot about them.  For all I know she tossed them an hour later after I'd gone back outside to play.

Something similar really did happen with a pair of earrings I found in a muddy drainage ditch.  They were plastic hoops and she thoroughly cleaned them before wearing them once and then they were never seen again.  I remember asking about them though but don't remember the reply.  Probably something like, "Oh, they're in the jewelry box."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

White Clover

White Clover Flower Field
When I was a kid I used to make chains out of white clover flowers. I'd just go out to the school yard and sit in a field of them and make as long of a chain as I'd like or at least as long of a chain as I could make before dinner was ready and I had to go inside to eat.  This has to be one of the few plants I never thought about eating though.

Bees sure do like it and it's one of the more popular honey flavors but to look at it it doesn't seem like a food stuff. Like most greens you find in a field it's bitter but it's been used to make teas and can be put into salads.  All of the plant is edible and the flowers make a nice tea.

Fair warning though, make sure you wash them just in case the wildlife has found the patch of clover first.  You never know what happens out there.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Butterfly on Cherry Blossoms

Apparently around the same time I was taking pictures in Las Vegas, our friend, Monica, was taking pictures just south of Dallas at Cedar Ridge Preserve.

Where I only got a picture of a plum tree she got a nice picture of a western tiger swallowtail. Granted, I didn't see any butterflies at all in Vegas.  I'm glad to see the butterflies are starting to show up around here already though.  It should be a nice spring soon.

Blooming Plum Tree

Blooming Plum Tree
While in Las Vegas we were able to do a little driving around.  We were told that if you want anything to grow there you have to water it yourself and typically trees don't grow on their own.

This lovely plum tree was a great example of someone taking good care of their trees.  It's bloomed out beautifully and, although one of the best in show, it wasn't the only plum tree around.  People in Vegas really like their area and are working hard to make it even nicer.

I was surprised to find out that in Henderson, just outside of Vegas, they didn't have a recycling program.  With how neat and clean most of the places I saw were, I just expected recycling went right along with it.

Speaking of flowering out though, when I got back to my office today the bean plants had several beans growing.  I guess I didn't need to hand pollinate after all.  Still it never hurts to try.  Might get an extra bean or two that way.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Manzanita Shrub

You can't tell from this picture but for Spanish speakers you probably can already tell that the name of this plant means "little apple".  It didn't click in my head immediately but after looking up some information about this plant it was obvious I spelled it right.

This particular plant was a shrub although there are many varieties ranging from ground cover to small trees.  Many parts of this plants caught my attention as we hiked around Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas.  The leaves were thicker than I would have expected.  You can see the thick edges in the picture.  The flower clusters reminded me more of the agave plants.  The red bark though caught my attention first.  I could see it from a good distance away and is what drew me over to the bush in the first place.  It's not as visible here but it's a smooth dark red.  I can see why it has been used in decorative wood objects for centuries.

The plants range in hardiness depending on the cultivar but can be grown in most of the country as long as you keep it's watering requirements in mind.  We found this I a very rocky area that drains fast.  They're used to dry areas.  Propagation is not necessarily easy.  The seeds don't like to germinate unless specific conditions prepare them first.  This sounds like the issue I have with lemon seeds.  Getting the outer shell off of the seed first seems the easiest way to sprout.

Some of these plants are fire resistant and can come back even after several fires.  This type though will make a burl at the base of the plant and resprout from it though I doubt anyone gets a plant for their homes on this basis.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Moss Lichen

Out at Red Rock Canyon a couple days ago, climbing on some of the huge rocks out there.  Lots of the colorful lichens grow on these rocks (like around the moss lichen) but the moss lichen was the fuzziest and neatest looking.

I had originally been looking for jelly lichen but I'm pretty sure I was just looking in the wrong places.  I'm really not fit enough at the moment to get to some of the places I probably should have been looking in.

Amer was a little nervous where I had been taking pictures.  She said it looked like I was edging down the edge of a cliff for a while.  Really I was just a few feet higher than she was at and by a slightly steeper slope but no worry of falling to my doom really.

No worry to all those who are concerned about preservation though.  I only took pictures and made sure i didn't stomp on anything growing on the rocks.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Possible Garden Site

So, our office has a mostly unused courtyard.  It's overgrown with jasmine, as you can see, and rarely even cleaned out.  There is a drain in the middle of it so it doesn't flood but currently it's covered in leaves so I'm not sure how effective it really is.

My wife has heard me talk about the little courtyard and decided recently that it might be nice to do a little gardening in it.

The area shown really is the best spot in it for gardening but it'd be a lot of work to get it in a state that you could grow anything there.  We're already pretty busy people with her writing events going on throughout the spring and summer but we'll see.  First I'd have to ask my boss anyway but I think there's a pretty good chance he'd not mind as long as it really was kept up.  The only real pests would be the squirrels.  So as long as I plant something they don't mess with I should be ok there.

It's about 5 feet wide there and a bit longer so I can see something growing pretty good.  I'd have to figure out how to water it though.  And keep the water from getting into the building since it's up against the windows.  Maybe a strip of daylilies there?

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Baby Green Bean

This cute little green bean is just the start of my green bean harvest this year.  Well maybe not quite what you'd be able to call a harvest but it is at least a bean.  I hand pollinated this flower when it was just opening and apparently I did a half way ok job doing it.

There is another smaller one but it was a lot harder to take a picture of so this is the one I got.

There are a lot of flowers at the moment though so I expect there to be a lot more beans as well. hand pollinating is one way to do this.  Not sure if the gnats will do anything with the flowers or not but I really doubt it.

I was looking at the vanilla orchids as well today and I believe they are quite a bit larger than when I got them.  I still haven't taken the time to get them something big enough but light weight enough for them to climb up.  That branch is still leaning against the wall but it really is too heavy to work well at the moment.  I have to cut it up or maybe even split it so that it can be used and not be unwieldy if it needs moving.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Eastern Redbud

The Eastern Redbud tree is a nice addition to a spring view.  The red/purple flowers bloom out all over it.  This year it's a bit early due to quite a few unseasonally warm days.

This one grows right outside our window.  Of course this is a picture of the red buds with a dark blue sky as a perfect contrast.  The sun rays were quite an accident but really does add an interesting accent to the composition.

This makes me miss the fig tree we used to have back at the house.  It would have also sprouted out by now.  Of course all of the flowers would probably have fallen off due to the hail storm we had this morning.  It really only ever had one good year of figs.  That is to say only one year we got more that five figs the entire year.

Again, not having a house really does distance you a bit from all of the problems that come about due to critters, weather, and the unexpected.  I get to just sit back and enjoy the view while someone else worries about how it got there.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Courtyard Squirrel

This cute little girl was in the courtyard at work the other day.  Started me thinking about all the animals we see around the city as we're doing whatever really important thing it is we do and just how many we don't really see because of it.

There's another squirrel, a boy squirrel, a coworker calls Fred.  He, the squirrel not the coworker, likes to sit up on one of the branches of one of the trees in the courtyard and flop on his back to nap.  It's like he thinks he owns the place.

Some of the other critters around include the rabbits outside the apartment.  We've seen several of them at a time so you know there's a lot of them hidden away.  A friend of ours has a hawk that likes to perch outside one of the office windows and either rest or, on a good day, have lunch.  A less popular critter is the skunk who seems to live under the walkway that leads up to the back door of our office.  You rarely see him though since they really do prefer to avoid interaction with people rather than spray them.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Garden Blogs Forum Now Open

The Garden Blog Forum is now up and running!
Garden Blog Forum
I hope to convince other garden bloggers to join up and share their blog links.  At some point I'm going to try to get a google map going with pins showing where the different garden blogs are located.

I know this is a far cry from Blotanical but I figured something is better than nothing. Of course there's a suggestion area and any suggestions are totally welcome.

I already started it off with my own login and post (here in Texas). If you think any more regionality is needed we can look into how that might better be handled.

Right now it's pretty vague and needs a bit of work but you have to start somewhere.  I was really disappointed with some of the sites out there who didn't really care what kind of blog you really had and were just after your money.  My blog is not a money maker.

I plan to reach out to some of the blogs I already know might want to at least get the word out more about their blogs and get a bit of conversation going.  Hopefully I'll find some new gems out there with something interesting to say and words of wisdom to impart.

EDIT: This forum has been closed due to 0 activity apart from spammers. If you know of any forums for garden bloggers I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

First Open Flower

The first bean flower to actually open.  It actually isn't very well formed and it's the only one so far but at least it feels promising.  There are several others forming so eventually I should be able to hand pollinate them and get some beans before it's even very warm outside.

If nothing else the flowers are pretty.  A blast of white (not snow) in the office among all the green.

My first flower that I really tried to grow was the daylily. It was a purple and orange mix.  I tried to bring it with me but planted it in a poor spot and it didn't survive but for a few years.  I thought it had just not flowered but when I went to dig it up for moving, after we sold the house, it was gone.  We had several other daylillies in the backyard at different spots some flowering and others too shaded to do anything.  They're another plant that's easy to grow for beginning gardeners.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Starting to Look Green

My boss Art came by asking about the large branch in my cubicle.  Ok, it is a little strange to have a branch against the wall but after explaining what I was going to do with it he seemed fine.

Of course I can't leave it like it is but for the time being it's ok.  The top of my cubicle is really starting to take on a greenish hue though.  It's kinds nice to have a little green in  my area.  Especially on these cold winter days it's good to be reminded that things are still growing.  It brightens up the day.

Still need to do a little tree separation though.  One of my coworkers still hasn't brought a pot for transplanting yet but again came by and looked at the plants and was like, "Oh yeah, I need to bring a pot..."  We'll see if this actually happens or not.

The other transplanted trees, you can kind of see in the background on the left, are doing just fine still.  Better than the left pot for sure.  But I think the left pot is starting to pick up well.  Lots of little leaves coming.

The bean plants on the other hand, while they have leaves, aren't fully flowering.  The flower starts to form and then just dies off.  Maybe while I'm at Vegas it'll try again to flower and make some beans.

Pure Chocolate Launch Party Today

Tonight at 7:30 at Bitter Sisters Brewery in Addison, Texas, my wife is having her book party for her second novel in the Chocoverse series, Pure Chocolate.

We just got the cake delivered to us and it's awesome!  (Didn't think to take a picture...)

She'll be there reading an excerpt from her novel as well as signing copies of her book which can be preordered through Interabang Books.

Yelibelly Chocolates will also be out there doing a hands on truffle rolling demonstration and helping to put together a chocolate and beer pairing, available at the bar.

Top it off with some free cake and you're sure to have a great time. Of course it's more a centerpiece than a cake but we'll eat it eventually.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Unusual Frost Resistant Plants

We all probably have our favorite plants that are cold hardy or at least keep coming back year after year.

For example, the rosemary pictured here just laughs off a bit of snow and keeps right on growing.  Sometimes it'll even bloom soon after as if to say, "Are we ready for spring?"

One of my favorite plants growing up, living on the Texas coast, was the azalea bush.  Every spring they would bloom around the city and you knew it was going to be so hot in a few weeks that you would soon rather sit in front of your tv until Fall than go out and do anything.  But for those few weeks, outside was the place to be.  A close second was of course the honeysuckle but that's a different post.

The point of this though is that even up here in the Dallas area there are varieties of azalea that will grow just fine up here and give that same sense of dread that summer is coming.  But with the addition of the azalea, those few weeks of spring will be so worth it.  It's unfortunate that not a lot of places grow azaleas as landscaping shrubs though.   Part of that is probably due to the heat we experience here.  Keeping them shaded and watered enough during the hottest part of summer is probably more trouble than it's worth.  On the coast it really doesn't get as hot for as long and when it does it at least has moisture along with it.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Not Fall Colors

Typically we think of reds and oranges as fall colors.  Here though these colors represent new growth.  The new leaves start out fairly red and start growing pointed downward.  Rather quickly though they grow to a full size leaf and go from red to orange to yellow and finally green.

Even after they are done growing they aren't at their final green color.  This can take several more days of development.  You can see here on this leaf the red node at it's connection point to the leaf stem.  This plant hadn't had these before but may fade as time goes on.  It's already a bit lighter than it was when it started.

New red leaves aren't an unusual sight though.  Look around this coming spring at the trees as they begin to leaf out and you'll notice that many trees start with red or orange leaves that turn green as spring continues on.

Right now the pear trees are blooming and look white, not quite rivaling the cherry blossom season but still a sight to see.  Unfortunately the cold snap that's coming may well knock all of those blossoms off. with icy rain.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Pure Chocolate Launch Party

Speaking of chocolate...

This coming Tuesday night at 7:30 at Bitter Sisters Brewery in Addison, Texas, my wife is having her book party for her second novel in the Chocoverse series, Pure Chocolate.

She'll be there reading an excerpt from her novel as well as signing copies of her book which can be preordered through Interabang Books.

Yelibelly Chocolates will also be out there doing a hands on truffle rolling demonstration and helping to put together a chocolate and beer pairing, available at the bar.

Top it off with some free cake and you're sure to have a great time.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Some plants Just Don’t Look Real

So we went all around Addison today and placed post card sized fliers about Amber's upcoming book launch party, signing, and chocolate related event.

One of the places we stopped at was 84 Point Coffee off of Midway Road. At first I though the plant must be a fake since it looked pretty unbelievable and it looked like it was just put on top of some coffee beans.

After looking around for a little bit though, as Amber took pictures of her coffee, the flier, and bookmarks we had with us, I began to realize that the rest of the plants seemed to be real enough.  Then I saw bits of it had turned brown and there were marks on it that wouldn't have be put on a fake plant even if they were trying to make it look authentic.

After a quick search I figure it's most likely a variety of haworthia, probably herbacea.  Yeah, I've never heard of such a thing before either but it seems to be related to aloe plants.  Those spikes feel more like rubber, thus my initial thought that the plant was probably a fake.

I had a short conversation with a coworker recently about how terrible fake plants are in an office.  They do the opposite of what real plants do.  They sit there, collect dust, and smell funny.  She had been in an office where the office manager just loved to get more and more fake plants to put everywhere.  When they finally closed that office the fake plants were so dusty you could see the clouds they gave off as they were trying to get rid of them.  It wasn't good.

This is one of many plants I will probably never get but it was neat to look at it for a while sitting in a coffee shop.  Go get some coffee and see if you agree.