Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Story of Three Palms

When we first moved in, I truly hated the trio of palm trees in the backyard. The picture to the left is from February, right before we bought the house. Yes, we had an inground pool, but I thought the palms looked really ordinary and expected. Everyone plants palms by the pool. The previous owners hadn't taken very good care of the plants. They were puny. The spent fronds had obviously been peeled down the trunk instead of cut with a sharp blade. I thought they were ghastly, and I wanted to cut them down and dig them up immediately. My mom talked me into keeping them for at least one summer, just to see if I ended up liking them. My mom likes palms and has quite a few sagos in her yard.

Guess what? They've grown on me. I've given them lots of TLC and they've grown tremendously! They are of the sabal, or cabbage, variety. I took a picture today so I could see the before and after. What a difference a summer makes! The smallest one on the left had the worst trunk damage, and it has grown very little. The one in the middle has grown a good bit. And the largest one on the right looks fantastic! The fronds are tall and plentiful. I'm keeping these babies!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Easy Peel Shrimp

I've recently discovered "easy peel" frozen shrimp at the grocery store. They come in a 2 lb bag for about $9.50. They take about 10 minutes to thaw in cool water, and I can peel the entire bag in under 10 minutes, which I think it great. They come deveined, so all I have to do is pick up a thawed shrimp, pull of his tail, and then pinch off his legs and shell. I only have to pinch once, as the cut at the top makes the shell really easy to remove. If you've ever deveined and peeled 2 lbs of shrimp you'll be able to tell right off how easy this makes it.

I've been making shrimp dishes about once a week since I discovered them. I was on the treadmill on Friday watching Giada on the Food Network (deadly combination) and she made a shrimp dish that looked fabulous. I immediately went to the store and bought stuff to make it. The dish was fabulous! Even better the next day after the shrimp had time to soak in the garlic and lemon juice. I hope you make this dish!

Scampi on Couscous
Photo courtesy the Food Network
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed, plus 2 garlic cloves minced
2 (8 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes in their juice
1 (8ounce) bottle clam juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
2 cups plain couscous
2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish

In a large pot, heat 1/4 cup olive oil. When almost smoking, add onion, carrot and 1 clove smashed garlic and saute until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and their juice, clam juice and white wine. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, uncovered. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Carefully pour tomato mixture in the bowl of a food processor and puree. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if needed - you want to end up with a broth. Check for seasoning.
Return broth to the pot. Add 1 cup of water and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add 2 cups couscous. Cover pot and remove from heat. Let rest for 10 minutes, allowing the couscous to absorb all the liquid. Fluff with a fork and season with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, add the remaining 1/4 cup oil and the 2 cloves of minced garlic. Heat the oil, making sure not to burn the garlic. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and stirring occasionally, cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp or they will become tough. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, red pepper and chopped parsley. Check for seasoning.
To serve, mound the couscous in the center of a platter and top with the shrimp.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Nutgrass Battle

My battle with nutgrass began in April when the weed started poking its nasty little head out of the ground. I didn't have a nutgrass problem in the old yard, so this was new territory for me. I faithfully plucked it out of the ground for a few weeks, but that got old very quickly. The nutgrass would pop up again only days after I'd pulled it up. In May I decided to give the nutgrass in my front bed a chemical blast. I bought Image and Roundup and gave the nutgrass a spray of each. I waited a few days for the chemical to sink in. Then I covered the bare areas with 3 to 4 sheets of newspaper and topped the newspaper with mulch. This method has worked really well to control the nutgrass. A few places it has poked out of the newspaper, mostly where sheets overlap and I left a hole, but it is much more manageable than when this nutgrass battle began.

I have this bed on the side of the house that I've had major trouble with. Apparently someone tried to remove a crepe myrtle from the bed a few years ago because crepe myrtle suckers were coming up all over the place. In addition to the suckers, the bed contained two ugly palm trees and plenty of nutgrass. A few weeks ago I dug up the palms and potted them in containers that I could wheel around the pool in the back yard. I did my best to remove all the crepe myrtle roots/suckers and the nutgrass, and I attempted to improve the soil with some compost manure I bought at Home Depot. I wanted to avoid spraying the bed down with chemicals, so I covered the bed in black plastic to try to kill the nutgrass. Well, it didn't work. As soon as I removed the black plastic, the nut grass came back. On Sunday, I sprayed the nutgrass with Image and Roundup. I've covered it in black plastic again. Lets hope it works this time!!