For the past three or four years, this delicious salted cured meat has been in my life.  It must have been a pizza blog (likely Slice) that turned me onto the meat.  Needless to say, I'm a Sopressata evangelist now.   That's a slice of the stuff in the photo above.  As you can see it looks a lot like salami or pepperoni, but is more oblong shape instead of round.  And, it is spicier and (of course!) tastier.

It won't be taking over pepperoni on your regular run-of-the-mill thin crust pie, but at most artisan pizza joints these days, you'll find this meat gracing many a skin where regular old pepperoni would have done.

We buy ours at Caputo's in Addison and the care they put into packaging our slices speaks to the importance this sliced meat holds in the hearts and minds of Italians.  When my pizza oven comes to life next year, the second pie out will be a Sopressata one.  First?  Has to be Margherita, right?
Back in early May, I planted some seed potatoes using the "Grow new potatoes in a garbage can" method and relatively quickly, the stalks shot up and were growing like crazy.  Being the impatient type, I couldn't really just sit back and wait for 3 months and *hope* that little red potatoes were being grown below the surface.

Yesterday, I had enough.  I couldn't stand it.  I really needed to know if there was actually something doing under the soil.  We're the seed potatoes actually sprouting more spuds?

I carefully moved some of the mulch aside and pushed some of the dirt away from the base of one of the shoots.  And lo and behold....guess what I found?  That's right!?!?  A tiny red potato.  The garbage can method is INDEED working.

Another 30 to 60 days from now and (hopefully) these will be much bigger.

If the production turns out to be high volume (which...because of the size of the can the plants are in, really can't be that "high"), these potatoes will certainly become a bit more interesting to me next spring.  I bought some generic red potato seed potatoes, but perhaps I'll get more creative next spring if these turn out with various varieties of spuds.

I finally bit the bullet and bought a 5 gallon drum of concrete paver sealer.  Menards (of course!) ran a sale on the stuff and with the 20% off discount, it was priced well. 

I've been slowly watching our backyard patio slowly fade from a beautiful multiple-color paver patio into a mostly blah tan-looking average patio.  This stuff - Ultra Gloss Sealer - not only claims to brighten/bring back the true colors of the pavers, but it also seals them down (plus the sand joints) and gives them a "wet look" permanently.  Well...permanently in this case is a few years until we have to re-apply. 

I have to hit the pavers with a powerwasher to clean them up, replace the lost sand in the joints and then leave it to dry.  The next morning, I break out the roller and cover the surface with this stuff.  24 hours later, the patio should look almost brand new.  As soon as I get to this project (hopefully) in the next week or so, I'll report back.  This 'to-do' list is getting pretty long at this point.
My *mostly* plum tomato plant strategy is beginning to play out with the emergence of the first substantial tomato from the Opalka plant.  Opalkas are of Polish origins (which is nice for me!) and they're seen as the superior canning variety by some.  I only have one of these plants this year so it won't bear a ton, but hopefully enough for me to can a few jars and taste-test them side-by-side with the other varieties which have multiple plants. 
About a week late (hey!  I was on the road.), but I finally was able to get my beans and snap peas trellis'd.  I'm using the elements that are already there (fence and raised bed) instead of building another stand-alone trellis/structure.  Based on the tentacles that I trained up the trellis netting already, I know it will work, but I'm wondering if the weight will be too much.  The pace of growth in the beans is pretty staggering, so it won't take long to find out.   
Have you been in the new Terminal 2 at SFO?  It is home to American Airlines and Virgin America and it is spectacular. least as far as airport terminals go it is.

The chairs are nice.  The outlets are plentiful.  The bathrooms are spacious and clean.  But the best part?  They have a candy place called Natalie's Candy Jar.  I *had* to stop by on my flight out.  They weren't open when I was departing, but I told the guy in the store that I couldn't go home without some over-priced by-the-weight candy.  After a bit of negotiations, I boarded with a small bag of licorice.  Mission accomplished. 
Wine = just ok.
Bocce Ball = great fun.

We spent an afternoon at La Nebbia Winery in Half Moon Bay for a team-building activity this week.  I had a great time, but that was mostly because I was able to spend a few hours outside with my team.  Not so much because of the wine. 

I soooo want one of these in our house now. 
Early last spring, my sister Vic gave me a few onion sets to plant in the garden.  They were little tiny onions that eventually grow into big onions.  Or so I thought.  I planted them in May or June and by September, the scallion part (the green shoots) were growing nicely, so I presumed that the onion underground was getting big and bulb-y.  Thus, I dug one out.  Only to be really disappointed.  The onion had not grown much at all.  It had about doubled - from the diameter of a dime to the diameter of a golfball, but it wasn't much of an onion. 

I had about 6 of them in the ground, so I just left the rest.  Not sure what would happen to them over winter.  Fast forward to this spring and much to my surprise, the onion plants sprung back.  And they got HUGE.  And, they formed these really pretty buds that started (just this week) to expand and break out to show a set of even more tiny buds. 
Based on the guidance from the folks at the U of I extension, I may never get my dry bulb onions - that are good for slicing - from sets.  They seem to require transplanting of some sort.  At the end of this season, I'll dig up another onion plant and see what the bulb looks like.  I could always cut down the green onion part and harvest the shoots/stalks.  Or....come September....Maybe I'll have something underground?  Or...maybe I'll just have a pretty plant that will stay in the garden for years to come. 

There they are.  The first two Bell Peppers to come out of our garden this summer. 

You're saying to yourself, "But...Jake....they're tiny!"

They are, indeed, tiny.  And, I suppose that is the point.  I pinched both of these off of two different pepper plants because I'm (hopefully) trying to get the plant to focus all of it's energy on growing the plant up nice and tall instead of channeling energy into these nascent peppers. 

The book I am using for guidance tells me that pinching off the early fruits will help the plant grow larger fruit all season long.  We'll see how this turns out.

Last night, Nat and I dropped the Babe off at her folks house (Thanks Grammy and Granddad!) and went downtown to knock a pizza place off our the top 25 list (watch for a post on that later) and to see a stand-up show that was part of the TBS Just for Laughs Comedy Festival - which takes place across a bunch of clubs in Chicago.  The Just for Laughs folks got started up in Canada - which is (in my mind) the second best place for comedy behind Chicago.  They started this festival in Chicago - a companion to their one in Montreal - a few years back.  Nat and I have talked about going each year, but something always came up.  This year, we took the plunge and bought tickets.  As we walked out, we both noted that we should try to get to even more than one show next year.  This is a great thing for the city and based on the fact that a lot of the shows were sold out, it is well supported.  The headliners are Martin Short and Steve Martin who are playing on Sunday so they were able to get some big names. 

We were able to get tickets to the TBS LOL Lounge hosted by Christian Finnegan.  That's him in the photo below.  We got there right when the show was supposed to open, so we didn't have what I would call 'prime' seats. 
The show was at the Red Bar Comedy Club - which is inside of a nightclub and I *think* ends before the folks with the glitter and glow sticks show up.  So, it is a nice use of the space, I suppose. 

In addition to Finnegan, the bill included Brian Babylon, Colin Jost, Melissa Villasenor, Shane Mauss and I think one other guy.  They were all pretty funny, but Colin Jost was the best.  He's a writer on SNL and that's why Seth Myers (of Weekend Update fame) was in the crowd.  He split as soon as Jost's set was over.  Myers wasn't the only notable name there, though.  We saw - and I had an awkward exchange with Kristen Schaal - who you know as the only fan of the Flight of the Concords.  We were walking out and I spotted her as she was walking toward us.  I guess we were a bit closer than I thought because as I turned to tell Nat that she was here, I also pointed in her direction - which because we were both walking towards each other ended up with my hand just about one foot from her face.  She smiled and kept moving, but Nat said that I shouldn't point at folks.  I guess I just don't see that many celebrities*, eh?

* Are Seth Myers and Kristen Schaal celebrities?  I think they are, but there might be some room for debate, so that's why I left the asterisk in there.    
Last week, Nat the Babe and I went out to give Pazzi di Pizza a try.  It has been open for a few weeks and there's a bit of a buzz about the place.  I've heard from others that they went or are going, so the word-of-mouth is working for them. But, while they're clearly working to get the kinks out of their operation, the place shows some promise. They'll need to improve the main event - the pizza pies - but they're not that far off. 

It wouldn't be a wood-fired pizza place if I didn't spend a few minutes snooping around the pizza-making station.  These guys are hand-stretching the dough for each pie on the spot, topping them and getting them in the oven fast.
The pizzaiolo said he only likes to put one or two pies in there at a time and keeps the oven at a fairly low temperature (600 degrees).  He said he keeps each pie in the over for 3-4 minutes - which is pretty long for this style.
Nat and I each ordered our own pizza.  She picked a make your own with mushrooms and spinach.  It was ok. 
I went with the Diavola  - which is  spicy pepperoni and crushed red pepper.  It was very hot, but good. 

Unfortunately, the bottom of the pie didn't look as good as the top.  As seen in this up-skirt photo, there's very limited char on the bottom of the skin.  Which, when thinking about how long he cooks these pizzas is a bit of a disappointment.  I don't mind a little bit of black on top if you're going to give me some texture on the bottom.
We'll be back, but hopefully by then, they'll have figured out the oven and can give us a better up-skirt.  Based on the size of the crowd (it was full and it was a Wednesday), this place should be successful and stay open for a while.  The staff seems to be made up of a lot of authentic Italians -which adds to the vibe of the place.  And the owners have made a pretty signficant investment in getting the restaurant up off the ground.

The real question is what will close in downtown Elmhurst.  Might there be one too many pizza joints down there now?  Who's going to fold first?  Pizza Palace?  Armand's?  I hope not, but it isn't unforeseeable.
Sweet corn isn't the only seed that I planted 10 days ago.  I also sowed a handful of Zucchini seeds - officially called 'Summer Squash'.  These are Burpee's Fordhook variety and they're already very lively.
These are always easy to give out to family and neighbors, so getting three or four of these plants to fruit is my goal.  The beetles that arrived by my cucumbers last year took over some of the buds of my Zucchini plants last year so I'm going to try to plant them as far part as I can this year. 
Last weekend, I planted a bunch of plants in the garden, but I also sowed some seeds directly in the ground.  One of those seeds was sweet corn.  Sweet corn seeds look like little shriveled up pieces of corn right off the cob.  The package explicitly called out the process of putting the corn seeds directly in the ground instead of (like other seeds) starting them indoors. 

I've never grown sweet corn before, so this was just a shot in the dark.  Turns out?  The seeds germinated VERY fast and now there's a bunch of seedlings that have emerged.  This variety is called Trinity Hybrid and is good for Zone 5 - 6.
I think I'm going to have to thin them out (because I planted them too close together), but I'll let them go another few days to allow for the strongest to survive.  According to the package, you're to plant the seeds pretty close together (6 inches) and in blocks instead of long thin rows to aid and ensure pollination.  64 days from now hopefully we'll have a bunch of ears that look like these on the seed package.
My fourth sports-related search trends blog post went up on the Official Google Blog yesterday - just in time for the Mavs victory in game six.  In this piece, we dug in on some professional hoops trends and found some interesting things including how the on-court renaissance that veteran Jason Kidd has under-taken is mirrored online and he's seen a surge as the playoffs wore on.  Have to be happy for him this morning, right? 
If the Stanley Cup goes to game seven, I might be able to squeeze in a NHL post all about Lord Stanley's Cup and what a big deal a game seven is for all sports.


Here are the live links to all ten of my posts on the Official Google Blog:
I *thought* I had my garden layout finalized.  After all, I had everything planted.  But, yesterday, we made a trip to Angelo Caputo's Market to pick up some pizza-making supplies (yes!), I wandered out into the garden center and found these beautiful San Marzano plants.
I tried my hand at raising these same plants from seeds, but they got leggy and died.  I couldn't pass these up because they'll be PERFECT for my sauce/canning experiment.  Looks like I'm going to have to move some things around to make room for a few of these. 

Now...only if I could find some volcanic ash to amend the soil.
While there were certainly plenty of highlights at Matt and Suzie's terrific wedding a few weeks back, one that I knew I had to share here was this photo of Matt's Groom's cake.  I don't know the full backstory (if Matt knew about this or not, where it came from, etc), but this cake had a prime spot - right on the dance floor as we entered the room after cocktails.  And, it was a hit with everyone there. 

Now, while I'm certainly gushing about the looks of this Herkey the Hawkeye cake, I can proudly tell you guys that I didn't try one bite of that stinkin' thing.  I wouldn't dare let a crumb of Hawkeye cake cross these lips.  Wouldn't think of such a thing.

I did, however have like 4 pieces of their normal wedding cake - which was my favorite (carrot!), so I guess that more than makes up for my stubbornness towards the Illini's enemy. 
This year, I decided to go a slightly different route for the tomato plants in our garden than last year.  Variety was the calling card of our garden last year.  We had big and small.  We had heirlooms and hybrids.  Greens and yellows. 

This year, I decided to focus on one core tomato:  the plum.  The reason for this is because I want to can a bunch of them (whole/peeled) in preparation for next spring's completion of the wood-burning pizza oven in our backyard.  What's that you say?  Pizza oven?  Yes.  I think I'm going to push ahead - against some folk's best recommendation.  (more on that later this fall as the pieces come together). 

To satisfy my wife (the real tomato eater in our house), I'm going to out and get a few more heirloom plants that are NOT plums, but thus far, I have 9 plants in the ground and 8 of them are plum varieties. 

The first of which is called an Amish Paste Tomato.  My mother-in-law found these at a garden center out by her and she picked up a few of them for me.  Their attributes fit perfectly with our goals:  canning.  Here's the tag.  I'll try to remember to post on them when they begin to fruit. 

Anyone have any experience with this variety? 
In both an attempt to diversify the variety of vegetables that we grow as well as following a best practice of rotating crop locations, I decided that this year we'd try a few new things that I haven't had in either my '09 or '10 gardens.

The first of those are these Jade Cross E Brussel Sprouts.  They're a recommended variety from the University of Illinois Extension Office for our Zone and take 90 days from seed to harvest and have larger heads than normal.  

The only issue is that it appears that Sprouts don't like warm summers and based on the past week, it appears that we're in for a warm one.   It seems that they're fairly frost tolerant, so they probably should have gone in a month ago....or...sometime later in the summer so we can harvest in October.  Plant and learn, right?
Tonight at the Elmhurst Public Library, our two Alderman - Dannee Polomsky and Michael Bram are hosting their first (of what they say will be a series) of joint Townhall meetings.  They're taking this pretty seriously and even walked flyers around door-to-door to drum up attendees.  That's the flyer (above) that was on our front door this morning.  Good idea.

Alderman Bram has hosted one of these before, but with the recent election of Alderman Polomsky (yeah!), they're teamed up together.  That partnership is a great thing for our Ward - and they both have different tools they bring to us residents and will complement each other.

Polomsky aims to be the 'Great Communicator' and will make sure every resident feels more plugged into their local government than ever before.  She's perfectly suited for this role and has made communication the hallmark of her term.  With City government being the "closest" form of government to us residents, the communication plan Polomsky is undertaking promises to have a HUGE impact on our quality of life and level of understanding in government.

Bram, who is up for election in just two short years, is a budget hawk and is meticulous with the details of City government who makes sure every decision made - no matter how small - is the right one for the city.   He does his homework and speaks up for the 3rd Ward even when it may not be the most popular decision in the City Council chambers. 

Together, they're going to be a great team for the 3rd Ward.   I am looking forward to hearing more from both of our Alderman - and I'm planning on attending tonight. 

The information for the townhall tonight is:

DATE: Wednesday, June 8th
TIME: 7:00 - 9:00 PM
PLACE: Elmhurst Public Library (meeting room, first floor)

Tonight's meeting has no formal agenda, but rather will be open to a discussion of various topics that are going on within the City of Elmhurst as well as issues that  are specific and have impact on the Third Ward.

If you aren't sure if you live in the 3rd Ward in Elmhurst, check out this map below.  I made it using the "my map" feature on Google Maps.

View Elmhurst 3rd Ward in a larger map

If you can't make it, but want to stay in touch, you should email the Aldermen and have them add your contact to their list.  The note they sent out said "Our Third Ward e-newsletters/bulletins will be sent from this email address: ".
It is with mixed emotions that I can report that we caught a skunk in our raccoon trap overnight.  The raccoon hasn't been using my garden as his toilet for more than 10 days, so I moved the trap out front to where I last saw the raccoon - in an attempt to catch him.

Instead of the raccoon, I found Mr. Stinky in the trap.  As most of you know, I'm Mr. Anti-Skunk so this is kind of a feather in my cap, but seeing him in the trap makes me kind of sad.  The grass around the cage is all torn up, so he fought like heck to get out and when I found him in the morning, he was mostly just laying there, tired. 

One less skunk on the streets of Elmhurst is a good thing, but now that the trap has been taken away, I'm almost certain that the raccoon will show back up again, won't he?
On Alan Richman's big GQ list of the Top pizza joints in the country, Buddy's in Detroit came in at #15.  I had NOT been to any of the places on the list despite the top choice being in Chicago (Great Lake), so a visit to Buddy's was going to be my first rare-air experience in the world of pizza.
A few weeks back, I was set to have a meeting with a Google Exec and an editor up in Detroit - and I made the executive decision to have the meeting over lunch at Buddy's.  Everyone agreed to meet there and I have to say: this was the best pizza I've ever had in my entire life.  Seriously.  It was that good.

*UPDATE on Feb 3, 2012* I recently decided to try my hand at making Buddy's pizza at home.  To that end,  bought 2 Detroit-style Blue Steel Pizza Pans and changed my recipe a bit.

The GQ list isn't the first time Buddy's has been recognized, but being a high-brow list, it is great to see a place like this able to make it.  That photo is the side that is facing the parking lot and I would say is the 'good side'.  The neighborhood is pretty bare, with just a pack of dudes hanging out on the corner and not a lot of other things going on.  If my Mom were in the car, she would have locked the car doors.
There were four of us, so we ordered an eight-square.  There are two options: four-square and eight-square.  I think that's the way it has always been.  But, clearly, the topping choices (Hello...feta and diced turkey.) have evolved since opening in 1936.  

We ordered half pepperoni and half green pepper and mushroom.  Clearly, I wasn't left in charge of ordering, as I'd have doubled down on a sausage/pepperoni combo.  They cook the pies well there and the crust has a bit of a Pequod's/Burt's thing going on with the caramelized crust. 
With a HUGE assist from my father-in-law, this swingset is finally assembled.  Without his help, the slide most likely wouldn't be installed because both my limited skill set AND I would have likely used the wrong bit in the drill. 

Nat bought a special baby swing - which I put up on the right - and I installed just one of the 'normal' swings.  Next up is leveling of the ground, the installation of some timbers and then piling on a bunch of mulch to make the play area nice and safe. 
I was able to haul both roofs up the ladder by myself and secured them into place - not without a bit of a struggle.  The cupola looks great up top, but turns out to be purely ornamental as it is completely closed in.  My Dad tells me that cupolas are meant to vent out the accumulated heat in roofs, but in this case, I have a feeling the the Babe isn't going to notice the heat up there.

I also was able to get the door on the clubhouse, the sunburst details in the gables and the bay window (facing the backside, unfortunately) installed.  Tomorrow, Nat's Dad is coming over to give me a hand and we'll get going on the swing bar assembly, the crowsnest and the slide. 

3 hours First Day
8 hours Second Day
8 hours Third Day
Total so far: 19 Hours by myself
Look at what just arrived via USPS Mailman on our frontdoor?!?  Two and a half pounds of extract-grade vanilla beans.  Yes..that's what is in that photo below.  Kind of strange looking, but they're oh-so-sweet smelling.
I'm about a month behind my schedule from last year so I have to get going fast.  With school ending this week, it shouldn't be difficult to get my nieces and nephews over here to slice and scrape beans and get production ramped up.  There's nothing quite like under-aged, low-priced labor is there?  

After that, all it takes is a mere six months of steeping and we should be in great shape for the holidays.
I went out this morning to check the trap - like I've become accustomed to do and found what I expected:  an empty trap.  This is day 10 of the raccoon hunt and I'm not quite sure what has happened to him.  He hasn't been around for the better part of the week and hasn't left any turds in the yard during that same time, too.  So, I guess that's a positive, right?
The trap is a pre-pay, so I've already laid out the money trying to catch this bugger, so I'm going to leave the trap in play - but maybe I'll move it to a different part of the yard - and replace the rotten tuna fish inside of it!  I have been waiting to get my garden in full gear out of mostly fear of this critter, but the time for fear is over.  I need to get my tomato plants in the ground.
I put in 8.5 hours today and got through step 23.  Total of 12 hours and here's the progress:
We moved the clubhouse portion into place - and yes - we've re-configured things a bit.  In order to make everything fit, we rotated the clubhouse 90 degrees and made some other changes to the swing bar and the entrance.   I'm back at work tomorrow, so the entire project will have to sit for a few days until I can find some extra time.