For the past few weeks, we've heard rumors of a Bleeding Heart Bakery coming to downtown Elmhurst.  It almost sounded too good to be true.  But then last week, the folks from BHB actually came out and said just what we were hearing:  they are, indeed, coming to town.  With a big menu, too. on the walk home from Church Nat and I walked by the purported location and guess what?  It sure looks like they're moving along pretty fast.  The sign in the window calls out the name of the bakery and the mural on the wall is unmistakeable. 

Great news for downtown and a real statement about the south side of the tracks.  With MOST of the new development going on down there, there's a real shift in the balance of power.  Charlies, Pints, the new Pizza joint and now Bleeding Heart Bakery.  It will be interesting to see how things shake out. is still July.  (almost August, though!) 

But I *am* already thinking/planning on a few Christmas projects - specifically for a set of gifts.  The reason for the early planning is that some of the items that I need to use for the project are seasonal in nature - including these:  fence pickets!
They're currently on sale (at least I think they're on sale) at Home Depot so I have to get busy estimating how many I'll be using later this fall.  This is a hard one because CLEARLY I'll need to get the estimate right (or high, I suppose) because finding a 6' fence picket made of cedar might be tough come December 10th. 
While our Opalkas are the first tomato to ripen on the vine in our garden, they're NOT the only one bearing fruit.  I planted a bunch of varieties of Romas and just about all of them are going nuts. 
And that's just one section of the plant.  They're producing a crazy amount of fruit at this point.  In fact, the cages that some of them were in toppled over from the weight, so I had to go buy some posts to reinforce them and keep them upright.  After seeing this photo (and not just staring at the actual plant!), I now realize that I have to start planning now for our canning operation.  The onslaught isn't too far away.
I decided to put down a set of Sweet Pea seeds in the garden this year as a way (mostly) to rotate some crops around and introduce some new items to the garden.  I didn't have a lot of expectations for these, but I'm starting to come around on them.  The plant has sprung up A LOT of pea pods and as they begin to 'uncurl' and fill out the peas, I'm starting to see some promise in them.  One big upside of these is that they're coming in early enough that I'll be able to (possibly) replace them with a later early autumn crop like some beets, a lettuce or two or maybe even something like broccoli. 

Nat has to figure out something to make with these guys - probably one of her go-to recipes that is a Trader Joe's stir fry.  This time, we'll be able to supply the pea pods.
On Tuesday night, I had a long list of tasks to get done outside.  Cut the lawn.  Re-stake my tomato cages.  Then...time for pest removal/reduction.  After I took care of a hornets nest I finally got busy tending to my garden.  With the temperatures lower than they have been in the past 10 days, last night was a good night to catch up on some neglect.  And I was greeted with some good news: A partial harvest came in last night from my New Potato plants.  The plants are starting to die back, so I began digging.  Here's what I turned up a nice amount of spuds.  I'd say that this is likely going to be about 1/5th of the total harvest based on the area I dug up.  About 10 potatoes that look like this of various sizes:
Some of them are really quite big, too.  Here's one next to a champagne cork to demonstrate the size:
I know next year I'll be doing A LOT more potatoes earlier in the spring.  I'll have to find some Fingerling seed potatoes on the web somewhere.

Our Oplaka plant was the first to fruit and not suprisingly it is also the first plant to produce ripe tomatoes.  The point remained in tact as it grew and is a bit weird looking - almost like a pepper of some sort. 

People shop at local independent bookstores because there's some emotion involved.  There's a sense of loyalty that comes along with shopping at a place that is less convenient and (often times) more expensive than the faceless behemoth online.  One of the most successful indie bookstores around is Anderson's Bookshop in Downtown Naperville.

I worked on a project today called the "Google eBooks Petting Zoo" that was aiming to educate Anderson's customers that they didn't need to *just* buy their physical books at Anderson's and their digital books from folks like Amazon or iTunes.  In fact, you could buy directly from via Google books.  Pretty neat stuff.  You buy on their site and consume the books on devices you already own.  Have an iPad?  Install the Google eBooks app, go to Anderson's site and start buying books.  Viola!  They'll show up on your ipad.

Disclaimer:  I work at Google. You knew that, right?  

WGN News even came out and worked up this piece.

I spent not-quite-a-day at the races today celebrating with Bill at a portion of his Bachelor's party.  While the fine folks at Arlington Park wished me well, lets just say that it wasn't a great afternoon of wagering.  And it wasn't because I lost.
On the heels of my first zucchini ripening, I found the first of our Yellow Crookneck Squash ready to be picked.   And it is a big one, too!  A bunch of the photos of these beauties around the web show them with bumps - almost like a Halloween gourd, but mine are smooth - and have a very tiny/soft prickle on them RIGHT when you pick it.  There's not much 'crook' to the neck of this first one, but some of the other ones I can see growing are a bit more curved.

I just came back from six days away from my garden to find a wild, out-of-control mess.  Everything shot up fast and is not relenting.  The tomatoes - as usual - are tipping their cages and I have to find an alternative to the current set up.  And fast.

Other plants are moving along well, too.  Most notably, the zuchinni plants.  There appears to have been enough cross-pollination to sprout a few different fruits.  I pulled the first one off (above) and it looks great.  Shiny, firm.  And...most importantly not too terribly lumpy.  Based on my tests last year, I think the uneven shape of fruits is because of uneven watering.  With my auto system going this year, I'm trying to avoid that.  The smallish 'tip' was started before I put the watering system into place, I think.
I spent the better part of this week in our nation's capitol and with the projects on my plate, it appears that we'll be getting closely acquainted.  I've been to DC only a handful of times and I can start to get used to the place.

This is the first time I'm growing Ruby Red Cabbage.  I was looking for some new crops to introduce to both widen the scope of what I was growing but also as a way to help aid in my rotation goal to reduce the stress on the soil.  These started as seedlings and have really spread out big time. 

I planted them the recommended distance apart and they've mostly grown together.  Up until this morning, I was wondering what was going to happen:  would the current leaves curl back up and form the head?  Or would something else entirely form?  Based on this post, it seems that the cabbage head will sprout up in the middle of the current leaves. 

Nat was a little skeptical about cabbage.  After all....what were we going to do with it?  Besides making a big batch of cole slaw, what else can we do with it?  Give it away? 

But after seeing them grow, she *actually* likes them and thinks that we should think about planting them elsewhere in the landscape because they're so neat looking.   The greens and purples look really pretty together.  We do, however, have a small insect problem, but being organic gardeners, it is hard to totally cure/get rid of everything with soaps. 

Hopefully the heads will form soon and we'll have cabbage in time for Labor Day.
A month back, Nat and I snuck out for a date night that included a stop at a pizza place on our list and a comedy show that was part of the TBS Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.  We picked Spacca Napoli - #15 on the list of the Top 25 Pizza Places in Chicago.  And while it comes in ahead of such notables as Louisa's and Aurelio's, I can tell you that this one is ranked too high. 

The place itself couldn't be cuter.  It appears to just spring up in the middle of a residential neighborhood and has a ton of outdoor seating.  It is VERY popular and we had to wait about an hour to get our table.  We weren't in any hurry, so that was fine.  We ended up sitting outside and as the night wore on, the temperature dropped.  So, we might have outsmarted ourselves with the outdoor seats.

The menu is filled with what we've come to expect at most neopolitan places:  a few twists on the Margherita and a bunch of white pies.  I went with the Diavola and Nat (surprisingly) went with the Funghi e Salsiccia. 
It wouldn't have been a good night without a Moretti.  I think I've finally settled on Moretti vs. Peroni.
My Diavola arrived and looked promising.  The outer lip was leopard spotted, but the center seemed a bit under-cooked.  The bufalo mozzarella was generous, but the application didn't seem right.  Nor did the two little leaves of basil.  This is summer - basil is plentiful!

Nat's pie looked more promising.  But, the pizziolo - just like on mine - focused everything in the middle of the pie making it soggy and not evenly distributed. 

We were all waiting for the upskirt, right?  Here it is.  Average char, but that wasn't the problem.  The water and moisture that came out of the cheese and toppings were way too much for this lackluster crust.    You can see the water pooling up at the tip of this slice.  That's pretty disappointing to me - as a crisp pizza lover. 

Maybe it was late in the night or a bad day for the dough, but the hole structure in this handle of the crust was pretty bad.  Not much puff OR crunch.  Bummer.

While the pizza was just ordinary, the price was crazy.  For just the two of us, we spent more than $85.00.  That's about double of what we normally spend on a 'date meal' for the two of us. 

I'd put this further down the list than #15 - if on the list at all.  I loved the idea of this place (an authentic place dropped down in the middle of a neighborhood staffed by Italians), but the execution was just off.  Perhaps it was a bad day with the dough or with the oven.  Either way, it still doesn't explain the prices. 
We have a handful of squash plants in the garden and the yellow ones are the furthest ahead.  Lots of blooms on this plant so hopefully they'll grow out into squash.  Uneven watering can be detrimental to these little beauties as they'll start to grow uneven over time. 

I spent some time this past week digging around online and physically in ONE pet store looking at fish tanks and equipment.  I had a tank when I was younger (junior high-ish) that was 30 gallons and I had a lot of fun with it.  The Elmhurst Library has a tank and every time I take the Babe there, it is our first stop in the children's section and she goes nuts.  I figure that this might be a fun family activity: keeping a tank.  Nat thinks this is a VERY bad idea for a variety of reasons including the work involved, the upkeep, my track record on things, etc.

She's likely correct, but that doesn't mean I won't keep looking and perhaps even pull the trigger.

Do you guys have tanks at home with your kids?  Tell me I'm nuts - that this will end up being too much work. you and your kids love it?  I think big, so 10 gallons is too small potatoes for me.  I was thinking of 30 gallons as a nice middle ground starter tank.  Freshwater, too.  I'd loooove a saltwater/marine tank, but I think you have to hire someone to care for it, right?
As you can see, there are a lot of little green plum tomatoes on our San Marzano plants.   They were slow starters, but have come on fast in the recent days.  Also, on the right you can see a few of the yellow flowers that will (hopefully) turn into even more fruits. 

Ideally the plants come in at the same time so I can make a BIG batch of canned tomatoes and not a few different little ones.  Guess I should get out and buy a new case of jars to get the canning process lined up. 
I planted this little strawberry plant last spring and it really didn't produce anything last year.  But this year?  We have actual berries.  I *think* they're a bit late (Michigan strawberries came in June) but we have one big red berry and a few emerging white-ish ones.  
The plant itself is starting to spread out and establish itself, so next year we should see even more.  I'll pull the one berry off soon and the Babe will have a special little treat!
In just a matter of weeks, the little seeds that I planted in the ground have sprung up to cover a lot of the trellis that I installed.  Here's what they looked like three weeks ago right when I put up the trellis. I think I likely planted a few too many seeds, but that's a problem we can fix next year.  They're growing on top of each other, but I'm still hopeful that they'll throw off a lot of beans.  The snap peas, on the other hand, are already flowering and in great shape.  The peas are on the left.  The beans are on the right. 
And Maisy snuck in there on the bottom left.
10 steaming yards of it delivered on the driveway.   Our beds are going to be soooo happy.

Yes.  Today is *both* my wife Natalie and my mother Dorothy birthday.  Crazy, eh?

As we've done in year's past, we went up to Ravinia to celebrate.  Just like last year, they both are holding cupcakes in the photo, but because we went to see the CSO, they're 'shhhhsh-ing' us like the folks sitting around our group were doing all night.
 Here's two incredible special women that I wouldn't be the same without in my life. 

Happy Birthday, Nat.  You too, Ma!

Just like last year, a few *surprises* have lept up in the middle of our garden where I poured out our compost bin.  First, I should say that I am SO pleased with the compost this year.  The tumbler really worked it's magic and I (apparently) had the right mix of greens and browns.  I composted ALL of our fall leaves along with a bunch of grass clippings and kitchen scraps.  The result was the pure 'Black Gold' that gardeners dream about. 

But, the temp wasn't quite hot enough in the tumbler or the gourds that I threw in there from last year were resistant to heat.  I saw some of the seeds in the mix when I was dumping it out but figured they *couldn't* germinate again like last year.  I pegged it as a fluke last year when something of a hybrid emerged in the form of a (home-named) watermelon gourd
As the saying goes, your sweet corn is supposed to be up past the knees by the Fourth of July in order to have a nice crop that turns out well.  Because we weren't around for the Fourth, the best I could do was monitor our corn by the 10th.  Seems about knee-high-ish, right?
They were selling this stuff in an old-time candy shop in South Haven Michigan when we wandered in.  Of course, I couldn't help myself and asked the shop owner if she had a "good" Sarsaparilla?
I've been poking around the Mosquito Magnet site for the past few weeks trying to figure out if the investment is worth the expense.  It seems that I am going to wait for the end of the season and see if I can snatch one up on a deal because with July already moving along, it might be too late in the season for them. 

Because, I (like most people I'm assuming) thought that the Mosquito Magnet would just "work" immediately, I was hot to trot after one of them.  Our backyard is where I want to spend A LOT of time n the evenings, but the bugs are crazy.  Turns out, the Magnet is more of a 'life-cycle disruptor'.  Over the course of three or four months, it will drive down the population in the area by getting the young and aging bugs.  It will NOT pull or attract every mosquito in instantly.  Rather it is more of a long-term solution that appears to NEED to start right in the Spring.

Because of the time-frame, we opted for a much lower-tech solution:  A series of Citronella plants.  Has anyone ever used these before?  We have them stationed all over our backyard pavilion and we've been rubbing the leaves.  Are they working?  Too soon to tell.  Anyone have any insights into these things?  The smell *seems* right, but is it strong enough to provide a protective area?

Also, should we bring them inside in the winter?  Will they survive a dormant cycle?
Nat does A LOT of shopping at Trader Joe's.  A LOT.  And of the course of years, I've come to appreciate their quirkiness and how they tailor their brand.  For Italian food, their labels say Trader Giotto's and for Mexican-inspired items, they use Trader Jose.  Pretty cute.

But this afternoon, I was a bit puzzled.  For some reason, Trader Joe's decided that the Salsa Verde made the 'Jose' cut, but not the bean dip?  Why not?  The bean dip even has the same spiciness 'chart' on the side of the jar as the salsa.  Seems to me that someone in marketing missed an opportunity here.
It was just one year ago that I posted this photo of the Babe up in Michigan.  At the time, she was indulging in her first meal of *real* food.
Take a look at what just one year of growth will do for you.  Still in the same high chair.   Barely.  And....look at that hair?!?
Couldn't imagine the last year without her in our lives.
Continuing on the trend of attempting to eat local while we are up in Michigan (last year, we started to  use local Michigan Pioneer Sugar), this year, we decided to "Serve the Curve" with Koegel's Michigan All Beef Frankfurters.
The company has been making hot dogs and sausages in Flint Michigan since 1916 and their slogan appears to be "Serve the Curve" - because their all beef skinless dogs curve up when cooked.  Although they're not Chicago dogs, I believe these have become a part of my regular rotation up at the Lake from here on out.

Here's a video about Koegel's.  Be warned.  There's a tiny view of the Lips and the Assholes.
Recently, I took the bus from San Francisco to the company headquarters in Mountain View.  This was the bus stop in the morning.  Makes it easy to get up and go to the office, I bet.