Sunday, June 4, 2017

Making Carnitas for the First Time


I have always loved tacos with carnitas. It's crispy, tender, flavorful and juicy all at once. I always thought about making it, but you can't just make a cup of carnitas. You are either going to make enough for 10 people or you just go buy some from a taqueria. As I started learning Spanish recently, I am more interested in Mexican and South American cuisines than ever.  When a taco potluck at work is coming up, I decided to bring some homemade carnitas. I searched the internet for a simple and delicious carnitas recipe, and this is the one I decided on.  However, I don't have a slow cooker big enough for a piece of 5 lbs of meat, so I had to cook it in the oven.  I can't even remember the last time I bought a piece of meat that big; however, I do have a roasting pan.  It baked in the oven at 325 F. for almost 3 hours.


Pulling the pork apart was the most labor intensive step of this process. Maybe I needed bigger forks. My fingers were sore when I was done. At this stage, the pork doesn't taste like the carnitas I know at all. It didn't taste or look all that good to be honest. There are a few more steps in the recipe, and these steps are "not optional" according to the poster. I was so tired by the time I was done pulling the pork apart, I put everything in the fridge and went to sleep.


When I got up this morning, I was hungry. I made some coffee and proceeded to make some carnitas for breakfast. I fried up some of the pulled pork and warmed up some tortillas. I didn't have anything else to put in the tacos, but who needed anything else when you had homemade carnitas? I ate 4 street size tacos for brunch this morning.  I better save the rest for the potluck!


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What is This Fruit Tree?


This year I work with a couple fruit enthusiasts. Sometimes the three of us would take a break during our work day to walk and check out different plants in the neighborhood. Since I work just 4 blocks away from home, we are basically checking out the edible plants in my neighborhood.  A couple months ago we looked at this tree in the photo above. At the time it did not have fruits.  Today we went back to the same tree with a book called Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World by Rolf Blancke in attempt to identify this tree.   Unfortunately, we could not find anything in the book that looks exactly like what we saw.  In addition to the flowers and premature fruits on the tree, I also found a ripened fruit on the ground.  I picked it up to show my coworkers. One of them pulled it apart using her hands. We all had a good look inside of it.  I even tasted it by touching it with my finger first. It was sweet.


Since both of my coworkers have been looking through the tropical fruits book for the past several weeks, it was my turn to look at the pictures.  As I flipped through the pages, I saw a fruit which could possibly be what we saw today. The photos in the book for each fruit are very limited. It has either one or two photos only and usually they are pictures of the fruit and leaves.   Every time I saw a possible candidate, I typed it into Google Images for more photos. After about 3 tries, I found the mystery fruit. It turned out to be white sapote!  I was able to find many images of the trees, flowers, ripe fruits and fruits on the trees, etc.  It was a perfect match. By the descriptions of white sapote, it sounded delicious. We didn't really try the slightly rotted fruit on the ground because we didn't really know what it was even though we suspected it was edible.

I will be walking Cracus toward the direction of the white sapote tree from here on.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Free Lime (?) Tree on Memorial Day

Free lemon and lime trees on the street corner

I have a new "Free" site that I used.  Craigslist.org used to be my "free" site, but in the past year Nextdoor.com has become my favorite free site. Now I only pick up free stuff from my own neighborhood and very often I just walk over to pick them up.  This morning I walked the dogs to a house not too far away pick up some free Calandrinia grandiflora cuttings.  I have seen these flowers in the neighborhood and thought they were really pretty, so I was very excited to get some free cuttings. A few hours later, someone else nearby posted "free lemon and lime tree (see photo above)". Initially, I was going to pass, then I thought how I have wanted a lime tree for many years.  I Googled how to tell a lemon from a lime tree, and decided to swing by the trees with the car. I smelled both trees, but I really could not tell the difference, so I just had to pick the one with smaller leaves (the one on the right) and hope that is a lime tree. I already have unlimited access to free lemons, so it would be a waste of effort if I had picked the wrong one.

the jade plant had to go

Initially I was going to plant the lime tree in a planter, but I decided it would be best to plant it in the garden. I have always thought the big jade plant was wasting a prime spot in the garden. It's not particularly pretty, and it doesn't produce anything useful.  A couple weeks ago, the 13-year-old girl next door even said that jade tree is kinda ugly, and that I should get rid of it and plant something else!  I just started cutting down the jade plant with my Pocket Boy.  It didn't take long for me to get to the roots. I dug up as much roots as I possibly could.  My arms were shaking as I finished prepping for the planting location.


Before I put the lime tree into its place, I clipped off some branches that didn't look too good. They were covered in scale pests. I also removed some soil around the roots.  As I placed it in the hole on the ground, I mixed in some compost and covered it all up with soil before watering the tree really well.  It looked a bit dry.

My new lime tree (I hope)

It took over 2 hours to complete this project. The weather got warm as I worked the soil and dug up the river rocks and the roots.  I was pleased how good the new tree looks in its new home. It already has several buds and possibly baby limes. It would be so cool to pick limes from my own garden. I guess I will find out soon enough.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Cracus' First Bike Ride

Installed a rear carrier rack on the bike

Ever since I rode the bike on Bike to Work Day, I had been thinking about how I could ride the bicycle with Cracus.  I figured the easiest way to carry Cracus around on the bike would be putting him in his crate. He is familiar with his crate and is safe in there. I wouldn't have to worry about him jumping out of a box or a basket. His traveling crate is small enough to be strapped behind me on the bike.  I realized that I needed to get a rear carrier rack in order to strap the crate to the bike. After looking around online, I found Ventura universal rear rack. It was the only one I thought that could possibly work with my bike. I was lucky to find a youtube video  on how to install Ventura universal rack on a cruiser bike, which further confirmed that it would most likely work on my bike. I found it for sale on eBay for $16, which was super cheap compare to all the other rear racks.  It arrived in just a few days, and it didn't come with any hardware just like the one in the youtube video. I went through my collection of random screws and nuts, and luckily, I was able to mix and match and got the rack installed after several tries. It supposed to be able to hold 55 lbs. of weight. 


After getting a few bungee cords, I practiced strapping the crate securely then invited Cracus into his crate. He eagerly went in there and took his crate treats joyfully. I took the bike out on the street, walked over to Ohlone Greenway.  Cracus did not make a sound the entire time.  I hopped on the bike and rode down the trail. He never made any noise.  After riding a few blocks, I rode back home. It was hard to tell whether Cracus enjoyed it. I had to put the crate sideway, so Cracus was not able to get the effect of wind blowing on his face. I could tell he was hot being in the crate, so we ended his first bike ride. Next time we will go for a longer ride and stop somewhere interesting so he can also walk around.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bike to Work Day


Today was the annual Bike to Work Day.  Many cities around San Francisco Bay Area participate in this annual event including City of El Cerrito. The City hosted an energizer station from 7 am to 9 am next to El Cerrito Plaza BART station to promote the event and the healthy lifestyle of bicycling as a way of transportation and exercise.  At the energizer station, city employees handed out goodie bags, snacks, drinks and provided bicycle maintenance tips. For the very first time in my life, I participated in this event. Many years ago I rescued a vintage bicycle from the apartment complex dumpster where I lived at the time.  It was covered in tape. I think it was done on purpose to discourage thieves. I removed most of the tape, replaced some parts, and a friend gave it a tune up. It turned out to be a beautiful bike.  I can't even tell which manufacturer made the bike. It has just one label that says "Lifetime Warranty call 1-800-USA-Bike for any question".  The bike is heavy compare to newer bikes. It also has coaster brakes instead of hand brakes.  While I like my unique bike a lot, I don't ride it often.  One of the reasons is that I don't want it to get stolen.

My bicycle complete with a wire basket

A few days ago, I decided that I would participate in the Bike to Work Day this year.  I got the bike out of the garage and hosed it down in the backyard.  I had not been on the bike for many years. I even did a trial ride of 4 blocks to work; however, I had to ride further this morning to get to the energizing station. I didn't see too many bicyclists on my way there at 7:15 a.m.  As I got closer, I saw many people and children with their bikes. It was like a party!   I had some drink samples of chicha morada and passion fruit from El Mono, the local Peruvian restaurant that I love.  I grabbed some snack and a Bike to Work canvas bag filled with goodies.  There was a lot of excitement, and I wished that I could stay longer.  I didn't want to be late to work so I started pedaling again along Ohlone Greenway.  When I got to work, I was 10 minutes early!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Free is the Best!


Back in 2010, I got some free compost from the City of El Cerrito on Compost Giveaway Day.  This year I noticed the city is giving away compost for an entire week starting yesterday until March 24th. This morning I brought a bucket with me to get my compost.  I will try to go get some more if I can find another bucket to put it in. I love that earthy smell!  Cracus loves it, too. He tried to eat it as I was trying to add it to the base of the mulberry tree. I think he actually ate a little. He likes to eat dirt occasionally.


While walking Cracus, I came across a patio umbrella stand someone left out on the sidewalk for free. It's a heavy duty one.  Sure it is old, but who cares. It is just going to sit outside and get weathered anyway.   I promptly picked it up with my car after walking Cracus back home. While walking Craucs, I also spotted a cluster of puffballs in the grass on the sidewalk.  I collected all of them in one of the clean poop bags.  I love having these bags handy. They are useful in many ways not just for picking up dog poop. With the exceptional rain volume this year, I have seen plenty of mushrooms while walking Cracus, but this is the first time I found something tasty.

I can't believe I got all these free things on the same day!


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring Weeding

Before and After

This past winter, we had more rain than average. According to Washington Post, as of February 21st, San Francisco is running nearly 10 inches above average. Everyday I hear from the radio that certain parts of California are now flooding and families are being evacuated.  That's something you rarely hear in California, the state which has endured drought for more than 10 years.   With the excessive rain, the garden is now overgrown with weeds. I like to keep the dog run weed free, so I have been working on it for a couple weekends. The result is obvious as Cracus proudly poses above.

Before and After 

I also like to keep the river rock and mulberry tree area weed free.  I have been working on it for a few weekends now.  Today it is finally clear of sour grass.    There is about another half of the garden that needs to be weeded. More work will continue as the weather starts to feel like spring and flowers start to bloom.

More to go on the left

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Organic Dino Kale


On my way to work a couple days ago, I noticed one of my neighbors was giving away a bunch of "organic dino kale" in his/her driveway.  It was written on the pavement in chalk, "free organic dino kale" with arrows pointing to the plants. They were whole plants with roots and dirt attached to them. I was walking to work, so I didn't have time to take any.  I told myself that if they were still available on my way home, I would take a few. A few hours later, as I walked home for lunch, they were still there so I picked a couple of them with less dirt. I put them in a bucket of rainwater in the yard for the time being.


Today I finally have some time to work in the garden, so I planted them in one of the sunny spots. I had clear out all the weeds and dead plants a few weeks ago. It was the perfect spot, and Cracus of course had to check them out. I think he would eat it if I handed him some kale leaves. I clipped off some kale leaves so the newly planted plants wouldn't be too top heavy.  The kale leaves were chopped up and added to my big pot of combination korma curry for dinner.

I finally have some vegetables in the garden!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Planting Blue Ginger


One of my neighbors spent a week in Hawaii for Christmas. She brought me a little Blue Ginger to grow since it has blue-violet color flowers, which is my favorite color.  After reading more about it on Dave's Garden, I decided to grow it indoors since all my orchids seem to be dying off.  Blue Ginger blooms all year round, and it can reach 6 to 8 feet tall!  I am sure I'll be trimming it so it won't become a giant plant inside of the house. I can't wait to watch it grow!