Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Art of Photography

The first exhibit from today's artsy photo shoot  is called "Chair and Zodiac."

The next is a sequence called "Child and Chair."

And finally, some behind the scenes never seen before footage of how it was all done.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Mesquite Flour in Pictures

Here is the mesquite flour making process in pictures.

1. The raw pods that we collected from under the mesquite tree. I assume that the holes in the pods are from insects. I couldn't find anything when I opened the pod though.

2. The Vitamix blender used to powder the pod (seed casing).

3. The sees and some chaff left over after blending. These don't pulverize.

4. The flour from the process

If you want to know what the raw flour tastes like then put your whole hand into the bowl and carefully examine it and consider if you're going to put it in your mouth.

Ask an adult if it's okay to eat it. (Not really, just be amazed that it's sticking to your hand and say "look.")

Put your fingers in your mouth. It has a slight sweet and distinct taste. Personally I don't dislike it but don't love it either. I think that it's an acquired taste that could grow on me.

Once you have the mesquite pods total time to get the flour is about 15 minutes so pretty quick.

How to make Mesquite Flour

Before you make Mesquite Flour you will need:
  • A mesquite tree with plenty of mesquite pods falling to the ground
  • A Vitamix
  • A sieve or colander
  • A bowl
  • A two-year-old (optional)
  • A four-year-old (optional)
Some people pick the mesquite pods directly from the tree or put down a tarp and shake the tree. All our pods are freshly on the ground so we picked them up off the crushed granite.

Since the pods were clean and dry no further processing was necessary. Next you put them in the Vitamix. The most efficient way to do that is to use a two-year-old and a four-year-old if you have them handy.

Now put the jug on the base and switch it on until you have a collection of seed and powder.

Sieve the seeds and chaff and let the powder fall through into a bowl.

Now you have mesquite flour.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fuji Finepix XP60

I recently bought the Fuji Finepix XP60 to capture our pool activity this summer. As in the link, I opted for the yellow one as I thought that would be easiest to find. Here is one of the recent videos I got of my daughter swimming across the pool. Mostly underwater. She's almost four.

As I get better at using it I'll start posting more of my results.


On 14 June 2013 we received this composter from Costco online. We assembled it in about four tough hours. Probably the most difficult assembly I've ever had to do. The are so many improvements that Lifetime could make to the process and the way that it per-assembles this product.

It's already about a third full in as little as a week due to the lawn grass going in there. Hopefully it'll provide some good mulch for the orchard when it's ready.

The cool thing about this composter is the tumbling action. You don't have to use a fork to turn the compost but instead pull out the lock pin on the left hand side and then spin the barrel using those big fat handles. The latches at the front release the top  one-third of the barrel which  is the lid.

You can also get this from Amazon: Lifetime Compost Tumbler. If you mentally prepare for the four hour tool-intensive assembly required before arrival it will be okay.

Another thing we did this last week was to stop by our local Starbucks and ask them for their used coffee grounds to add to the composter. It turns out that they don't keep them unless you specifically call ahead and ask them to. Be prepared for a couple of cups that were accidentally put in with the coffee grounds so fish those out when you see them in the tumbler. Also, all the filters will go in as well but that doesn't matter as those will decompose. It certainly gives the compost a great scent.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Ultimate Cell Phone

I saw the draft menu item in the blog's admin panel and found this post which I'd started writing in 2007 (I think) and never finished:

I don't have a cell phone. I have, in the past, owned and operated a cell phone but I no longer have one and haven't had one for almost a year now. This is partly because of apathy (I can't be bothered to go out and research and find the best one for me) and partly because of need (I don't need one - no one ever calls me).

I have however, spent time thinking about what I'd like in a cell phone and what would be my ultimate cell phone and I've discovered that all I would like it to do is receive and place calls. I've heard about watch cell phones and this is probably what I'd want. Something that does the basic and exact functionality that it is supposed to do and is so amazingly small that you don't need a pocket to put it in - you can wear it on your wrist.

My dilemma at the moment is that I want one gadget that will do it all. It will be a cell phone, PDA and MP3 player. The PDA needs to have 802.11g and Windows CE. The cell phone, well it needs to receive and make calls, and the MP3 player needs a fair amount of memory for song storage. So far I don't think the animal exists. I will wait.

The Village People

If you want a really good laugh you need to watch a couple of the original Village People music videos:



Rock Shandy

A rock shandy, pictured above, for those who don't know is:
I remembered drinking them on hot British summer days and wanted to try one again in the Arizona desert but I couldn't for the life of me remember the name of this drink so couldn't track down what went into it.

When I finally identified the ingredients and their proportions a couple of weeks ago I went out and got everything and was very disappointed with what I made. Turned out that the soda water that I'd bought was orange flavored and I hadn't noticed that little subtext on the bottle.

Today I put the right stuff in the glass and it was the perfect refresher after a hot day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Unproposed Marriage - Toastmasters Speech #3

Do you know that you never asked me to marry you?
Do you know that you never asked me to marry you?

Madam Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and honored guests. On a balmy Saturday afternoon four years ago my wife asked me this question:
Wife: "Do you know that you never asked me to marry you?"
Me: "That's ridiculous. How could we possibly be married if I didn't ask you to marry me?"
Wife: "Okay, describe the place and time and how you proposed to me."

I was silent for a while. Then a while longer. Then I realized that she was right. I had never asked her for her hand in marriage and yet, we had successfully become married. In my defense I was very busy.

We'd been dating for a while. Let me rephrase that. We'd been half-dating. Each time we went out the first thing she'd say to me was "remember, this is not a date because my parents would never allow this." In public I was not permitted to hold her hand. If we went to a restaurant I would have to find a table in the corner while she scouted the area to make sure that nobody she recognized was there. Then like a fighter pilot she would swoop in, sit down, put up a wall of menus and duck down behind them. If we went to the movies then she would come over and sit next to me when the lights went down and would even let me hold her hand.

While we were half-dating she was in the process of completing her papers to immigrate to the United States and she wanted me to come with her and I wanted to go with her. On the immigration forms there's a question "Are you married?" with the options of Yes and No. There was no option for "relationship unapproved by parents." US Immigration is fussy about that. We agreed that the only way we were going to do this was to get married.

I went full steam ahead to arrange a legal marriage. In my mind a marriage was an hour off work at lunchtime where you rushed down to the courthouse with some identification and signed some papers and you were married. Nothing complicated in that.

It turned out that the courts were so backlogged with marriages that you had to make a reservation and the earliest was three months away. I started looking for alternatives and found a priest who was the Chaplin at my old school and whose daughter, coincidentally, had gone to school with my wife. I ran this idea past my whatever-she-was and she pointed out that as a Hindu the church wasn't her first choice of venue for a marriage. However, she agreed that we didn't have any alternative.

Now came the biggest hurdle. Luckily I didn't have to do that. My wife had to tell her parents that she had 1. had a boyfriend and 2. that he was not Hindu and 3. and that she was soon to marry him. Her mother cried for three days.

Initially her parents were not going to come to the wedding but on the day my father-in-law called and asked my wife is she was really going to go through with this. She said yes and he asked if the wedding could be pushed back by a couple of hours so that they could make it. We got married with everyone there and my wife was able to tick the box on the immigration form that said married.

Let's return to the time where my wife has insensitively, but accurately, pointed out that I had never asked her to marry me. Once I realized that I was in a corner I said "will you marry me?" Her answer was "no, you need to do this properly. You need to put some thought into this and make sure that it's in the right setting." Over the ensuing years, when the subject came up, I would immediately ask her to marry me. Each one was rejected because I hadn't put enough thought or effort into it.

Yesterday, I finally put some effort in and went off to Costco and spent a lot of money on this ring. The reason that I bought it from Costco is because if she says no I can always return it and get a refund.

[Walk down aisle towards my wife and get down on one knee.]

Prea will you marry me?

Wife: No answer but there was a lot of smiling.

Ladies and gentlemen I think that smile is a yes, thank you.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chocolate Cherry Banana Orange Smoothie

I think that I've finally cracked how to mix the chocolate flavored whey protein powder into the smoothie. In an earlier blog post Zumba Chocolate Cherry Smoothie I just threw the powder in and set the speed of the Vitamix to high. The protein powder mixed in well but also drew in a lot of air making the smoothie thick and airy and not a great drink.

This evening's smoothie started off with my typical core ingredients:
  • Banana
  • Frozen dark pitted cherries
  • Acai berry juice
  • Water (same quantity as Acai berry juice)
  • Cube of ginger
  • A navel orange
I mixed that on high speed for about 45 seconds and then I set the speed to the lowest setting. I took the lid off the Vitamix and slowly poured one scoop of the protein powder into the middle of the vortex and it mixed in perfectly. No bubbles, no extra thickening. The smoothie was refreshing, easy to drink and had a nice twist of chocolate flavor on top of the cherry which is the dominant flavor and on top of that it was a good jolt of protein.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Stars and Stripes as Shade Cloth

Some years ago +Daniel Marlow (Twitter) kindly gave me a 5' by 8' US Flag. For a couple of years it hung in my garage until I moved and then it lay folded in my new garage for a year until I desperately needed some shade cloth for my Ramada against the afternoon sun and hung it up. Take a look at the photo and see if you can see the potentially disastrous mistake I made if the bottom anchoring of the flag were to come loose while I was barbequing. Yes, the flag would have caught on fire like it almost did yesterday when the wind detached it from its anchor. With my accent it would have been pretty difficult to convince someone that it was an accident.

I'm now trying to work out if I should buy more flags to cover the rest of the area or get some real shade cloth. Perhaps I should put a Union Jack where the Stars and Stripes is in case it catches on fire...

Friday, June 07, 2013

Semi-Dwarf Navel Orange

We bought this semi-dwarf navel orange from Costco around September 2012 and planted it immediately.

It remained green throughout the winter and has been getting plenty of water but doesn't seem to be making much progress. I was expecting it to have grown a bit more by now with all the sun and heat and water it's been getting but it still remains at about the same size.

Here is an image from around when it was planted taken on 25/September/2012 about 8 to 9 months ago.

Dragon Fruit

The dragon fruit plant is correctly referred to as a pitaya (or pitahaya). We bought two types of Dragon Fruit for our orchard. One with red flesh and the other with white flesh. The images of the fruit below are not from our plants as they were planted on 1/June/2013 and I write this on 7/June/2013.

They are called dragon fruit because the red scaly leaves that cover the fruit look like the scales of a dragon.

Our white dragon fruit plant is the smaller of the two but when we got it there was a beautiful flower on it which has subsequently been knocked off.

The red dragon fruit plant is bigger and I'm not sure how we're going to train it along that fence yet.

We also broke off a couple of segments from each of the plants and have planted them in the ground to see if they will grow.

When I traveled through Vietnam I ate a lot of the white fleshed dragon fruit. I loved how easy it was to peal and consume and its kiwi fruit like texture and taste. When you can find them in the supermarket they frequently cost around $10/pound which is fairly pricy. I'm hoping that this will develop into a fence of fruit bearing cacti.

I've always associated the dragon fruit with Asia but apparently it's of Mexico, Central and South American origin and was probably taken to the Far East by the Europeans.

Black Beauty Fruiting Mulberry

We planted this Black Beauty Fruiting Mulberry (Morus nigra) on 1/June/2013. Sourced from Tropica Mango Nursery but produced by L.E. Cooke Co.

From the label: The tasty blackberry-like fruit is large, black and juicy. Very attractive to birds. Some drought tolerance when established. This Persian Mulberry is semi-dwarfed to fifteen feet high. Asexual reproduction of this patented plan without license is prohibited.

Did you read that last sentence? I had no idea you could patent plants. However, that does make sense if you use your intellectual genius to develop a unique and superior cultivar.

At planting the tree was 92 inches (7 feet 8 inches) tall and already has fruit on it. We've staked this one carefully because of its long thin trunk and the fact that the monsoons are just around the corner.

30 September 2014 Update

The mulberry is doing really well. It's 16 months since it was planted and the photo above.

In the spring it produce some delicious mulberries and still didn't have the branches and leaves that you see on it now.

It was a great experience in the spring to be able to go into the orchard in the evenings after dinner and pick mulberries to eat for desert. There weren't a lot to eat this year but expecting lots in the years to come.

Experimental Smoothie

My wife made this salad with candied pecans, brie, blue cheese, organic greens, sunflower seeds, mango, strawberries, balsamic glaze, raspberry vinaigrette, and fresh basil. Exceptionally tasty.

My contribution was the smoothie which had banana, strawberries, mango and almond milk. Not as sweet as I hoped it would be. I should have also added acai berry juice.

This is my first blog post from my phone.

Kerman Peters Pistachio

We planted our two pistachio trees on 1/June/2013. These are the only trees that we've planted in our orchard that require both a male and a female tree to pollinate. The top images is the female pistachio and the bottom image is the male pistachio.


Our female pistachio is a Kerman. It has above average nut size. Shells split well, are easily opened by hand. Kernel size above average, of high quality, readily shaken or knocked from tree when ripe. Tree vigorous, upright-spreading. Blooms late, produces heavily but biennially. By far the leading commercial cultivar in the United States. It originates from Chico, California from seeds imported from Iran.


Our male pistachio is Peters. It's a good producer of pollen. Its blossoming coincides with early blossoming cultivars, as well as the later blooming Kerman. Has a tendency to be a loppy, weak grower, especially when propagated on P. vera roots. Originated in Fresno, California by A. B. Peters.

Adaptation: Pistachios thrive in areas which have winters cool enough to break bud dormancy and hot, long summers. They are drought resistant and very tolerant of high summer temperatures, but cannot tolerate excessive dampness and high humidity. The tree has about the same cold resistance as almonds and olives but flowers later in spring than almonds. Chill requirements are estimated at 600 to 1,500 hours.

Manila Mango

We planted the Manila Mango on 1/June/2013. Originally grown by La Verne Nursery and purchased from Tropica Mango about a week earlier.

Features: The most important commercial mango variety. Sweet, juicy fruit has creamy orange flesh and yellow-blushed skin when ripe. Fruit can weigh up to one pound. Blooms in early spring. Hardy to 30 degrees for a short time.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Does not require another mango tree to pollinate and product fruit.

Exposure: Full sun

Mature Size: 25 feet tall and 30 feet wide.

Planting Instructions: Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball. With the natural soil from the hole make a mixture of two-thirds soil and one-third organic soil conditioner. To improve drainage with heavier soils add one-third sand to the mixture.

The Manila Mango is also called Ataúlfo, baby, yellow, honey, Adaulfo, or Adolfo. It is a mango cultivar from Mexico and is closely related to the Alphonso variety popular in India.

More info from Wikipedia about this variety: Ataúlfo.

Fuji Anna Espalier Apple Cocktail

We planted this Fuji/Anna Espalier Apple Cocktail in our Orchard on 1/June/2013. Bought from Tropica Mango but originally grown by Dave Wilson Nursery.

Fuji Apple

This is a cross of Ralls and Delicious made in Fujisaki, Japan in 1962.

The lower two branches of the tree are Fuji. From the label: Soon after the first US plantings began producing tin the 1980s, Fuji became California's favorite apple because of its unique combination of flavor, sweetness and crisp texture. Unattractive, dull reddish-orange skin, sometimes russetted. Excellent keeper. Excellent pollenizer for other apple varieties. Note: bud mutations of Fuji such as Red Fuji, selected for redder, more attractive skin color, do not necessarily have the same fresh-eating qualities as the original Fuji.

Harvest season begins in the late season in CA, sometime in September. Estimated winter chilling requirement is 200 hours below 45 degrees. Self-fruitful.

Anna Apple

This is a cross of Red Hadassiya and Golden Delicious made in Israel in 1963.

The upper two, and healthier and more robust branches of the tree, are Anna. From the label: Best apple for mild winter climates of southwestern United States, such as southern California and Phoenix, Arizona. Also recommended as an early summer apple for moderate climates. Very large, with a red blush over light green to greenish-yellow skin. Sweet, flavorful, very good for fresh-eating or cooking. Keeps up to two months in refrigerator. Vigorous, heavy-bearing, heat-tolerant tree.

Harvesting season is late June to mid-July. Winter chilling requirement is 150 hours below 45 degrees. Self-fruitful or pollinated by Dorsett Golden or Einshemer.


At this point I confess my ignorance. Until I bought this tree and looked up what espalier is I had absolutely no idea. From the wikipedia page: Espalier is the horticultural and ancient agricultural practice of controlling woody plant growth originally for the production of fruit, by pruning and tying branches to a frame so that they grow into a flat plane, frequently in formal patterns, against a structure such as a wall, fence, or trellis, and also plants which have been shaped in this way.

As you can see, this apple cocktail has been grafted with four branches (two Anna and two Fuji) in a two dimensional plane which is what makes it an espalier cocktail.

 30 September 2014 Update

Sixteen months later the Anna apple grafts have done well, perhaps to the detriment of the Fuji grafts which are languishing.

In the early summer we had around 20 Anna apples set and grow on the tree. These were pecked at by the grackles. I managed to taste a couple of the still green small apples which tasted pretty good. Next year it should be fairly easy to net this tree against the birds.

Wichita Pecan

We planted our Wichita Pecan (Carya illinoensis) on June 1, 2013. Apparently it will produce nuts which are medium, long, sharply pointed at both ends, with good flavor.

The pecan looks like a dead tree but it has some green buds tucked away that I'm hoping will pop out. I've watered it heavily for four days after planting it and and now switched off the water and will wait for the buds and leaves to pop out. Then I'll return to watering it again. These are the instructions from Tropica Mango where we bought the pecan.

'Wichita' is a selection from a cross between 'Halbert' and 'Mahan' made in 1940 by L.D. Romberg at the Pecan Field Station in Brownwood, TX. In 1949, scion wood from this selection was distributed to growers for trial studies. It was named and released by Romberg in 1959.

The Unstoppable Banana

The Unstoppable Banana - sounds like a kids book or movie right?

We put our banana palm in the ground 7 days ago and it's doing amazingly well. It was 21 inches high at planting and in 7 days has increased its height by 71% to 36 inches.

Here are some photos of its progress:





Sunday, June 02, 2013

Goldfinger Banana

The Goldfinger Banana is a recent introduction from Australia. Vigorous, tall plant bears large hands of fruit that are similar in size and flavor to supermarket fruit. Tolerant of wind and cold.

We planted our banana palm on June 1, 2013 and it stands around 18 inches tall. Tropica Mango nursery says that it should be around 8 feet tall by October. This banana palm was originally grown in La Verne Nursery.

Self-fertile, does not require another banana tree to pollinate and produce fruit. Expose to full sun, mature size is 14 feet tall and around six feet wide.

Once established, water deeply allowing time for soil to dry out between waters. Feed lightly every 60 days during growing season. Pruning can be done, if desired, for aesthetic appeal.


The Unstoppable Banana

Apricot Nectarine Peach Fruit Cocktail Tree

We planted the Apricot/Nectarine/Peach Fruit Cocktail tree yesterday June 1, 2013. It's about 4 feet tall:

It's originally from Dave Wilson Nursery but bought from Tropica Mango Nursery. This fruit cocktail tree holds a Blenheim (Royal) Apricot, a Babcock Peach, and a Fantasia Nectarine on a Nemaguard Peach Rootstock:

For nectarines, apricots, plums, peaches, almonds. Vigorous, resistance to root-knot nematode, an excellent rootstock for well-drained soils. In slower draining soils plant on mound or berm. Unpruned tree height of standard varieties 15-25 feet. Trees on Nemaguard may be held to any desired height by summer pruning.

For easy care and harvest, the tree may be kept under 10 feet high by summer pruning.

Blenheim (Royal) Apricot

All-purpose freestone, low-acide, sweet, aromatic, flavorful. Long-time No. 1 apricot in CA. Early bloom. Late June harvest in Central CA. 400 hours or less below 45 degrees F. Self-fruitful. USDA Zones 7-8. Used for canning, cooking, drying and fresh-eating. Biggest crops when bloom occurs during mild weather.

The Blenheim and Royal (from France), originally thought to be different varieties, were regarded as practically identical by 1921.

Babcock White Peach

The most popular white-fleshed peach. Medium to large freestone with tantalizing aroma, smooth, mild flavor and juicy, candy-like sweetness. Very attractive fruit with light red blush over creamy white skin.

Low chilling requirement, yet not early blooming - adapted to mild-winter and moderate-winter climates. Estimated winter chilling requirement: 200 hours below 45 degrees. Self-fruitful. Ripens mid-July in Central CA.

The original Babcock was an F2 seedling from a cross of Strawberry and Peento peaches from Berkeley, California. Introduced in 1933.

Fantasia Nectarine

Popular yellow freestone. Very large fruit with full, rich nectarine flavor. Highly regarded at fruit tastings. Tangy when firm-ripe, sweetest when soft-ripe.

Large showy blossoms are pink with red center. Ripens late July early August in CA.

Moderate winter chilling requirement: about 400 hours below 45 degrees. Self-fruitful.

30 September 2014 Update

I'm please that I'm keeping a journal of how the orchard is growing. In the 16 months since this tree was planted I can now see progress. When you watch a tree day to day, week to week, month to month you can't see any changes.

Shortly after planting the tree all the leaves fell off the apricot graft and we thought that we'd lost that graft. In the spring it bounced back and those long branches you can see are from the apricot.

All 3 grafts flowered. Only the peach set fruit and we had about 15 small peaches. Insects or birds got to parts of them. We did get to eat a few of them and they were delicious.


This is a picture of our new orchard. We have ten new trees to take the total to eleven trees. Ten of the trees will bear thirteen different types of nuts and fruit since two of the trees are cocktail trees. Apart from the navel orange they were all planted on June 1, 2013.

Trees in the orchard:
  1. Naval Orange
  2. Goldfinger Banana
  3. Peters Pistachio (male) (will not bear nuts - must be a shy male)
  4. Kerman Pistachio (female) (will bear nuts - seems strange for a female)
  5. Dragon fruit (white flesh)
  6. Dragon fruit (red flesh)
  7. Wichita Pecan
  8. Manila Mango
  9. Black Beauty Fruiting Mulberry
  10. Espalier Apple cocktail
    1. Semi Dwarf Anna apple
    2. Semi Dwarf Fuji apple
  11. Nemaguard Peach Rootstock
    1. Blenheim Apricot
    2. Fantasia Nectarine
    3. Babcock Peach
Still waiting for granite to be delivered to cover the dirt.

The blog posts that follow this one are mostly for our own reference but they might be of interest to someone else. Their purpose is provide us with a source of reference for what we've planted when we can't find it among our papers.

We bought the Naval Orange at Costco several months ago and the rest I bought about a week ago from Tropica Mango Nursery.

Here's our layout of the yard from an areal view. North is at the top.