DIY: Cheap planter box ($25)

Since last week, I’ve caught up to speed on quite a few things. For instance, I live in growing zone 8; last frost is mid March; transplanting starts slightly before or after last frost, dependent on plant species; and making a planter box isn’t too hard for those lacking skill, aka me! Let me rephrase. It is difficult but manageable if you have a (more experienced) helper, but for the naturally crafty, it is fine.

Jake and I went to our local HomeDepot and bought some cedar and managed to fit all the lumber in my Yaris!

We purchased cedar fence pickets (5.5” x 5/8′ ‘x 5′), cedar squares (2”x 2” x 3′), and wood stakes (9/16” x 1 3/8” x 4’) and wood screws (3/4”, # 8 // 2 1/4”, #8).

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Planter box 18” x 18” x 2′

Materials:
6x cedar fence pickets (5.5” x 5/8′ ‘x 5’) @ $2.43
–cut into 2x 2ft sections 14.5 5 2
4x cedar squares (2” x 2” x 3′) @ $1.27
–cut to adjust height of planter box
1x cedar squares (2” x 2” x 4′) @ 2.27
–cut into 2x 17” sections
4x wood stakes (9/16” x 1 3/8” x 4′) @ $0.43
–cut into 2x 17” sections
Wood screws

Total cost: ~$25

Equipment:
saw
c-clamps
90 degree clamp
drill
wood glue
gloves/safety glasses

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Jake cut all the wood because I can’t cut a straight line with a circular saw! It’s actually really heavy for my petite, out-of-shape body. I did prove useful, however! While Jake was cutting the rest of the wood pieces, I started on making the sides of the planter box. I assembled 3 cedar pickets in a row and overlaid one of the cedar squares on top for an overview of the design.

Pro tip: drill pilot holes before adding screws to decrease chances of wood splitting

1. After drilling pilot holes, I screwed the first cedar stake flush to the bottom of one picket. On the opposite side of the picket, I screwed a second cedar square flush in the same manner.

2. I repeated the same process on the other side of the wood stake and screwed the third cedar picket on.

3. The middle cedar picket was centered and screwed onto the frame. Ta da!

As a novice, it took me probably 20 minutes to get this first side piece done as I kept stripping the screws and having to pull them out, but the second, third, and so forth were much faster to finish. 🙂

4. Jake dabbed on some wood glue and added the uncut cedar square to one of the side panels to form legs for the planter box. Using the 2 x 1/4” wood screws, he screwed the two pieces together at a 90 degree angle. Btw, it was really important to keep this flush to the inside of the post!!!


5. From there, he attached another side panel on with the help of a 90 degree clamp and with the strength of my arms. NOTE: this time, he screwed at an angle as to avoid the other screw!

6. After 3 sides were on, we braced the inside of the planter box with the 17” cedar square piece, approximately 18.5” from what would be the top of the planter. We added screws to attach it to the panels as well as to the cedar square legs. We only added two to opposite panels, which will provide the support for the bottom slabs of the planter box.



7. We attached all 4 panels to form a square!

All that is left to do is to adjust the legs to the desired height, add the bottom slats, line the box with landscaping fabric, soil, and plant! Jake and I are planning to build another sister box to complete the set before we plant. I’m overall happy with the way it turned out at considering my woodworking skills are close to non-existent, though I feel like I’ve leveled up with this building experience. Maybe I’ll try more complicated projects in the future.

The seed yet planted

I’m dreaming of a beautiful garden full of edibles and flowers but all I have is a water-logged lawn and no idea where to begin. Calm down, woman! That’s all I can really tell myself at this moment. I’m a complete newbie, but I do know that it’s just January in the Pacific Northwest; planting season isn’t for another two months or until after the last chance of frost. I think I have time…

Let’s begin inventorying what tools I have and what things I need to do to begin gardening. A mental, beginner’s checklist full of inadequacies and bad information.

Bic’s tools:

  1. Cultivator
  2. Spade
  3. Gloves
  4. Miracle Grow
  5. Watering can

Bic’s need list:

  1. Hoe
  2. Planter boxes
  3. Soil
  4. Fertilizer
  5. Seeds and indoor starting materials
  6. Plants

Alright. Being woefully unprepared just means you learn hard lessons. It will be a learning experience that may or may not lead to epic failure.

I’m going to begin this journey by setting some goals for the week and month. This weekend’s goal will be to acquire supplies to make two planter boxes. Let the challenge begin!

 

London 2016 and Foggy Memories

Jake and I went to London for a week in February 2016, about 10 months ago. Mostly, I remember being jet lagged most of the time, grumpy, and dehydrated and constipated on the trip back home. What I do remember is somewhat a blur of museum trips, castles, and bad food. I hope my pictures can fill in the gaps.

Bailin, Jake, and I stayed at a cosy AirBnB on Picadilly St, London. We stayed mostly in London with the exception of a day tour to visit Leeds Castle and Canterbury Cathedral, with a brief stop at the White Cliffs of Dover to stare across the English Channel and see France. The streets in London looked quite iconic.

Random street, interesting chips, Jake posing

Leeds Castle and Dover

Canterbury

In London and the surrounding area, we visited, in no particular order:

  1. Hampton Court Palace
  2. Kensington Palace
  3. Tower of London
  4. British Museum
  5. British Natural History Museum
  6. Science Museum, London
  7. National Gallery
  8. National Portrait Gallery

We also attended a London theatre performance of The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie and the musical Wicked. And unfortunately, during our visit, there was a terrorist attack on the London Bridge which prevented us from walking to see Big Ben and Parliament.

All the museums were fantastic. The Natural History Museum reminded me of British exploits (and imperialism) in Egypt because of the exhibits full of mummies and dead, stuffed animals. Jake really enjoyed the train exhibit at the Science Museum; Bailin enjoyed the art in the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery. Near the one of the museums, we finally had afternoon tea. The restaurant/tea room was bit disorganized so things were a bit disappointing, though the amount of food we received was not! We ordered an afternoon tea set for 3 people not realizing that each set was meant to share and so we ended up with lots of cakes.

Kensington Palace, Lego store, St. James Park

The Tower is a huge fortress literally in the middle of London. Impressive and impenetrable stone.

Of course, my personal favorite trip was the tour of Hampton Court Palace. It was an hour train ride outside of London. I have been an avid lover of all things Tudor since Pat introduced them to me when I was a kid, and I finally got to see the Court of King Henry VIII! It was a childhood dream come true. Now I can finally imagine myself as an abused scullery maid living in terrible conditions while serving the king and his nobles.

It was interesting to see how the royals in different eras modified the castle to fit their new tastes, and by the 21st century, the palace complex looks like a poorly stitched/renovated Frankenstein of architecture.

Plus, after our visit, we stopped by the local pub and ordered the most delicious fromage board ever. Who knew how delicious giant capers were??

Speaking of food, the best food in London isn’t traditional food. Rather, it’s British imports such as pizza or Indian curry. Afternoon tea is nice, too.

 

A Face, Glasses Make

It’s a battle with myself to get personal and health-related things accomplished because I am a master procrastinator — why this post is about 6 months late.

In 2017, I…
Went to the doctor and dermatologist. Check!
Went to the dentist for a routine checkup (and cavities filled) after two years. Check!
Got new glasses after two years. Check!!
Bought a house! CRAZY CHECK!
Let’s celebrate my adult achievements with some fun photos of all the glasses I tried on!

Pupils dilated, plastic sunglasses to block the sun. #VampiricEyes

Hoping 2018 is a more productive year for me!

Vietnamese eggrolls

The holidays are right around the corner, and I have been craving some homemade, nostalgia-inducing Vietnamese food. One of my all time favorites is Vietnamese eggrolls — savory meat filled packets deepfried til golden brown. I’ll eat them with and without nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish dipping sauce), plain, or in a noodle dish.

After years of watching my mom make her meat filling, I set out and derived my own recipe which I feel is an accurate version of hers (but nothing ever compares to mom’s cooking, right?). Plus, what I love about this recipe is the simplicity and ease of making batches to freeze. They taste great fresh, but if you do end up freezing them, thaw the rolls on a paper towel before deep-frying.

Take the following ingredients and mix well. I ran all my ingredients through a food processor and let it do all the heavy lifting.

1 large onion, diced
1 ounce wood ear mushrooms, soaked and chopped
1/2 bag of baby carrots, chopped
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground shrimp
2 eggs
salt and pepper, generously

You should end up with a thick meat paste.
Then, all you need to do is roll the meat in an egg wrapper.

While the rolling process may look daunting, it’s easier than it looks. Basically, take a wrapper and orientate it like a diamond in front of you. Mold some meat paste like a log at the northern corner. Fold the northern corner over the log, roll once, tuck in the east and west corners, and finish rolling.

The last step is to fry to a nice crispy, golden brown and enjoy.
I decided to make vermicelli noodles and eat my eggrolls with mint, sliced cucumbers, and nuoc cham.

It’s been too long…

Woah. I haven’t post anything for 3 months not because life has been boring or too stressful but because I’ve been quite busy. In this interim, I decided that blogging was extremely time consuming, especially if I try to keep my posts as formal as I have in the past. SO, basically, I’m going to write half-thoughts and witless material for my sole enjoyment and amusement.

What adventures have I traversed recently?

1. Jake and I trekked parts of the Olympic Peninsula on President’s Day weekend. We foolishly summited Mt Storm King while being out of shape and having little experience scrambling over loose rocks with only a rope for safety. But we made it…only to have a view worst than parts below. Regardless, I can now claim having reached a summit of a mountain and can cross it off my bucket list.

2. My lab/work group went cross country skiing in early March. It was the first time for me and Jake, but I was the only one who didn’t get the memo that rollerblading/ice skating skills don’t apply to skiing and fell often. Jake was skiing like pro until a small incident where the sole of his boot ripped off. After a short rest for fondue at the lodge/ski rental, Jake hit the slopes on new ski boots, and I had my first snowshoe outing. Lots of snow and fun.

3. London!! Bailin, Jake, and I spent 9 days in the London area, where we spent the majority of the time museum hopping – British Museum, British Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum, and the National Gallery – and castle hopping – Leeds Castle, Hampton Palace Court, Canterbury Cathedral, Kensington Palace, and the Tower of London. Somehow we also managed to attend two London plays: the Mousetrap and Wicked. All of the sights and sounds were fantastic, the food not so much. Fish and chips are overrated; traditional British food in general was bland with the exception of meat pies and English afternoon tea. The British make excellent meat pies. I might make a full post about this trip later, but in the meantime, enjoy the pictures!

4. My highschool friend Xue got married at the town hall in San Francisco the April 3rd. Marie-Claire, Anwesa, Sarah, and Guy all attended. Fun mini reunion.

5. Jake and I finally saw tulips at the Skagit Tulip Festival!! Last year, we went a weekend too late to find all the fields freshly plowed without a tulip in sight. This time around, we went a weekend too early but were able to see the daffodils and some tulip fields in bloom.

Traveling is fun, beautiful, but tiring…

How to Shell a Crab Easily

All you need is a fork!

Dungeness crab was on sale for $5.99/lb (still waiting for the famed $3.99/lb), which prompted me to purchase 4 pre-cooked ones. I spent a little over $30 for them. Let me tell you that I love crab meat! I think it is better than lobster, shrimp, and other sea crustaceans because of the sweetness of the meat and therefore had to splurge. Of course, by purchasing 4 dungeness crabs, I intended to pick and save some of the meat. I figured I’d post about how to actually eat a whole crab with minimal waste.

The first step is obviously to cook it. Mine came precooked so I just slightly heated it up in the microwave to speed things along. I could have steamed or gently boiled it but I had to stopper my drool by stuffing my face with crab. The second step is to detach all the legs from the body. Since this step can be messy, I suggest this be done over a bowl or pot that will also serve to collect the shells for making a crab stock. Afterwards, you remove the triangular shaped covering or “tail” as I call it, slip your fingers in between the top and bottom crevice, and pry the two pieces apart. Deliciousness awaits you.

Personally, I like eating the yellow parts that consist of essentially crab guts. While somewhat unappetizing and strange looking, the yellow stuff is definitely a strong taste but I love it (and so does Jake).

The easiest method to get out the body meat is to snap the body in half. Often, I see pictures of people cutting it with a knife but it is super easy (one less thing to wash) to just use your fingers. The trick is to push the two halves inwards first to separate them. See pictures below since the process is difficult to describe. Then you just need your fingers to pick at the chunks of meat in the Dungeness crab; blue crab, being smaller, may require those tiny forks if you have giant hands.

My final piece of wisdom is to not use a crab cracker!! All you end up doing is smashing the delicate, sweet sweet meat. The easiest and best method to extract leg/claw meat is to use a fork. Take the fork and insert it into one end and slit it up along the length of the claw. This gives you a nice long entry point to then break the shell in two pieces and even works for the large claws. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work with lobsters since their shells are too hard but, for all other shellfish, this works marvelously.

After eating 2.5 crabs and shelling the other parts, I collected roughly 2 cups of crab meat. I also threw most of the shells and miscellaneous crab juices into a pot with some bay leaves, half an onion, and some whole peppercorns and made a stock. The culinary plans for the week are crab egg omelets and maybe a crab corn bisque. ;0

Cherokee Trace – Drive Thru Safari

Over the Christmas break, I was gifted tickets for a drive-thru safari on the outskirts of Tyler, Texas. Not surprisingly, I was a bit skeptical about a safari located in East Texas but away I went with the Smiths. Thirty minutes on a winding back country highway (only in Texas can you drive 75 miles/hr on a two lane highway), we arrived at Cherokee Trace. One lone building greeted us, where we purchased the entrance pass and feed (initially, 3 bags of feed but doubled to 6 total bags due to Jake’s generous overfeeding of the animals). A sign pointed us to the cattle guard entrance.

Immediately near the entrance, a horde of deer and a variety of 4-legged African animals swarmed the SUV. The liberal feeding from the hand of Jake and other past visitors, no doubt, must have ingrained some sort of food memory for the animals there because as soon as the car stopped, the animals began galloping towards it. The first set of animals were hesitant to come too close, but the second set did not. A group of zebras stuck their heads through the open car windows, obviously waiting to be hand fed despite a rule stating not to feed the critters from your hand.

The no feeding from the hand rule really made sense for preventing bird attacks. Yes, the various emus and rheas eat their pellets by walking up to it and with one swell peck, gobbling it down whole. I experimented with a pellet dangling off the car window, and it’s a scary site. The cutest moments of the safari trip were when giant herbivores stuck their snouts in (couldn’t fit their giant heads inside the car) and began dangling their tongues as if they were luring for their feed. Lots of animal slobber. And they boxed us in! It’s difficult to drive through a horde of ton-sized mammals.

We ran out of the initial 3 bags of feed around 1/4” of the way through the safari and looped back to buy more bags since the park was quite expansive. Note: I still had half a bag left because apparently I’m a scrooge when it comes to feeding the animals. I would like to point out that I minimize the amount I give them as I want to work a little for it and not to overindulge them. It’s for their well-being! Regardless of my miserly feed lot, the camel encounter near the end of the drive relieved me of all it as the camel swooped in, grabbed the bag, and proceeded to devour it as the pellets fell to the ground.

This safari turned out to be a hoot! Not only was everyone laughing the entire time, the animal encounters were amazing. It felt like an exotic animal petting zoo and at no time,  did I feel unsafe within the confines of the car. I wouldn’t recommend driving through in a small sedan or convertible but any mid-sized car should suffice. I highly recommend a visit to this place if you are in East Texas near the Tyler area. It might even be worth it if you are in the Dallas area because it’s such a great adventure!

 

 

Tempura Vegetables and Seafood

After feeling a wee disappointed in the store-bought pre-fried Cajun style turkey from QFC (flavor was okay but way too salty), I decided that I wanted to eat Japanese food. I am in somewhat of a Japanese phase right now with watch J-drama, anime, and online videos so I thought tempura sounded like a good idea. And it was a great idea.

I followed the instructions from the Kikkoman tempura batter mix to make the batter and heated the oil. I don’t have a thermometer so to gauge whether or not my oil is hot enough, I add a few drops of the batter in. If it instantly sizzles and bubbles, then it is done. The oil can get too hot though so be careful!

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Then all you really need is to dip your veggies and seafood into the batter and deep fry. I choose a selection of sliced pumpkin, baby bella mushrooms, broccoli florets, sliced onions, and chunks of salmon and cod. A quick dusting with salt and pepper, and all the ingredients were ready to be dipped and fried. Salmon fries beautifully btw. To keep pieces crispy, I placed them on a rack for any excess oil to drip off.

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To accompany the tempura, I quickly made rice and a simple broth for udon noodles. Nothing quite memorable as I have yet been able to replicate restaurant versions. I am not providing a recipe at this time since it is not as good as I hoped.

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I had purchased some shucked oysters and figured this was the chance to make delicious fried oysters. Oysters are the best fried seafood in my opinion. Crispy, moist, and flavorful.

Instead of tempura coating them, I decided to panko coat them since panko helps retain all the oyster juices. Basically, I dredged them with flour, followed by a dip in an egg, and then crusted them with panko. After a quick fry, they came out amazingly! Yummy fried oysters.

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So to recap, tempura vegetables and seafood is super easy to make. All you need is 1) tempura batter 2) oil. Just follow instructions on the tempura mix box and make sure your vegetables and seafood are dry.

Panko-crusted fried oysters are amazing and super easy to make as well. All you need is 1) flour 2) beaten egg 3) panko 4) oil. Wipe excess moisture from the oysters and dredge them slightly with flour. Quickly coat the flour-dredged oysters in the egg wash and coat with panko crumbs. Deep fry until golden brown. Simple!

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Any tempura that I couldn’t finish, I refrigerated and then baked in the oven to reheat. For the most part, all the veggies were still crisp and delicious. So make a lot. It’s fun and easy.

Never too much learning

Hello Hellow

1. I think I’m a workaholic.. I worked two 12 hour days straight this week. Feeling a bit worn out but luckily I don’t have much work to do this weekend. Recharging over the weekends is the best.
2. I am planning a Japan trip next spring/summer, and in anticipation, I have been watching lots of shows about Japan and Japanese culture, anime, and J-drama. Even attempting to learn Japanese!! Yes, I purchased a learn Hiragana and Katakana for beginners book. With my limited time, I haven’t accomplished much but it is a start.
3. I’m also attempting to learn basic python programming. Turns out, there are a bunch of online beginner tutorials. I’m working my way through the Code Academy now. I even did some basic programming in Open SCAD. Haha, soon I’ll become a computer scientist!
4. I voted in the Presidential election for the first time!!
5. The Presidential election turned out to be a bummer. What really bothered me was despite how contentious this election year was, the voter turnout was significantly lower than in 2012. Really America? I guess no one really cares whether or not a sociopath is President after all…
6. I’ve gotten interested in skincare products again. Will post about it later.
7. Buffet time at Salty’s! Apparently, it is the best buffet in Seattle with a bunch of seafood and other stuff. Pricey. Didn’t take enough photos to blog about it separately so I’ll share here.

BubbleButt isn’t helping with my studies.

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Seafood

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