Of Tomatoes and Bugs

Thanks to the recent rains that scourge of the late summer/ fall Texas garden, the red spider mite, is gone. They killed my tithonia and came THIS close to killing the tomatoes before the prolonged recent rains gave them the ol’ Wicked Witch of the West treatment and they melted away. So, when it finally DID dry out enough to pull out the tomatoes I actually found a halo of healthy leaves coming in… so they got a haircut instead of being executed.

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He’s only MOSTLY dead… which means that he’s SLIGHTLY alive!

From this… to this!

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Better looking than I was expecting, honestly.

I was quite pleased with them… as well as with the perfectly formed baseball sized green fruit on Bobcat that I hadn’t noticed under all those dead leaves. So for all the folks who rip out their determinate tomatoes and replant in the fall may I suggest that next year you try laziness? Worked for me.

But then, of COURSE on the last bit of cleanup on that first tomato plant I found this guy:

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Dang you!

Here’s the thing- I grow plants for caterpillars! I like them! My husband got me a book on pollinators for my birthday one year! The striped ones for swallowtails I literally smile at and call my buddies:

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My buddies!

But tomato hornworms!? Agh! Their appetite is HUGE! They can decimate a plant! And I found SEVEN more of them as I was cleaning up the rest of the tomatoes! So I had EIGHT of these massive green caterpillars… on my precious tomatoes. I was conflicted. And yet I couldn’t just squish them. Or throw them away. I actually DID put out a call to a friend with chickens to see if she wanted them for chicken snacks- is like the circle of life, right? She didn’t. That might have been too weird of a 7:30 am text honestly, now that I think about it. And so… I left them on the plants. They turn into the hummingbird moth after all… I just straight up couldn’t kill them, especially when they all seemed JUST about maximum sized and therefore should be crawling off to make ¬†chrysalises soon, right?

And even now, after researching for this post when I find out they aren’t in fact tomato hornworms but are, in fact, TOBACCO hornworms (they both feed on both plants but are different species. Differentiated by markings on the caterpillars’ sides- tomato hornworm s have v shaped white markings and tobacco hornworms have diagonal stripes). And so they DON’T turn into these:

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Hummingbird Moth ( from the TOMATO hornworm caterpillar) cool and all if you could just do something about that oversized abdomen…

… but instead, the tobacco hornworms turn into these nightmares:

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Aw hell.

AND yet… I’d already decided to let them stay!¬†Ugh… FINE. And besides, I remember seeing one of those moths on the front of the house… what if it was their mom? (I fully also see how crazy this all is, don’t think I don’t).

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Turns out they eat ACTUAL tomatoes too. Fantastic.

And so now the Sweet 100 cherry tomato has literally zero leaves from this brilliant decision of mine. But at least I am guilt free and happy in the knowledge I won’t have any angry tobacco hornworm moth parents coming after me.

Besides, it’s the Sungold that is still putting up the real numbers these days and still has enough leaves to see it through.

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So pretty!

So, a bit of a soft spot for insects I guess- which along with liking wandering around in graveyards puts me well over the line of quirky and unique and instead into downright odd territory. Whatever. Life is much too short to worry about anyone’s opinions- do what you like while you have the time. Besides, we’re all weird somehow- anyone who tells you they aren’t must be hiding some REALLY crazy shit.

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Did I mention my pet 2″ spider on the Basil? Yeah…

Cough cough… I also might have had a black and white jumping spider as a pet on the kitchen windowsill and have my second wolf spider pet on my desk… so… yeah. At least my weirdness is only for bugs and graves… imagine if I liked scrapbooking or napkin rings? Shudder.

 

 

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Pan de Muertos

I know it’s the stereotype and all, but even though I’m female I really hate baking. The cutesy aprons, adorable flour tins, and rainbow cupcake scene just ain’t my bag. Give me pastas and sauces and gravies and roasted veggies and spices. No precise measurements needed- that’s where I’m at home! But baking? Sheesh, recipes have varied instructions based on elevations, and a cup isn’t just a cup… it has to be a sifted cup, or a perfectly level cup, or better yet weigh the ingredients… bah. Also, since I have a generalized disdain for aprons and wear mostly dark t-shirts that much loose flour can be an issue.

But I had pan de muertos to make for Dia de los Muertos. And the thought that the dead wait for no one really kept me to a pretty tight timeline here. Pan de Muertos means BREAD OF THE DEAD!!!!! (but without the overwrought punctuation and capitalization). With a name like that I’m sure a sweet bread that’s great with coffee is like, not what you were picturing. Anyway, I had an offrenda to put this on and so had to make it and did, in fact, quasi enjoy it. I did also, in fact, get flour god damn everywhere.

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I see now I should have made either one loaf or three… two seems like… yeah…

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…like this scene from The Naked Gun, only in bread.

ANYHOO…

Pan/Bread Ingredients

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup milk

3 Tbsp orange juice

3 cups all purpose flour (don’t get me started on how many different flours there are…)

1 package (1 1/4 tsp) dry active yeast

1/4 cup water

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp. anise seed

1/4 cup white sugar

3 eggs, beaten

2 Tbsp orange zest

 

Glaze Ingredients

1/4 cup white sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

1 Tbsp orange zest

Turn oven on to 325 degrees. Heat milk and butter over medium/low heat till butter melts. Add warm water and a pinch of sugar to a bowl and sprinkle over the yeast to activate it. (Weird bubbling ensues). Zest off the outer peel of an orange with a zester or by carefully slicing and dicing. Once butter is melted into milk remove from heat and let cool a little. In a large bowl add anise seed, 1 cup flour, 2 Tbsp orange zest, sugar, and salt together and then add eggs, yeast, and milk/butter. This is the part where folks would use a stand mixer, but since they sure as hell didn’t have that in 1932 Guanajato Mexico, I mixed by damn hand with a spoon. Here’s the secret though, get that first cup of flour mixed until smooth before adding the rest of the flour slowly until it’s all incorporated.

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I took the picture so I’ll damn well use it

Once it’s all added together it’s a little sticky and a little shaggy looking. Turn out on a lightly floured counter to knead.

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Turns out that’s an assload too much flour

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Then just knead until stretchy and you’re bored

Once the bread is kneaded (5 minutes or so) put back in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 2 hours.

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I took the picture and I’ll damn well use it

Then once the bread has risen, punch it down and form into loaves. I pulled about 1/4 off and set to the side to do the design on the tops and then divided the remaining dough into two balls. I then made the crossed “bones” and knob on the top (stylized skull? Not sure, but it’s the tradition) by forming it like it was playdough. Then I just pressed them into the top of the balls of dough. (AGAIN, though that’s what I did, maybe form into one big loaf or 3 small ones.) Place on a lightly greased baking sheet, place in the oven, and cook for 20-25 minutes.

While the bread cooks, add the orange juice and sugar to a pot over medium heat and stir to prevent burning. Heat until your glaze is lava.

Once bread is done, remove from oven, drizzle on the glaze, then while still hot sprinkle with white sugar.

It’s tasty, and not too anise-y, which I don’t really like, but this amount isn’t too much. I think Mexicans do anise WAYYYY better than the French do, frankly, so really don’t worry about it- you’ll like it. This bread is great heated up the next day, spread with butter and eaten with coffee. And remember- the dead wait for no one, so like… hurry it up.