Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"Adagio" ornamental grass

Miscanthus sinensis "Adagio"

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Remington RM212A Electric Lawnmower: Review and Give-away

Mowing the lawn has never been a fun activity for me. I don't like the noise, the pollution, the mechanical woes and it is something that has to be done at the most inopportune times (in particular, HOT times). I've managed to whittle down our lawn to a mere fraction of what it was when we first moved into our home. Then it took about 4 hours to mow, now I can do it in less than 30 minutes.

My old Lowe's gas-powered push mower still cranks reliably but the handles and other parts keep falling off. Since our grass areas have become so miniscule, I have been mulling the possibility of using an old-fashioned reel mower. However, every time I'd read the reviews for them, I would back out.

Remington contacted me about reviewing one of their electrical products and I chose their RM212A electric push mower. I've never used an electric mower before so I didn't know what to expect.


Assembly: It arrived in a box weighing about 65 lbs. I cringed at the thought of putting it together (I am notoriously inept at these things) but I was pleased with myself after I put it together in less than 20 minutes with no major problems.

The mower runs on a 12 amp motor. Cranking it could not be easier. Just plug it in (100-foot, 14-gauge cord is recommended, a 50-foot, 16-gauge cord is acceptable). I like the nifty devise to crimp the cord so it won't come unplugged and I wish my hedge trimmers had one of these. Hold the button in and pull back the handle and you have power. Noise-hater that I am, I was impressed at how quiet it is! It is nowhere near as noisy as my gas-powered mower.

This mower has an option for using the bag attachment to catch grass clippings or you can opt for the side discharge. I initially thought that the bag attachment would be a hassle but I've discovered that I really love it. It is simple to remove and reattach. The grass clippings are great to dump on the compost heap.

Using the mower takes some getting used to it (and I'll discuss below) but I was very pleased at how well it cut and the grass looked beautiful. The cutting deck measures 19 inches and there are six single-lever height adjustments. Getting the electrical cord in place takes a few minutes but I'm excited that I no longer have to have gas to cut the grass.


I realized quickly that you have to be very careful when using this mower and be constantly aware of where your electrical cord is. If you are not careful, you could easily run over the cord and that would not be a good thing! Pulling the mower backward is not advisable unless you hold the cord out and are very careful. I found that placing the cord to the side and mowing away from it was the best way to go. I think this mower would work best in situations where there are large, unobstructed expanses of lawn and you don't have to deal with the cord getting hung around plants or ornaments. The manual advises not using on inclines with a slope in excess of 15 degrees. After using it a few times though, it gets easier once you learn how to handle and maneuver it.

Many of the parts (including the wheels) on the mower are plastic and I don't know how these will hold up. I am very rough on equipment and have to move the mower down steps to get to various areas of the lawn. I've been very careful about moving it but I do question the durability factor. I am not sure about the availability of parts replacement if that ever comes up.

Aside from that, I'm very pleased with this mower and I would recommend it!

The mower has a two-year warranty and retails for $199.

Enter for a chance to win one of these lawn mowers for yourself! Just leave a comment (with an e-mail address so that I can contact you if you are the winner). The contest is open until midnight July 31st. A winner will be chosen from a random number generator and will be announced on August 1.

Note: I received two Remington RM212A Push Mowers, one to review and keep for myself as well as one to give away. In return, I agreed to review the product, with no promise of a positive or negative review.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Barefoot Contessa's Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

Despite the plethora of recipes lately on my blog, I'm actually on a diet and I've lost almost 10 pounds in the past month. Unfortunately my worst enemy is sugar and I love the sweet stuff.  I'm only allowing myself one day per week of indulgence. I made this a few weekends ago when we had company. It comes from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and it is wonderful.

The recipe calls for a thin chocolate chip cookie and she recommends a variety. But you can never find anything the TV chefs recommend in Florence. A recipe reviewer mentioned an Alton Brown thin chocolate chip cookie recipe and I made those to go in the cake. The cookies are awesome, very soft and perfect for this recipe.

Mocha Chocolate Icebox Cake

  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 12 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, such as Pernigotti
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages chocolate chip cookies, such as Tate's Bake Shop
  • Shaved semisweet chocolate, for garnish


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, mascarpone, sugar, coffee liqueur, cocoa powder, espresso powder, and vanilla. Mix on low speed to combine and then slowly raise the speed, until it forms firm peaks. 

To assemble the cake, arrange chocolate chip cookies flat in an 8-inch springform pan, covering the bottom as much as possible. (I break some cookies to fill in the spaces.) Spread a fifth of the mocha whipped cream evenly over the cookies. Place another layer of cookies on top, lying flat and touching, followed by another fifth of the cream. Continue layering cookies and cream until there are 5 layers of each, ending with a layer of cream. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Run a small sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. Sprinkle the top with the chocolate, cut in wedges, and serve cold.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Back to the bagworms

I was looking at my blog statistics and I noticed that a lot of visitors got here by typing "bagworms" in their search query. Now is the time that they raise their ugly heads and damage becomes very noticeable. I wrote a post last year about my experiences with them. Fortunately, I have not seen any on my evergreens this year.  However, there is a Leland Cypress hedge across the street from us and I could clearly see the telltale brown dying branches and the disgusting bagworms hanging from them. This is a rental property and last year they had to cut down a row of Leland Cypress on the opposite side of the property. You can spray with Malathion now although it is more effective is done earlier in the spring when eggs are being laid. Hand picking is also effective but sometimes this might not be practicable if the plants are too large. Whatever method you choose, you must take action or else the plants will soon be toast. For more information, refer to my previous post.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Michael's Southern Home Cooking

I'm surprised that I've never written a post about Michael's delicious Southern cooking. He is an excellent cook. His mamma taught him well! While I consider myself a good baker, I'm not that great at regular cooking and unlike him, I have to have an exact recipe to go by. We went to the Farmer's Market Saturday morning and bought fresh okra. We had okra, peas, fried green tomatoes, corn and of course, cornbread. We only eat like this about once a week, otherwise we would both be the size of the house.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Watermelon Sorbet

Here is a nice refreshing treat for the July 4th holiday.

Watermelon Sorbet

2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup light corn syrup
2 TB. lemon juice
1/4 large watermelon (about 8 cups of cubed watermelon)

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water and corn syrup. Stir over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Without stirring, simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and cool to room temperature.

Cut melon into cubes (remove seeds if there are any). Puree 2 cups at a time in a blender or food processor with a metal blade. Stir into the cooled syrup.

Pour into ice cream canister. Freeze according to manufacturer's directions.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy

Friday, July 1, 2011

Perhaps the most famous lily of all...

"Star Gazer" 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the beloved "Star Gazer" lily which is blooming right now next to a bench in our vegetable garden. This morning I noticed a hummingbird fluttering around it. Despite the location being shaded most of the day, it has performed nicely here for years. The only requirement is a stake to keep the winds and storms from knocking it down.

This lily has quite a history, filled with legal issues, tainted friendships and lost fortunes. Leslie Woodriff, of Brookings, Oregon was passionate about hybridizing oriental lilies and begonias but a little disorganized and short on business sense. Enter businessman Ted Kirsch, who created Sun Valley Farms in the late 60s in Arcata, California. Kirsch recognized Woodriff's talent and offered him and his family jobs at his nursery in exchange for his lily collection. Woodriff, in dire financial straits and suffering from health problems, took him up on the offer.

Woodriff's lily collection was cultivated at Sun Valley Farms and Kirsch quickly saw potential in the lily that would become the world famous "Star Gazer". He applied for a patent in 1976 for although he credited Woodriff as the lily's creator, he had bought the collection and the rights to name and patent them. 

Relations between the two turned sour when Kirsch fired Woodriff less than a year after their agreement. Kirsch stated that Woodriff and his family were unemployable, failed to take orders from supervisors, never showed up for work on time and were removing lilies from the premises. Woodriff filed a breach of contract stating the contrary. In the spring of 1974, a judge awarded the Woodriffs $5,000 in recognition of transferred property but rejected the Woodriff's claim that the lily collection could generate great profits in the future.

The saga ended bleakly for Woodriff who felt that he had been cheated out of the "Star Gazer" fortune but Ted Kirsch didn't get rich either. He sold 3,000 bulbs to a Dutch company for $15,000 in 1976 but, in a written contract, agreed not to apply for grower's rights in Holland. The Dutch went on to sell millions of the lily without having to pay royalties to Kirsch.

Kirsch and Woodriff died within one year of each other, Kirsch in 1996 and Woodriff in 1997. There are 36 million "Star Gazer" lilies sold annually.

If you'd like to read more about this fascinating story, check out "Flower Confidential" by Amy Stewart.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy