Sunday, April 10, 2011

Patiently Waiting

I'm beginning to see lots of tilled gardens around, but very few with anything planted. And that's for good reason. We stopped by to see my grandparents today, and their neighbor had already put out a few tomato plants. They were much bigger than my sproutlings. My grandmother said he bought plants and quickly informed me that the tomatoes had already been "frosted on" twice. As antsy as I am, I am waiting for April 18. I hope to get our raised beds built and filled this weekend and then start hardening off my tomatoes. They're already starting to grow their true tomato leaves!It looks like my basil may not make it. Almost all of the sproutlings have taken a turn for the worse with a potential 2 survivors. We will see how they fare.

On a more positive note, I saw our first farmer's market of the spring today. I didn't know it was starting back up so soon, and it looks to be much more lively than last year as well!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring has Sprung

Yesterday I was craving something extra cheesy.


So I decided to make:

Homemade Laundry Soap. Ok, I'm a day late for April Fools, but after I had grated the bar of Fels Naptha soap, I could not help but think of grated cheddar cheese.

Here's the recipe (you can find it about a million other places online).
1 bar Fels Naptha (or zote or ivory)
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup Borax

Grate the Fels Naptha. Add all ingredients to food processor and pulse until it becomes a fine powder. Use 1 tablespoon for a regular load and 2 tablespoons for a heavily soiled load.

Now onto the seedlings/sproutlings.
Here are the tomatoes. Jelly Bean hybrids on the left, Romas on the right.
Next year I'll sow my Romas a little more sparingly since I've been reading that you should cut your tomato sproutling down to the one healthiest stem. And here's where my inexperience comes in....should I go ahead and cut them back to one stem now? Or should I wait until I transplant them? I wasn't planning to transplant them until at least 2 more weeks. Are they going to survive in the trays that much longer? Also, I've noticed white fuzz on the soil. After googling, I learned about damping off. Let's hope this isn't going to happen or hasn't already happened!

I've also sprouted a variety of peppers.

Basil

After a little more internet searching. I'm afraid I've had insufficient lighting for the tomatoes. I read an article about "leggy" seedlings that keep growing vertically to reach the light without developing the root system sufficiently. So, I've put them under lights as well as by a window and I've put a fan nearby to help with air circulation. We'll see what happens.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seeds & Reads

Tomatoes Day 4

Basil Day 4

I think I've sowed WAAAAAY too many tomato seeds. However, I was afraid not to sow all the seeds since I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into and I wasn't sure how the seeds would do...and I'm still not sure how the sproutlings will do either. I hope they all survive as I'm already feeling quite a bit of attachment to these plants. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to transfer them all; I just don't have the space for that many tomato plants. I'm already thinking that each of the girls' teachers might be receiving tomato and basil plants as end of the year gifts. I hope to soon map out our garden based on Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening technique. The spot I've had my eyes on has more shade than I had anticipated (a couple of hours at midday), and the leaves on the nearby tree aren't even fully grown. However, I think it will still work fine for certain plants. I've found another great spot for tomatoes, but will most likely only hold 3-4 plants. In all, I'm hoping to have about 104 square feet of garden in our backyard, not including the flowerbed where I planted my okra and bell peppers last year.

I'm feeling extra excited to get this year's garden up and going as I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. A friend had mentioned the book to me a while back & then recently bought it for me at a library book sale. In the book, Kingsolver shares her family's experiences during a year of living off the land eating only homegrown and local foods. She explains the concept of eating seasonal foods--a concept that most Americans don't understand when we can buy a tomato, apples, lettuce, and just about any other fruit or vegetable year round in our grocery stores. I'm feeling quite challenged to do my best to eat locally and refrain from purchasing "oily food"--food that has been shipped cross country or oftentimes from a different hemisphere using gallons upon gallons of crude oil in transportation. However, I think it will be hard to say no to my girls when they're asking me to buy bananas, so I'm not really sure how committed our family will be. Nevertheless, this entire food journey was born out of me feeling challenged...you never know where a challenge might take us next.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It's ALIVE!

I told you all about the seeds I bought. Then I got scared. I was afraid of sprouting them too early, sprouting them too late, not doing things correctly and ending up with a bunch of wasted seeds, several dead plants, and NO homegrown veggies. Then I realized that if a few packets of wasted seeds and dead plants was all that was holding me back that I had nothing to fear but fear itself. I decided that, worst case scenario, I've wasted about $10 on seeds, maybe $20 on sprouting greenhouses, and a little time. And, since I didn't plant my garden until mid-late May last year, I would know by then if these seeds are going to do well or not. If not, I can always buy plants like I did last year. According to a few different sources I've found, my last freeze date is somewhere around April 18, and according to Mother Earth News, several of my seed packs should be sowed by now. So, I decided to jump in with both feet. Imagine my excitement when I removed the cover today and found this:

Basil
Tomato

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Springing Forward


I've decided to try my hand at planting seeds this year. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the thought, but I'm excited to start something almost "from scratch" and see how it turns out. I still feel like we have plenty of time if my seeds don't turn out to buy plants. I'm the type to jump in with both feet before really planning things out. Therefore, I bought 11 packets of seeds without having an actual plan of where they will go or how well they will fit. But, that is how I operate. Sure, I've got ideas in my mind. The okra & bell peppers will go back along the side of the house in the actual flowerbed where I planted them last year. This year, however, I will create a raised-bed effect near the bell pepper because the soil kept washing away on the corner and exposing the roots. Surprisingly, the bell pepper still produced fairly well and the okra thrived.
Now for the change, we are going to create raised beds along most of the back yard. Haven't exactly mapped it out, but I know we can do a 4 x 16 and if we want more I can do 2 more 4x4s on the other side of some trees. And this is where my inexperience comes in to play. I have NO IDEA how much that size bed can hold. Barring some miracle, I've either overbought or I've underbought on seeds. If I find myself with extra planting space, I'll buy more plants when the time comes. If I grow too many plants, I don't know...maybe I'll give them away.
I'm planning on making a garden notebook to help me remember from year to year how things were done, what worked and what didn't, my final layout of plants, etc.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Garden Pondering

Last spring I watched a brief segment on growing your own veggies on one of the national morning news programs. The segment explained how much money one could save by growing their own veggies. I, at the time, was a HUGE coupon-er. I based my grocery success on how little I spent and how much I saved. I wanted to see at least a 50% savings on each receipt or I considered my shopping trip a complete and utter failure. So, of course, this segment planted a seed in my mind of how our family could save even more money.
For my mother's day present, my mother-in-law informed me that she was going to take me to pick out things to start my own veggie garden. At first, I wasn't sure how that would work. We really don't have a large yard. In fact, is is quite small. My first thought was to do some much needed clearing and re-planting of the flower beds around the house. I decided to dedicate the back and half of one side to vegetables. I got squash, cucumbers, okra (a southern staple), bell pepper, and a tomato plant to put in a pot on the patio. (Oh, and a strawberry plant for the girls. I also bought a couple of packs of seeds, but haven't seen them since we left the store...I'm not sure where they ended up...and I didn't have room for them anyway!)
The cucumbers never made it into the ground and the squash was eaten up by squash bugs and squash vine borers, but the okra produced wonderfully and I enjoyed several vine ripened tomatoes.
I ran across this blog post and I think I will follow her lead this year by making notes of everything including a garden layout. This year I want to expand our garden, even in our small yard. I'm planning to put in several raised beds along the back of our property and I will replant along the side of the house where the okra thrived. I just need to decide if I want to start with seeds or buy plants...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spring Clean

I recently ran across this blog and I love it. I love their style, I love that they make use of things they've had forever (old dishrags, furniture, etc.), and I love that their style of clean is....clean, but not sterile. Their idea of clutter free is others' definition of completely cluttered.

Every time I run across an article/blog/tv show on cleaning, I'm either inspired, convicted, or condemned into feeling the need to clean and declutter our home.

We live in a small house (slightly over 1300 square feet) and we're busting at the seams. I sometimes (....usually...most of the time....ok, all of the time) feel that keeping this house clean in a losing battle. But, I'm working on organizing and finding easy ways to keep things clean, while inching more and more toward green each year.

My new method of mopping is my swiffer and a hand knit cleaning cloth and a vinegar/water mixture in a spray bottle. This is working out so much better than the old mop & bucket routine because I could never keep the girls off the floor long enough to let it dry and the old method left my floor with streaks.


Here's how I store my dry ingredients (I started this at least 4 years ago when I saw it in a magazine ...although they used really nice storage containers and I opted for gladware):

These are the ones I don't use very often and are in the cabinet above the stove...I actually have to pull a chair or step stool over to reach most of these.

These are the ones I use on a regular basis and I keep these in the pantry.


As of now, these are the only organized shelves in my house...I'll keep working on the organization part!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice Soup


I must be on a soup kick, since a few of my last posts (although spanning a few months) have been about soup. But here's why, until this winter, my hubby wouldn't eat soup. Or at least, there were very few soups that he would eat, and by soup, I really mean chili...with no beans...just tomatoes and meat...and by tomatoes I mean crushed tomatoes, with no chunks, so that he wouldn't have to actually feel the texture of a tomato. Something happened and now he's eating soups with visible chunks of carrots, celery, and onion. Although, last night he did admit to me that when he sees the carrot on his spoon, he doesn't really chew so as not to have to deal with the texture. However, in this soup, with all of the texture of the wild rice, you wouldn't notice the texture of the carrot anyway.

(Minnesota*) Cream of Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
* a shout out to my future brother-in-law

3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup sliced carrot
  • 1/2 cup sliced celery
  • 1/3 cup wild rice
  • 1/3 cup sliced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • 1 1/2 cups cut-up cooked chicken

  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup sliced carrot
  • 1/2 cup sliced celery
  • 1/3 cup wild rice
  • 1/3 cup sliced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup half-and-half cream
  • 1 1/2 cups cut-up cooked chicken
  • q11
    1 cup chopped carrot
    1/2 cup chopped celery
    1/3 cup chopped onion
    1/2 cup or more uncooked wild rice (I buy mine in bulk here when I visit my parents)
    1/2 tsp dried thyme
    *cream soup
    1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
    Salt and pepper to taste

    *to make the cream soup, in a small sauce pan, melt 2 Tbl. butter. Whisk in 2 Tbl. flour, allow to cook for a minute or so, while continuing to whisk. Stir in 1 cup cream, half and half, or whole milk. Continue stirring and allow soup to thicken.

    Mix broth, carrots, celery, onions, wild rice, and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer approximately 1 hour.

    Add cream soup and chicken and heat through.

    This recipe makes about 4 servings. Sometimes I add more chicken broth and steamed white rice to increase the servings. My hubby really likes it with the added steamed rice and it was a hit with my 3 year old.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Resolutions

    The holidays were extremely busy and I've been MIA from the blog. It seems like we were hardly home the entire month of December and I was not always proactive when it came to preparing meals from scratch. I'm hoping that the new year gets me back in the swing of things. AND, I'm really excited about using all of my new kitchen gadgets and cookware that I received for Christmas!
    My wonderful hubby bought me a tortilla press. This means no more crazy-shaped tortillas and no more sore shoulders from rolling out my own tortillas.
    My parents bought me an entire set of stainless steel cookware to replace my scratched-up nonstick cookware! I'm mostly excited about the 8qt. stockpot! I'm thinking I might even delve into making my own chicken stock this year.
    My mother-in-law gave me the pouring shield for my kitchen aid mixer, which means no more flour all of the kitchen when I accidentally turn the switch to "full speed" instead off "off" (sadly, this has happened on multiple occasions)!
    She also gave me a new rolling pin. It is solid wood and comes with different sized discs that screw into the ends, allowing you to roll out your dough to a desired thickness. I'm looking forward to having more uniform pizza doughs and cookies.
    I can't wait to use all of my new things, try some new recipes, and improve my skills this year!
    Which leads me to thinking about resolutions, even though I'm not really a resolutions kind of person. I haven't made a resolution since high school, if even then. I figure there's no point in making a resolution if I'm not going to keep it. Usually, if I want to change something, I don't wait until new year's day, I just aim to change it whenever I realize something needs changing. But, I'm not sure of the success rate of those resolutions either.
    Ironically, today I came to the realization that something needs changing. So, I am making a new year's resolution. This year, I resolve to be more proactive about meal planning. Not necessarily narrowing down each meal to a specific day of the week, but I do want to plan out the full meal, including sides, instead of just the main dish as I've done in the past.
    Now that I'm working part-time, I get home around lunch time and I am really hungry! I must admit that it is very tempting to either stop and get something on the way home or eat whatever junk I can easily get my hands on. Therefore, I also want to be more proactive about keeping "convenience" foods on hand, meaning homemade bread, homemade snacks items, or other homemade foods such as soups, leftovers, meals from the freezer, etc., so that when we are crunched for time, we don't fall back to industrial convenience items.
    Maybe what I'm really trying to say is that I resolve to be more organized and disciplined......of which I am currently neither.