Raised Bed Gardening

I’ve always been a lazy gardener. Ask my husband. The lawnmower made a weekly pilgrimage through my old garden because I never kept the edges under control. Weeding is not my forte. Watering is an afterthought.

But eating? Eating is something I’m really good at. Hence, we keep a garden.

We’ve looked at raised bed and square foot gardens for a few years now. The magazines promise easy, carefree produce. The people we talk to raved about the easy organization and lack of weeding. And our master gardener friend who lives down the road was still asking us if we wanted carrots in NOVEMBER.

IMG_3725 (800x507)So. This year is the year of raised bed gardens at our farm. We’re doing it. Okay, Jason’s doing it. He built the beds, shoveled the compost and manure, hauled the giant bags of vermiculite, and planned the whole thing out. I, uh, helped carry the boxes.

Here are the basics:

  • Soil isn’t really soil. The stuff in the garden boxes is 1/3 compost, 1/3 animal organic matter (manure), and 1/3 vermiculite. Aside from being fun to say, this is basically just the stuff that helps the mixture retain moisture.
  • The raised beds are 2 x 4’s (I think) that Jason measured, cut, and hammered into place. Pretty simple. You can buy cute ornaments to decorate and hold the corners square, but we’re going Swedish utilitarian this year.
  • The benefits are less weeding, organization, better moisture retention, and bigger veggies. (So I’m told. Like I said – this is our first year.)

IMG_3814 (800x533)The pre-babies me would have started seeds a long time ago, but the realistic me knew that dirt in cups not kept under lock and key would be fodder for toddler temptation. So we’ll be starting from seeds and scratch…except for tomatoes. I like to buy tomato plants. (Honestly, because in the beginning nothing-is-growing stage, it keeps me from despairing that I’ve killed the plants before they even had a chance to grow.)

I’ll check back in with a few progress reports when something’s happening.

(Hopefully something happens and we didn’t just shovel a bunch of cow poop in our garden for $%#ts and giggles.)

 

 

 

 

That first garden [at Addiezierman.com today]

Hey! I’m guest posting over at my great friend Addie Zierman’s blog as part of her One Small Change series. Addie is a STELLAR writer, thinker (with a new book out!) and member of my writing group, and this series has been a huge source of encouragement to me. Each post has taught me how to incorporate better stewardship of the world I live in into my life. Head over and check it out, and be sure to read some of the other great posts. Oh, and buy her book. Really. Do it. 

Here’s the beginning to get you started.

——

first-gardenI grew up surrounded by food.

My grandparents were dairy and crop farmers. My dad likewise raised crops, feeder pigs, and beef cattle. I spent my formative summers eating fresh corn on the cob, mulberries, green beans. Peppers. Zucchini. Spinach and asparagus, homemade bread.

Come July and August, my mother became a produce machine. Corn was cut and frozen. Tomatoes were canned for salsa and sauce. Mulberries were boiled with sugar and lemon and canned as sauce to pour over vanilla ice cream. And when the freezer was getting low, my dad sent a pig or a cow to the butcher, and came home with boxes and boxes of white paper packages carefully labeled in blue meat locker ink.

But when I stepped out from under my parent’s roof, food took on a different shape for me. A new, costlier shape. It was no longer just, well, available. What was worse, I started seeing it in terms of dollar bills that, as a college student, I never had enough of.

—Keep reading

 

 

 

Homemade Yogurt

068 (800x533)You know how you feel when something you’ve taken the time to make from scratch comes out a little, ahem, sub par? Turns out homemade yogurt is DEFINITELY NOT one of those things. For the entire last week I have feasted on thick, luscious, creamy yogurt. Yogurt and berries. Yogurt and granola. Yogurt marinated chicken.

I’m guessing you’re a little skeptical. I was too. But if you’re looking for a brand comparison, this recipe turned out to be very similar to the Greek Gods honey yogurt line. The active work time was minimal, although it did require a little babysitting. But the result? Definitely worth it.

I’m going to post the plain, whole milk version that my friend Lacey showed me last week. Check out the updates at the end for how different flavors and milks have turned out for me so far.

Whole Milk Yogurt

What you need:
1 gallon of whole milk
1 cup of yogurt (I used Stonyfield Vanilla)

Equipment: kitchen thermometer (one that gives a constant read on the milk temperature), stock pot, strainer, cheesecloth or thin linen kitchen towel, and something to keep the yogurt in at a steady 110 degree temp – crock pot with temp settings, turkey roaster, oven, food dehydrator, actual yogurt maker, etc., container/s to store the finished product.

Method
1. Pour the gallon of milk into a large stock pot. Heat on low until the temperature reaches 180 degrees. (This takes about an hour. Don’t be tempted to turn the temp up unless you want to scald your milk.)

2. Remove 180 degree milk from heat, and allow to cool to 120 degrees.

3. Add 1 cup of yogurt to the milk. Whisk to incorporate.

4. Get ready to incubate. This might take some extra leg work, but it’s possible. I happened to have an awesome 1970’s vintage food dehydrator the size of a giant microwave (thanks Jody O!) that had a temp setting on it, so I just slid the whole pot inside, set the temp, and shut the door. My friend Lacey uses a turkey roaster that she tested and marked on the dial when it kept water at a consistent 110 degree temp. You can try the same thing with a crock pot. Or you might get lucky and have an oven that goes that low. Or you could be really fancy and buy a yogurt maker that takes the guesswork out of the equation.

051 (800x533)4. Cover and incubate at 110 degrees for anywhere from 4 to 24 hours. This is what it looks like after the incubation. (The longer the incubation, the stronger the tangy flavor. Want it mild? Stick with 4 hours. Once the yogurt has set up (see how it separates from the side of the pot?), the rest of the time just determines the strength of the flavor.)

 

061 (800x533)5. Set up a strainer over a large mixing bowl. Cover the strainer with cheesecloth (or a really awesome embroidered dish towel.) Strain for 30-60 minutes. The yellowish liquid you strain out is the whey, which can be saved for other endeavors. It can also be used as the starter for your next batch of yogurt. Just label it so that others don’t mistake it for lemonade if you leave it in the fridge.

 

062 (800x533)6. Here’s how much liquid the yogurt lost after straining for 30 minutes. The longer it strains, the thicker it gets, so if you love thick yogurt, let it go longer. (Just keep in mind the yogurt will also thicken as it cools.)

 

 

065 (800x533)7. Whisk the finished yogurt. (I used my Kitchen Aid with the whisk attachment the first time, but soon realized that a regular hand whisk does the same thing without dirtying another bowl.) Side note –  I did find some weird stringy bits attached to the whisk when I lifted it out. I think this was the skin of the milk that formed during the initial heating. Lesson learned – occasional stirring is important.

 

069 (800x533)8. Refrigerate, store, and serve. I went with the sweeten as you go method for this batch, which gave me freedom to serve it to everyone in my house. Since the twins are under a year, I used a berry puree to flavor their bowls. Ellis, Jason and I all used honey or ate it with granola. And leaving it unsweetened meant I could use it while cooking.

 

Quick update – 4/23/2014

  • I quickly discovered that my family has a sweet tooth. Hence I grabbed bottle of agave syrup at Walmart and put 2/3rds of a cup into my next batch during the incubation phase. This makes it sweeter, but not overwhelmingly so. I’ve also added a half tbsp of vanilla during incubation. I’m not sold that that’s the right ratio, so I’m still working on it.
  • I’ve also done a couple of batches with 2% milk, which turns out great – just not as rich.
  • I’ve also switched up the yogurt starter and tried Dannon all natural Vanilla since some stores don’t carry Stonyfield. It works well, and sets up a little thicker (I think it’s because of the gelatin in Dannon.)

Double Duty Meal Idea – Alphabet Veggie Mac and Cheese

Veggie MacHave I ever mentioned how much I love food posts? I could write about ingredients and texture and methods all day. However, my usual problem with food posts is this: I make something, think it was good, and then wish I would have snapped a picture and wrote down what I did. Or at least left myself a few leftovers.

So, while this is still fresh in my brain and littles are napping, here’s what we had for lunch. You’ll notice I called it double duty, because I try to get everyone (twins, toddler, and mama) eating together most lunches. It’s honestly easier that way, and it reinforces that we all eat what’s put in front of us. This is tricky though – the twins only have two teeth, Ellis is in a semi-picky toddler stage, and me? I’m just hungry. all. the. time.

Thus, today we put together homemade mac and cheese. It’s a little bit of a riff off this great recipe from Skinnytaste that my friend Jessica made for us a while back at her house, minus the baking and bread crumbs. Lunch has to be ready quick for my crew.

Here’s what I love- the alphabet noodles are small and soft enough that my 8 month old twins can eat them with a spoon, or with their fingers. My toddler was stoked that there were letters in her lunch bowl. And I liked how I secretly packed it full of carrots and cauliflower and kale. And cheese. Real cheese.

Alphabet Veggie Mac ‘n Cheese

2 cups alphabet noodles
1 cup cauliflower florets
3 averaged sized leaves of kale, ribs removed
Handful of carrot sticks
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 tbsp butter
1 cup finely shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup milk
Celery salt, Garlic to taste

Method

1. Bring salted water to a boil. When boiling, add alphabet noodles and cook according to directions.

2. Meanwhile, throw carrots, cauliflower, and kale in a food processor. Process till the mix resembles crumbs.

3. Heat a small frying pan with 2 tbsp of butter. Add processed veggies. Stir in a few shakes of celery salt and garlic powder, or real garlic if you have time. Stir occasionally for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, and simmer on low.

4. Drain noodles, and return them to the pot. Still in the other two tbsp of butter, the milk, and the cheese.  When cheese and milk are incorporated, add veggies and any remaining broth. Mix well. If you want it creamier, add more milk. Or cream. Cheesier? You know the drill. Need more protein? I’m sure chicken would be a great addition. Make it your own, and put the box to shame.

Spinach and Mushroom Fritatta

So, remember when I had this great idea to post the foods I was making/craving while I was pregnant with the twins? Right. I think I got, oh, about three posts in. I promise I ate WAY more than that, but food blogging requires one to remember to take pictures, so I didn’t get very far. C’est la vie.

Anyway. This morning my mom is here helping out since the twins had the flu this weekend. Yes. First flu at two and a half months. Awesome. But this morning they are feeling a bit better, and Ellis actually slept in for once, which means one thing in my world.

Hot. Breakfast.

IMG_1758

Today’s fridge contents: Spinach, mushroom, onion, and cheese. Very frittata worthy.

So here’s what was on the menu: Spinach and Mushroom Frittata (gluten-free for those that are interested)

Fritattas are the lazy man’s omelet. Instead of having to worry about flipping, turning, rolling, or tearing, you just throw all your ingredients in an oven-safe skillet, start it on the stove top, and finish it in the oven. The whole process takes about twenty minutes, and it’s as versatile as the contents of your fridge. Eggs. Meat. Cheese. Veggies. Noodles. Whatever you want, really. Since I’m trying to limit the amount of ingredients I use in my cooking (less ingredients, less bowls, less cleanup), I kept this one basic.

Ready?

Spinach and Mushroom Frittata

Stage one: Veggies sauteed, cheese and egg mixture added. Waiting to set.

Stage one: Veggies sautéed, cheese and egg mixture added. Waiting to set.

4 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 c. onion
1 tbsp. butter
1 c. mushrooms
2 c. spinach
1/3 c. havarti cheese
Salt and Pepper

Prep: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop your onions, cut your mushrooms, shred your cheese.

Method: In an oven-safe pan (remember, you’re going to transfer from stove top to oven in five minutes), saute the onions and mushrooms in the butter. When they are brown, add the spinach, and cook for no more than a minute. There’s no need to totally wilt the spinach – you want it to have some body. Salt and pepper the whole works. After the spinach is done, top with the shredded havarti. (Save a little bit to sprinkle on the top.)

Meanwhile, mix the milk and eggs together. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the mixture over the veggies. No need to stir. Let it cook on low temp for 3-5 minutes or so. When it’s mostly set, slide it into the oven.

Final product. One pan, one knife, one bowl. one cutting board. Easy cleanup - yes please.

Final product. One pan, one knife, one bowl. one cutting board. Easy cleanup – yes please.

Bake: 10-15 minutes or until set. Top should just be starting to brown. Top with a little extra cheese, cut into wedges, and serve.

Hot breakfast. Twenty minutes. Bam.

PS – this is usually acceptable lunch and dinner fare as well, as long as there’s a little meat and maybe a few more eggs involved.

What’s for supper? Crab cakes!

043

Crab cakes – the finished version

You know those meals that get a hold of you and won’t let go? There’s some thing about the flavor, the texture, the simplicity… last night, that meal was Crab Cakes.

I know. I live in the Midwest. Seafood is a little bit sketchy in these parts. Everything is frozen, shipped, thawed, and glared at under florescent meat market lighting. And you know the worst offender of “seafood”? Imitation crab. Really. What the heck is surimi? How is it processed? What is that funny pink color on the outside?

Forgive me, but I don’t care.  Whenever I have the chance to swing by a Byerly’s, their imitation crab legs are one of the first things I pick up. I was assured that they were made in house, which I don’t really know what to think about, but the texture is firmer, the flavor is more meaty and less sweet, and they are generally under $5 for a package.

So, crab cakes hit the menu last night. I don’t really have a defined recipe for these, so what follows is a loose set of ideas. If you think you need more crumbs, more egg, more anything, go for it. Honestly, you really can’t screw these up too badly. The ingredients are simple and bright, and the whole meal comes together in about 15 minutes. Seriously. If you’re in a rut and need a new idea for this weekend, give these little guys a go. I promise they are worth it.

Ingredients 037

1 package of imitation crab legs (I prefer the kind from Byerly’s.)

1 cup Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1 tbsp chopped fresh dill (or cilantro if you’d prefer)

3 green onion spears

1 egg

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp dijon mustard

Sea salt/fresh cracked black pepper
Method:

1. Shred the crab in a medium mixing bowl

2. Add the panko, dill, green onions, salt, and pepper. Mix.

3. In a separate bowl, mix the dijon mustard, egg, and lemon juice till combined. 041

4. Pour the sauce over the crab and crumbs. Mix again.

5. Heat a large skillet with two tbsp. vegetable oil

6. With your hands, take a biscuit sized patty of crab and press it together.

7. Place in the pan. Cook on medium high heat until crispy and brown, roughly 4 minutes per side.

8. Serve over whatever greens you have on hand. I prefer spinach and arugula.

9. If you’re a sauce person, grab another mixing bowl, and add Miracle Whip, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Whisk together, pour over the top. If you’re feeling lazy, a dollop of miracle whip on the side of your plate to dip the crab cakes in will accomplish similar results.

Dutch Baby Oven Pancakes

Dutch Baby Pancakes

In my 12 week post, I mentioned my love for Dutch Baby pancakes. Here’s the deal – even if you hate to cook, you should probably try these pancakes. And if you really hate to cook, fine. Order them at the Original Pancake House. They are the souffle of the breakfast world – crispy and puffy around the edges, eggy and dense with lemon butter goodness in the middle. We need a picture.

pancakeDoes that help? I know you were probably thinking of traditional style pancakes. That’s where you’re wrong. This one-pan beauty can be made in pie dish, a cast iron skillet, or a good old 9×13 pan if that’s what you’ve got on hand.

The batter is simple. The results? Divine. My one caution… unless you’re a skimpy breakfast eater (which I have never been), make one per person. Or, plan on serving them with a few other breakfast items, because otherwise, they go way too fast and everyone leaves brunch secretly hungry. (An awful, awful feeling.)

Here is the recipe. Now, go make breakfast. Or if you’re me, supper. I can eat these any time of day.

Dutch Baby Oven Pancakes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

4 eggs
2 c. milk
2 tbsp. white sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ¼ c. flour
2 tbsp. butter (for melting in 2 pie plates, skillets, glass pans, etc.)

Directions:

Place 1 tbsp. butter in each of your two pie plates. Set aside.

Beat eggs well. Add milk, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla. Mix. Add flour slowly, and mix till smooth. (A balloon whisk works the best here.)

Put your baking pans in the oven. Leave them there until the butter is melted. Take pans out.

Pour pancake batter equally into the two pie plates.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20, or until edges are slightly browned and puffy all the way around.

For extra-naughty goodness, as soon as the pancakes come out of the oven, sprinkle them with powdered sugar. To get that superfine restaurant sugar pattern, put your powdered sugar in a flour sifter and tap it over the pancakes. This works with metal loose leaf tea strainers as well. Stuff them with fruit, drown them in syrup, coat them in butter. These babies are vehicles for all manner of breakfast goodness.