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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Eclectic Gardening

Having an eclectic garden is not something that I set out consciously to do, it just sort of happened.  Really, I've always had a plant or two around, but it never turned into much until I lived in Los Angeles.  There, I met a lady named Joyce who changed how I thought about homegrown produce, particularly tomatoes.  She was my boss at the Pasadena Playhouse, and my first day of work, she brought in a bag of heirloom yellow tomatoes that changed my life.  I put them on a pizza, and it was the beginning something huge for me. I wanted to grow things.

At the time, I lived in a very dark apartment, with a balcony, but (ironically for California) no sun.  Then I moved into a duplex with a huge backyard, and started growing veggies with a passion.  I hauled bag after bag of "soil amendment" (probably just compost, but that's how they labeled it then) into my backyard, and I tried to grow carrots (big mistake), potatoes (also a no-go), herbs (relatively successful) and tomatoes.  My biggest success?  I grew canteloupes under my kitchen window.  Freaking canteloupes!!  They were the most amazing canteloupes I've had in my entire life, even if they were only the size of grapefruits.  I still dream about them.

Joyce gave me this plant stand, once upon a time
Joyce had a giant backyard in North Hollywood.  She had citrus trees (including a blood orange tree), a giant avocado tree (that she fought both the squirrels and the dog in order to get any to eat), and bed after bed of the tallest tomato plants known to man.  They were taller than she was, which, while most people were taller than Joyce, to have a 5-foot tall tomato plant is still a wonder to me.  She would grow a constant supply of lettuce that could easily turn into a bowl of salad for dinner.  She was like a surrogate mom to me, in my home away from home.


Later on, her boyfriend installed a remote controlled train in the corner of the backyard.  It had a tunnel, plants all around, and even a waterfall, if I remember correctly.  It's been a long time.  I kept in touch with Joyce after I moved back to Washington, but a couple of years later, she was diagnosed with cancer.  It was really serious and she had some experimental treatments.  She lost her hair.  I went to visit, and we snuck into her friend's pool when they weren't home.  I kept having visions of being carted off to a police station in my bathing suit, but the friends really didn't mind when they caught us.  She had been recovering for over a year.  Her hair was growing back into first "the Jamie Lee Curtis" and then into "the Annette Bening". 



I didn’t hear from her for a long time, but that didn’t really worry me since her voice was still on her answering machine.  Until the day that I accidentally called her, (my phone misdialed) and found out from her boyfriend that she’d passed away.  The cancer had come back, and despite everything, she’d lost her fight.  That was a little over two years ago, I think.



 I really didn't plan for this post to turn into a tribute to my friend, but that's where the roots of my gardening as an adult started (no pun intended).  (Gardening as a kid though? That’s a whole other story…)   Even though Joyce’s garden wasn't that crazy, in terms of decoration, it was in terms of awesomeness. And that's the legacy I hope to carry on.  So, when my neighbors think I’m weird for growing edibles everywhere, and offer to show us pictures of how our bark-covered hill used to look (“when it was nice” i.e. just bark), I have to take it with a grain of salt.  Because I love my eclectic garden- weird sculptures, giant rhubarb plants, and all.



I’ll have to show you my recently acquired “solar duck” really soon.  I named her Petunia.  Maybe her middle name will be Joyce.

Friday, April 26, 2013

French Breakfast Puffs

The first time I ever encountered anything like this was in college.  My friend Danni had made a huge batch of these delicious creations to take along to a music festival.  (Lilith Fair?  Maybe.)  Then Pioneer Woman had them in her first cookbook.  I dutifully tried them with her piles and piles of butter, a la Paula Deen.  (I also made them bite-sized in a mini muffin pan.  Danger!)  This time, I made just half the batch, and made them slightly healthier and lower in fat.  Your arteries will thank you tomorrow.

French Breakfast Puffs
Adapted from Pioneer Woman
8 muffins

1 c. all purpose flour
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 c. sugar
scant 1/3 c. applesauce + 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil (+ 1 more Tbsp. applesauce at the end of mixing, if necessary)
1 egg
1/2 c. milk

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  Add in the wet ones, and mix thoroughly.  The batter will be a bit stiff.  Fill a muffin tin about 2/3 of the way full with the batter, and bake at 350* for 20-25 minutes.


Now comes the fun part.  After the muffins have cooled, melt 3/4 of a stick of butter in a microwave-safe bowl.  (I guess you could do this on the stove, but really?)  In another bowl, mix together 3/4 of a cup of sugar with 1 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon.  One at a time, dip the muffins; first into the melted butter, then into the cinnamon sugar.  Let sit for a few minutes, then try not to eat the entire plate at once!


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gardening Surprises

It's funny sometimes, when you are focusing on one area of your yard, to visit another section and see that life still goes on without you paying attention to it.  For instance, violets:


They went from nothing one day, to in bloom the next.  Or peas:


I planted these in late March, and NOTHING was happening forever.  And now they are starting to grow!

These raspberries, I thought they were completely dead.  They did nothing at all last year, so I planted some strawberries and asparagus there.  Now look at them!


Totally sneaking back in!  This was my biggest surprise though:


After pretty much neglecting these strawberries last summer, they are now taking over the entire bottom of my hill.  They are growing over rocks, with barely any in sight!!


And flowering too? That means berries, berries, everywhere this summer!

Monday, April 22, 2013

How to Make Your Own Breadcrumbs

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I was reading "How to Eat" by Nigella Lawson.  In it, she talks at length about how to make all sorts of things; and this was waaay before the current "make your own ketchup" times we live in now.  I discovered that it is ridiculously easy to make your own breadcrumbs (and actually know exactly what's in there, instead of scary pre-fab ingredients).  Here is what you do.

Get some slightly stale bread.  Make sure it is not moldy.  You can even just do the bread end pieces if you want.  Cut them into large squares.  

Set the bread crumbs out in a pan, on a cookie sheet, cutting board, what have you.  Somewhere that they are spread out a bit, and not crowded.


Leave them there for a couple of days, until they are dried out and hard.


Store in the freezer until you are ready to use them; then you can keep them in large pieces (like if you're making stuffing) or blend them up in a food processor (if you want bread dust for coating something, or to put in a recipe).

There you go!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Stir Fry with Fried Tofu and Peanut Sauce

Step 1: Make some fried tofu.  Set aside on some paper towels to drain.  Also start cooking some brown rice there, to serve under everything.


Step 2: Cook up some veggies; I used an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, some broccoli, 2 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, a yellow squash, and some cabbage.  I used a little oil, about a cup of veggie broth, and a couple of dashes of soy sauce while it was cooking.  Also added some halved sugar snap peas at the end, so they don't get overdone.


Step 3: Now you are ready for amateur peanut-sauce-crafting hour!  I used:

2 Tbsp peanut butter
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1" fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp. sriracha or red pepper flakes
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/4 c. water (maybe a bit more; totally to taste)

Whisk together in a small bowl or large measuring cup; feel free to tinker with the spices as you like.  You really want to try to have a balance of sour/salt/sweet.


Start your bowl with rice, then veggies, then tofu croutons, then sauce.  Bon appetit!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How to Fry Tofu

Some people think that it is easy to fry tofu; just throw it in the pan and go.  I used to be one of those people.  I was wrong.

Here are some tips for perfectly fried tofu


1.) Drain the tofu as best you can, and use paper towels to squeeze out more water.

2.) Cut it into small pieces, and dredge those in flour in small batches.

3.) Don't use olive oil; it doesn't get hot enough, and it breaks down at high heat.  Use vegetable oil or peanut oil instead.

4.) Fry it in smaller batches, or at least don't overcrowd the pan; this way there's room to turn over the tofu, to get at least 2 sides browned.

5.) Use a splatter screen, if you have one!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Little House in the Suburbs

This is a great book that I first read about on another blog, and then checked out from the library to see if I really needed to buy it.


I needed to buy it.

The intro alone sucked me in.  One of the authors was talking about how her kids were taking turns dragging each other across the driveway in a recycling bin; one that was usually used for hauling manure and compost.        In a world that can be super obsessed with anti-bacterial everything, I found this book to be a welcome change.

Not only are there tons of gardening tips, there are chapters on chickens, goats, bees, and making unique things at home, in the suburbs. (DIY deodorant, anyone? At first this sounded really weird to me, but now I'm totally going to try it, when I run out of my regular stuff.)  They also talk alot about forming communities with your neighbors, making sure that you're not doing anything illegal (in terms of keeping animals), and having fun.
And of course this book started as a blog, which you can find here.  It's totally worth checking out!!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Flowers!

Here are some flowers that I planted last week...


I had a wide variety of seeds laying around, and thought it was time to put them to use!  Plus, I had some empty spots in my front yard that were just being attacked by weeds; the first year I started that bed, I had next to no weeds because I'd packed in so many plants that they just didn't have the space to grow.  That's my plan for keeping them out this year!

Columbine are perennials masquerading as annuals.  They actually come back, and sometimes even over-winter (as evidenced in my azalea pot next to the garage).  The perennial mix should give some nice surprises too.


I don't remember if either of these re-seed themselves, but it's worth a shot, right?


And these were no-brainers.   Butterfly mix AND something that keeps away vampires? Sold!


I first got some of these Nigella seeds a few years ago after a Seattle Tilth class; they interplanted them with some peas to get some extra pollinators around.  We'll see if they work for me!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dandelions: A Scourge That Must Be Stopped!

This is what the majority of my backyard looks like:


This is what it's starting to look like: 

 
Up there, I've planted some dino kale, red spinach, radishes, red kale, and another type of green that I've forgotten about (this is why markers are good; you can't see them in the picture, but they're there!)  There are also 2 new hostas, and at least 4 astilbe plants that should come up next year (or maybe this year? I get confused about bulbs sometimes....)

This is my newest berry baby, a native huckleberry plant!  I got it at the Seattle Tilth plant sale a few weeks ago, and it's huge and flowering already; that means huckleberries for us this year!! (I am NOT confused about this fact!) :)


So how am I fighting these dandelions? With a hand rake and a hungry bunny.  I pull them up and set them aside for Muppet, then dig out the roots and throw them into my yard waste.  That would be why that space that's done up there took me 3 days so far.

Here is last year's new bed, all newly composted and square-footed-up for this year.  Also notice the copper tape I put along the top of the wood, that will hopefully keep out the slugs.  Once we get chickens (and have them outside) I'll have to put up some chicken wire to keep them from eating the plants, but the upside is that they'll eat any slugs or bugs they find!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Green "Chicken" Chili Stew


Today's recipe is inspired by a recipe from my sister-in-law's blog, Beauty Life Project.  It looked so good, I had to try it!

Green "Chicken" Chili Stew

1 onion, medium dice
2 Poblano chiles, large dice (can also use Pasilla, but my store didn't have those)
3 garlic cloves
1-2 Tbsp. cumin (I used 1 Tbsp.)
garlic salt, onion salt, to taste (I used 3 shakes of garlic powder, since that's the spice I had)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 can of whole green chiles
6 c. vegetable broth
1/4 c. polenta
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cans pinto beans, drained (she doesn't drain them, but I did)
1-2 ripe avocados

Start by cooking the onion and pepper.  After a few minutes, add in the garlic, spices, and quorn bits.  Saute until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft.


Add in the vegetable broth and the polenta.  (Becky uses a handful of crushed tortilla chips; if those get in my house I will eat them constantly, so that is a danger food!  Plus, for some reason, they sell every other chip in small lunch bags, but not tortilla chips.  What's up with that?)  To continue to thicken the soup, after it's been cooking for about 10 minutes, get a small bowl and put a small amount of the soup liquid in it.  Add the flour and whisk, hopefully avoiding lumps.  When it is successfully incorporated, add the thickened broth back to the soup.  Drain and rinse the beans, and add them too.


Here comes the secret trick.  Get your small can of green chiles, open it, and blend up the whole thing.  Then add that to the soup.  



Let it cook for another 10-15 minutes, long enough to play with the baby. :)


Serve with sliced avocados on top; so amazing!!!  I did half an avocado in each bowl.  You could probably also throw some sour cream on there if you wanted to.  Delicious!!  (and low fat, low carb, and vegan!)