Allison, Allison, How Does Your Garden Grow?

I love gardening and I’m not shy about it. From late April until late October, you can be sure to find me out in our backyard at least once a day (but often twice) watering, weeding, and mostly just admiring the amazing transformation that happens in our 4 raised garden beds. I shamelessly post pictures and have given our garden it’s own hashtag (#CasaBuYARD). I mean, look how photogenic veggies are!
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Perhaps it’s because of all of my doting and posting that people assume I’m an expert of sorts. Let me set the record straight, I’m not a master gardener! I’m a novice hobby gardener who has to google almost everything, and I learn so much every year. (Most recent garden google search: “How do I get stray cats to stop pooping in my garden beds?” The answer was lemon peels. Worked like a charm.)
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Anyway, each spring, I get texts, emails, messages asking me for advice on how to start a garden. I always feel like a bit of a fake responding because I’m not a pro  but I have learned a lot through trial and error since I started gardening in 2013, so I thought I’d dust off the old blog (like deep clean dust) to share what I have learned mostly to keep it all in once place. I think this might be easier than searching through my sent items each spring to find an old email or text to pass along. I’m hoping that this will be a place for more seasoned gardeners to leave their comments, as well, and that this will end up being a helpful collective effort post for newbie and seasoned green thumbs alike.
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So, without further adieu, here are my novice gardening rambling thoughts:
1.  Raised Beds vs In Ground
We inherited terrible soil in our backyard so that made our decision for us; we had to do raised beds. From what I understand, if you have good soil, plant in ground for optimum drainage and root depth. If you like the “look” of raised beds but have great soil and space for in-ground, you can always add barriers to give some structure to your in ground. We went with 8×3 raised beds because the 3 foot width is easy to navigate (I can reach and pick and prune whatever I need to without stomping all over plants) and because lumber often comes 8 feet long. We also did a brick weed barrier around the beds to A. keep away weeds (duh, I just said that) B. make it look prettier, and C. because we had them already in our yard – the previous tenants left us (and our lawn mower) the gift of “surprise random bricks everywhere in your yard” so this was a way to repurpose them.
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2.  Soil
If you aren’t planting in-ground, you get to fill the beds with your own soil. We started composting a few years ago and love how much waste that has eliminated. We have an indoor compost bin with charcoal filter that we keep on our kitchen countertop and when that fills, we do an outdoor compost run. Our compost bins are three cheap plastic garbage cans that Adam drilled a bunch of holes into. We are TERRIBLE at turning our compost and should have more of a system than we do. But even though we aren’t brilliant compost caretakers, we STILL get quite a bit of fabulous soil every year to add to our beds. We filled our beds originally with a combination of cheaper top soil and fertilized soil simply because of price. To fill 4 beds with all organic soil wasn’t in the budget. Each year, I remove the winter cover (Covering garden beds with hay or pine keeps the soil “warm” enough that it doesn’t deplete of nutrients over the winter), till the soil, and add compost and other soil if needed because the beds settle every winter and need some fresh dirt. And then I fertilize the soil before adding plants.
3.  Fertilizer
You get to decide if you want an organic garden or not. That goes for fertilizers and plant repellent. Organic gardening is not for the faint of heart. Especially when tomato hornworms hatch (I HATE handling those suckers so my pro tip: When you find them on your plants, cut them in half with gardening scissors. Then you don’t have to touch them and you send a message to the other hornworms. I know it’s gross, but don’t mess with my tomatoes. I’m a pacifist about everything but garden bugs and then I turn into Katniss Everdeen). Whichever direction you go, fertilizing before planting is a surefire way to get your soil ready. I like Jobe’s line but find something that works for you. There are directions on the back of the bag that tell you how far in advance you need to fertilize before planting so you don’t burn the seedlings. (Side note, I’ve learned more about science while gardening than I ever did in school).
4.  Seeds vs Seedlings
This is where my novice starts showing. I don’t grow most of my plants from seed, I buy seedlings (little baby plants) from a local grower. My exception to the seed rule is that I do grow beans and radishes from seed. I don’t have the space or patience for grow lamps, and honestly, I adore my local grower, so I’m happy to let him start my seeds and then plant them in ground. But you get to decide what you want to do. I did get hooked on Baker Creek Seeds for my (failed) fall garden this year. They have gorgeous seeds and the catalogue has become my favorite coffee table book. Check it out and get hooked.
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5. Planning (Now we’re to the super fun part)!
You get to decide what you want to grow, what grows well together, how much you can grow in a space, what grows well in your area, what season you’re growing for (spring, summer, fall…). When I started out knowing 0 things about gardening, I was really overwhelmed about where to start. Thankfully, I found some amazing resources that helped me feel more confident about what I was doing:
A.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells you when to plan and harvest for your local region based on historical weather patterns. I didn’t consult this my first year and had bolted, sour lettuce, and crops that didn’t bear much fruit because they were planted at the wrong time. The harvest time helps you adjust expectations for how long you’ll have to wait to eat the fruits of your labor. Some veggies take time!
B.  Square Foot Gardening tells you how many seedlings/seeds to plant per square foot. I would have never guessed that you could plant nine bean plants per square foot, but you can. This helps you maximize small spaces. I use an organic twine that I staple gun to our beds so that as the plants grow, I can remove it and let them roam free. Some people use more permanent structures and that works great for them, too.
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C. Companion Planting tells you what plants works well together, which don’t, and what repels bugs and other vermin. #TGFM (Thank Goodness for Marigolds whose scent repels a multitude of critters). I had no idea when I started this journey that some plants take nutrients from others, and that some help other plants grow. Isn’t science amazing? This adds a challenge element to planning, but it’s absolutely worth it!
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Every year, I map out my garden plan using these websites. (I also bust out the previous few years’ plans and rotate as much as I can so that the soil gets a reset.)

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6. After the soil prep, the bed prep, and the planning comes the shopping. And then the planting. And then all of the fun begins because you get to watch things grow. My garden is a holy place for me. I hope yours brings you peace, joy, and hope, too!

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Expert gardeners, what did I miss?

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Loaded Potachos

The other night, after an-I-walked-three-miles-in-three-inch-heels, 14 hour kind of work day, I was fighting the urge to get takeout. Takeout was made for these kind of days. Takeout on Whole30 is Chipotle and since we don’t live in the suburbs, I knew that I could cook something faster than I could drive to grab a carnitas bowl and the thought of having to put on shoes again brought tears to my eyes.

I looked at the week’s menu and decided I “deserved” something tastier than lettuce wrapped tacos (yeah, I get that’s a mental food habit that I need to break – I’m doing Whole30, stop lecturing me).

But something magical happened in my oh-so-tired brain and a culinary genius idea was birthed. World, may I introduce to you:

Loaded Potachos (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 Large russet potatoes (sliced SUPER thin – if you have a mandoline, use it)

Olive Oil

Sea Salt

1lb Meat of choice (pictured here carnitas)

Homemade taco seasoning (I used to use a recipe, but now, I just throw in some chili, cumin, oregano, paprika, cayenne, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and we have a party)

Whatever toppings you fancy. I went with: chopped romaine, red onion, cilantro, green onion, Cholula hot sauce, and of course, guacamole.

Let’s get to business:

Preheat oven to 425 while you chop all the veggies. Place thinly sliced potatoes on a pan, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with cracked sea salt. Bake for 15-16 minutes, turning once.

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While potatoes are baking, cook the meat and add taco seasoning. And then make your guacamole. Guac isn’t an optional topping on these. Guac should never be optional.

When the potatoes are done, plate them and load them up. Go ahead and get a fork proactively. No need to get up again.

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Y’all this is simple and so tasty. It was far better (and quicker) than getting takeout. The only downside is that there are dishes, but I have a cute dish fairy, so really, this was a total win for me.

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Holiday Breakfast Hash

I’ve decided to resurrect Food Day Friday blogs.

“Why are you doing this Allison?” You ask.

Thanks so much for asking! You always ask the best questions. I’m doing this for a few reasons:

  1.  I’m hoping this will encourage me to write more often. I like writing, I have just gotten out of the habit.
  2. I love cooking. It’s like good therapy that I get to eat. And I do love eating my feelings. Which brings me to point 3:
  3. Go ahead and roll your eyes. Just do it preemptively. I’m doing Whole30 (along with the rest of America right now). Adam and I pioneered it for the first time in November and my body loved it. I’m not trying to be a Whole30Evangelist here, but seriously, my head, stomach, and sleep adored it. So, after Gorge30 (that’s December in case that reference was too obscure), we’re back on it. And since I’m cooking up all sorts of #fresh food (Fresh is my OneWord for 2017), I thought I might share it. Please share good things back with me. This is how the internet works (for better or for worse – here’s looking at you election season). I share, you share, we all share together.

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I’m bad at mornings. Anyone who knows me, or who has shared a house with me knows this full well. I stay in bed until the last possible second (often later than the last possible second) and then rush around in a state of panic. I do this every day. Try as I may, I cannot fix this about myself. I love sleep and I hate mornings. That is my truth.

Because of morning chaos, I need breakfast that I can grab and go. This often looks like grabbing a Larabar or heating up a piece of egg bake. Real talk: egg bakes without cheese are not egg bakes I want to be part of. I’m still experimenting (this is a good place to insert your recipes for dairy-free egg bakes).

One Sunday in November, after a spinach-heavy gag bake, I mean egg bake disaster week, I was wracking my brain for something else I could eat for breakfast. I pieced together what I had in the pantry and holy smokes, this savory hash has become a Whole30 morning staple. It’s got so many holiday-esque flavors that I still feel like I’m getting to gorge while not feeling bad about or after eating it.

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Holiday Breakfast Hash

Ingredients

2-3 large sweet potatoes peeled and diced

1 lb of brussels sprouts halved

½ red onion diced

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (or oil of choice)

Fresh cracked salt and pepper to taste

1 lb ground pork or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dry sage

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon dried rosemary

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon (or more depending on your heat preference) cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon (or more depending on your heat preference) red pepper flakes

Eggs

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 425 while you dice your veggies. Place sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, and red onion on a baking pan. Drizzle veggies with olive oil and top with fresh cracked salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes turning at least once. (Roast time depends on how big you’ve diced your potatoes and how crispy you like your veggies. I do a small dice but prefer my veggies to have a little crisp to them!)

While the veggies are baking, brown your meat. Then add all of the spices to make homemade sausage (shout out to this recipe). I’ve modified the recipe to use dried spices because it’s winter and I don’t have a growing herb garden in my backyard nor an unlimited herb budget. Dried herbs work great for this sausage!

If you’re doing this as part of your weekly food prep, let the veggies and sausage cool. Then, add half of the sausage to the veggie mix and put in a Tupperware container. (Freeze the other half of the sausage for another week unless you like a super sausage-heavy meal and then by all means, add all of it!).

Each day, I crack one egg into a frying pan. While the egg cooks, I scoop out about ¾ of a cup of the hash mixture into a bowl and heat it up for 1 minute. By the time the microwave beeps, my egg is perfectly sunny-side-up cooked. I place the egg atop my hash, stab it with a fork so I can watch the yolk run all over the other stuff, and then run out the door, breakfast in hand, to eat while I commute.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do! What are your on-the-go, prep ahead breakfast staples?

Food Day Friday – Gingersnap Oatmeal

Gingersnaps are my fall kryptonite.  I love them and once I make them, I can’t stop making them because I can’t stop eating them.

Recently, I went gluten-free, and to be totally honest, I’ve been disappointed in gluten-free baked goods.  There are plenty of naturally gluten-free meals, so my main courses aren’t suffering terribly, but cookies and cakes that are gluten-free are lacking. Gluten is apparently is what puts the good in baked goods.

BUT since it’s not fall without gingersnaps in my house, I decided to try my favorite gingersnap recipe with my trusty Trader Joe’s gluten-free flour last week.  And guess what?  Gluten-free gingersnaps are actually good!  Like really, really good.  Even one day and two day and three days later.  Usually gluten-free cookies get super crumbly after a day or two, but not these guys.  I’ve been singing the hallelujah chorus and eating gingersnaps all day every day since.  (Not really –  but almost really).

So when I found myself eating gingersnaps for breakfast last week, I decided I needed an intervention.  But instead I worked on an invention:

Gingersnap Oatmeal.

(For all my Celiac friends, I know oatmeal is taboo, I hope you can find a good gf brand of oatmeal and give this a whirl because it’s so darn good).

gingersnap oatmeal

Ingredients:

1/4 cup quick-cook oats

1/2 cup water

1 tsp Grandma’s Molasses (I’m convinced the key to perfect gingersnaps is in the right molasses)

1 tsp Brown Sugar

1/8 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch each of cinnamon, ginger, cloves

Put it all in a bowl and heat it in the microwave and dust with brown sugar.  Judge me if you wish, but you dip gingersnap cookie dough balls in sugar before you bake it so this is my version of best practices with gingersnap fidelity.

This smells divine and tastes so close to a cookie.  Enjoy this fall/winter treat!

Gluten-Free Confession

I haven’t blogged about it yet, maybe because I am still processing it a little, maybe because I’m still downplaying it a little, or probably mostly because I don’t want to be a pain in the butt…  but I’m gluten free now.  Have been for a over month.

And I’m feeling so much better.

My stomach has been uncooperative for years, and I noticed that anytime I did a no-carb diet, my belly was quite happy.  So me and the doc started talking about a year ago and turns out, I’ve got a gluten allergy.

I hem-hawed around the implications of cutting all gluten out of my diet,  and I wavered.  I would cut it mostly out, but then cave for a cookie or a bowl of pasta and I would get sick.  Every time.

So after one fabulous night of bruschetta on Italian loaf and breaded chicken on our vibey patio, and two full days of sickness to follow, I decided it was time.

I’ve done enough no-carb/low-carb/detoxes that it’s not absolutely terrible.  But really is a whole lifestyle change for both me and Adam.

The hardest parts are (not necessarily in any particular order):

1. Inconveniencing Others: Going to friends’ homes for dinner and either picking around a meal because I didn’t tell them my restrictions, or feeling like a pain for pre-telling and asking them to accommodate.  There is something so holy about “breaking bread” (ah the irony of that phrase in this post) with others.  I love the community that takes place around a shared meal.  I love being invited into others’ homes and learning about their cultures and dishes.  I feel like this impacts that, for sure, and I hate that.

2.  Others’ Reactions: Telling people and having them act like you’re on a trendy new diet.  I know a lot of people are going gluten-free now, but there’s a reason: A lot of us have bad bellies.  Gluten-free is not a diet, it’s an intolerance or allergy (or even more, if celiac is involved, a serious auto-immune issue).  I had less compassion before I became gluten-free, so I get it.  For all of you with gluten-free friends, though, don’t make light of it, and please don’t act like your friends are being a pain.  They hate it, too.

3.  Impact on my Spouse: Don’t get me wrong, Adam can eat whatever he wants, I’m not a food-dictator, but I don’t cook 2 separate meals when we’re eating at home, which means some of his faves either don’t get made anymore, or they are modified. (pesto over rice pasta ain’t the same as pesto over whole wheat pasta – and that’s the truth).  Where we go out to eat has been altered, as well.  Chinese food makes me sick consistently, and I watched Adam’s face the other night and he disappointingly ate gluten free pizza.  He hasn’t once complained, mind you, mostly because he’s amazing and a doll, but I know this has been an adjustment for him.

4.  Convenience:  Being gluten-free takes intention and planning.  We are usually really intentional and planful about food over here at Casa Buzard, but there are nights when I work super late or weekends that we didn’t get around to grocery shopping or road trips to be taken, and it’s just plain difficult with restrictions.  It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy.

5.  Snacking: My coworkers bring in food for each other a lot. And it’s good stuff; like cookies and donuts.  No more grazing.  No more “how did I eat 3 cookies today?” for me.  This one isn’t a bad one for me, as snacking has been the arch-enemy of weight loss for me for years.  But once in a blue moon, I want a cookie.  I can have one, but I have to make it myself or brave the traffic to get to Whole Foods.

6.  Love of Cooking: I love love love love love to cook.  Sometimes I make yummy food, too, if I do say so myself.  This whole food restriction thing has put a bit of a damper on my love of cooking.  It’s been harder to embrace permanent changes in my cooking.  I think that the low-carb diets were fun to embrace because I knew they were for a season, but since this is for the long-haul, I feel a little like someone punched my love of cooking square in the gut.  This week, I feel a little spring in my knives, so maybe I’m turning a corner.

7. Budget: It’s more expensive to eat gluten-free.  Even if we aren’t buying the gluten-free substitutes for carby-things, veggies, fruits, and meats almost exclusively gets pricey.  Since this has forced us to eat out differently, the food costs are probably evening out, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the financial impact this has, as well.

This post feels totally selfish, probably because it is.  It’s all about me and how food changes are affecting me.  As someone who cares deeply about justice and the environment and my brothers and sisters around the world, this seems a totally small thing.  And it really is.

I know it’s all about perspective.

1. I only have a gluten allergy, I don’t have celiac.  If I eat gluten, all I get is a really angry tummy and maybe a sick day.  I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination, and I can eat out at most restaurants.  It could be so much worse.

2.  There are people in other countries that don’t have enough food to worry whether they have a food allergy.  I really do get that.  (By the way “thank you” to that person who pointed this out to me when I told you about my allergy – But my reality is that I do have food choices and I don’t like my stomach hurting.)  I’m grateful to live in a country that has lots of food and medical care, and the ability to eat in such a way that I am well.

3.  I have options.  So many food distributors and restaurants are being sensitive to the gluten-free world.  With a little investigating and a little more cash, I can still eat most everything I’m craving.

At the end of the day, life is not bad, I am ok, and best of all, I’m feeling so much better.  I guess I just thought it was time to confess.  So, if you’re planning to ask me over for dinner, please know that I come with baggage. You know I’m always happy to help with cooking. Mostly, I just want to hang out with you, I care much more about the company than the food, but I just can’t eat some things anymore.

Summer Sippin’

It’s summer time  (I dare you to be the first nerd to point out that it’s technically still spring, dare you.  It hit mid 90’s this week, it’s summer, mmmkkkk?).

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So, back to it being summer time.  The days are hot, but the nights cool off and we often find ourselves sitting on our super fun vibe-y back porch with friends.  We have spent so many nights enjoying good conversation, laughter, wisdom, perspective, and sangria out here.  I honestly can’t think of a better twinkle light porch drink than sangria.

 

sangria 2I was first introduced to Sangria in Spain in 2008.  Adam’s parents took us on this amazing trip to Southern Spain, and we enjoyed the sights, the language, the food, the dance, and the drinks!  I mean, we got to drink pitchers of Sangria on the beach, does it get more vacation-y than that? (yeah, that’s a real picture we took on the trip).  Also, if you ever want to hear a great story about our 4th Anniversary and Sangria, ask us in person, it’s a good one.  I thought good Sangria was isolated to Spain, and then I met Ky.  And she made her family’s recipe, and I was transported back to Sevilla. I felt like I was on vacation all over again, except I was in my kitchen in St. Louis.  Thankfully she’s kind, and she shared her recipe, and I make it often, especially during summers. It’s been such a hit with friends lately, that I thought I’d share the recipe with you, so that you, too can unlock Spain wherever you are.

Ingredients:

sangria

1 bottle of white wine (I like Pinot Grigio)

1 bottle of red wine (a Cab or Shiraz is good)

1 cup Brandy

1 Liter Ginger Ale

1 cup Sugar

Fresh Fruit (I like apples, oranges, limes, lemons, and blueberries, Adam loves when I add peaches)

 

Best Practices for Sangria Making: slice up fruit, add brandy, and soak overnight.  Then, about 2 hours before consumption time, add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and chill. The brandy soaked fruit is ridiculously good.  BUT, sometimes porch sits with friends are spontaneous, and when you mix all this up and chill it for an hour, it’s still ridiculously good.

Also, if you’ll notice, we love to use some good old 2 buck Chuck (God Bless Trader Joe’s).  The Sangria is still ridiculously good, even with cheap wine, so don’t spend an arm and a leg on pricey wine, unless money is no object to you and then, I guess go for it!

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So, make a pitcher and celebrate some people you love.  

If you can, find a great porch, it makes the sangria taste even better.  Ole!

 

Food Day Friday – Baked Omelette

Adam and I are real bad at mornings – Like, dysfunctional bad.  Getting out of bed on time, getting ready in time, and successfully getting coffee and lunches together before heading out the door on time is a very real trial every day.  As you can imagine, we’re not make a nice breakfast and sit and savor it with a paper in the morning kind of people.

Breakfast is a must, but since we’re scrambling every morning to get out the door, breakfast has to be quick.  Smoothies have been the “go-to” for a few years now, but since Adam started working out in the mornings, he needs something with a little more oomph to hold him over til lunch.

So I created the baked omelette.  Every Sunday, I concoct a baked omelette and we eat that most mornings all week – unless I get smoothie inspired.  We just cut a piece and microwave it for a minute or so.  It’s not a breakfast casserole- there are no carbs involved.  It’s just eggs, veggies, cheese, and sometimes meat.  I switch up the ingredients and the toppings so we don’t get too bored with it.  We’ve been eating baked omelette for a few months now and are still happy.  So I thought I’d pass on the happiness to you!

omelette

Ingredients:

12 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup of veggies/meat (if meat is desired)

1 cup shredded cheese

Whisk eggs, add salt and pepper to taste, add veggies/meat and 1/2 of the cheese.  Pour into greased casserole dish.  Top with remaining cheese.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.  Cool and then chill.  Slice piece in the morning, heat for one minute, and top with favorite sauce/garnish.

Some of my favorite combinations are:

*  Sauteed red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers and red onion with sharp cheddar garnished with Tiger Sauce

*  Chorizo, green peppers, green onion, cilantro, and jalapenos with Monterrey Jack cheese garnished with salsa, sour cream, cilantro, green onions, and avocado

* Mushroom, caramelized onion and Swiss cheese garnished with salsa

* Bacon and spinach with Monterrey Jack cheese garnished with salsa and avocado

What combinations would you make?