Adventures in Gardening, 2010

Dr. J and I love food, love to eat, love to cook, but hate gardening!  That’s kind of a problem when you figure that the very *best* vegetables don’t come from the grocery store – they come from your garden!  We are such food snobs, in fact, that I hardly ever eat tomatoes anymore that are not garden-fresh (or organic, heirloom-y or roma types of varieties) and I’ve completely sworn off tomatoes in restaurants, as condiments, even on salads because I’ve been spoiled by many-a-year’s worth of my Mother’s garden fresh tomatoes!

Up to now we have always lived in rentals and therefore couldn’t plant anything so we have tried, year after year, to do patio tomatoes, jalapeños, and herbs and we find that they just don’t do that well.  Our patio tomato ended up producing a piddly 6 tomatoes last year and we got absolutely no jalapeños!  We’re not sure if it was the extreme heat, the move or just poor soil, but it was disappointing to say the least.  So this year we were super excited to plant our first “in-ground” garden and we are chompin’ at the bit for it to grow so we can have fresh vegetables through the summer and into the fall!  But before we even considered planting a single seed, we had to come up with a plan!

Catch some rays: Before you can even think about planting a garden, you have to determine the best location!  Most vegetables require a good amount of light (at least 6 hours worth of sunlight per day), so planting your garden in full shade on the north side of your house probably isn’t going to produce what you need.  Since our yard is super duper small, we at first thought about planting our garden on the south side of the house (which happens to be the side yard).  But after surveying the sunlight at high noon…

…we realized we just weren’t going to be able to get the kind of sunlight we needed for happy vegetables.  Since we have an HOA that takes care of the front landscaping and thus, didn’t trust the landscapers with our precious veggies, we had to look to the backyard that faces East/South.  Our measly, uber-small backyard is more or less Maggie’s personal loo, but we were willing to sacrifice some precious space for some good grub!

Rasin’ the Roof: After researching online, talking to my Mom (a stellar gardener), and from my own personal experiences of trying to grow grass in our backyard, we decided to create a “raised bed” as opposed to just roughing up the dirt.  Vegetables like loose soil and our dirt in the backyard is just that – dirt.  It’s packed pretty hard and has a lot of leftover rocks and construction debris, which are really difficult to get rid of.  So a raised bed is where it’s at!  Basically, we just took 6 landscaping timbers at 8 feet apiece, cut two of them in half, and created our own little Lincoln Log garden bed!  We were instantly taken back to first grade, albeit with bigger (and louder) tools!

Maggie, inspecting our "Lincoln logs" before we built the garden

Dr. J clearing the grass to make way for our vegetable garden

Dr. J clearing the grass before we planted our logs

Taking a few garden stakes and hammering them into the log, then straight into the ground. This will ground the "bed" so that it doesn't move!

Dr. J then screwed the top log onto the bottom log for a tight fit.

Pretty cool, huh?!

Get down and dirrrrrty: I really hate dirt.  Dirt = creepy crawlies +dirty = bad combination for a clean freak like myself.  I don’t even like long fingernails because I’m paranoid about having dirt underneath them.  Yea, totally freaky right here!  But in terms of gardening, it just had to be done.  Since we had a boatload of compost from our recent composting adventure, we spread all of it (and I mean all of it!) down as the base of our garden.

We used every last ounce of our compost to build this garden! Look at how pretty it turned out!

We admit that our compost probably wasn’t as pretty as it *could* have been, but we were still really happy with it and happy to incorporate all of that nutrient rich dirt with a half dozen bags of beautiful topsoil for the perfect “all green” fertilizer.  I couldn’t get visions of hungry bunnies and slugs out of my head, so we covered it with topsoil just to be safe. You could probably cover it with mulch (or “barkdust” as they call it here in the Pacific NW), but my mom has never mulched her vegetable garden and it’s as pretty as could be!  (Side Note:  aside from worms and slugs, our compost amazingly hasn’t attracted large critters, and the slugs and worms are just a natural part of the composting process.  However, just to be safe, we are glad we stashed the bin in the far corner of our yard).

Plant on!: So we decided to go with two tomato varieties, four broccoli plants, basil, rosemary, Italian (or flat leaf) parsley, chives, jalapeños, and bell peppers.  The two pepper plants and the chives we are starting from seeds, which we have done in the past and have never had any problems with!  The great thing about growing peppers (especially jalapeños) is that all the little critters know better than to eat them – apparently humans are the only ones dumb enough to nosh on those hot babies – ha ha!

The pots hold basil and chives and the remaining veggies and herbs are in the bed.

The best part of this project is that, while the whole thing cost us around $100 for all of the plant life, soil, and the building materials, we will be able to enjoy this garden year after year!  Since we planted, we have been getting tons of rain out here, which just goes to show that our timing was perfect!  Now all we have to do is wait until July-August timeframe to start harvesting….not that we (or Maggie) are counting the days or anything ;-).

The Magsters can't wait for August either!

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Drink, Drank, Drunk…

Let’s file this one under more ways to consume alcohol than you probably needed to know..

After a long day spent driving from the in-laws house in Washington State, J & I returned home on Sunday evening craving a “drink”.  My summertime poison has been a good old-fashioned Mojito (Rum, Mint, Lime, sugar, and top it off with some Club Soda).  It’s essentially the Caribbean version of a Mint Julep minus the Club Soda.  So anyway, after a weekend spent away, we returned home to NO lime and NO mint!  Tragic!  So now what do we do??

My friends, necessity is the mother of all invention – and when you *need* a drink you can get pretty darn inventive, especially if you *really* don’t want to go to the grocery store!  After a quick scan of the refrigerator, we noticed that we had a bowl full of lemons and this:

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The world’s largest tub of Basil.  Lemons….Basil….hrmmm….did you know that Basil and Mint are related?  And Basil and Lemon go together like PB&J.  I believe it’s happy hour!!!

J&L’s Basil-Lemon Mojito (measurements are approximate)

First off, tear your Basil leaves and throw them into your glass.  It should come about halfway up your glass:

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Then top it off with 1-2 teaspoons of sugar.  We happened to use Sugar in the Raw, but you could use any Sugar you have on hand (minus Confectioner’s Sugar):

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Then MASH!  Do the Monster Mash….and don’t go gettin’ all fancy-pants on me and use a muddler – the back of a wooden spoon will do just fine!

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Don’t kill the basil, but the idea is to release the flavors and juices using the sugar as an “abrasive”.  You should get a little “paste” that looks a bit like this:

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Add your lemon juice – and, yes, we used *real* lemon juice.  Basically, you need one half of a lemon for a small glass and probably one whole lemon for a larger glass.  Fill up your glass with ice.  Crushed is better than whole, but since we don’t have an ice dispenser, we just went with whole.  Then YO HO, it’s time for RUM!  J’s rum of choice is Bacardi 8 year dark rum.  It’s not a higher alcohol content, but it has a better taste.  Take this from somebody who has actually visited the Bacardi factory in San Juan and was of drinking age at the time (certainly not me!).  Fill it up about halfway:

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Give it a stir (or a shake if you’re using a shaker) and then top it all off with Club Soda:

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So what’s the verdict?  Well, I had two and J is convinced that he will be having *these* from now on as opposed to the Mint Mojitos.  I think they are a curious and interesting alternative, to be sure!  Give it a shot – Tell’Us what you think!

The Best $3 you will ever spend!

Do you remember these?

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I know, what’s so exceptional about a $3 ice cube tray??  But I’m here to tell ya that there is waaaay more to an ice cube tray than simply just frozen H20.  What’s sad is that they’re actually relatively hard to find nowadays – you used to be able to just run into a grocery store and find them all over the place, but now that everybody has ice-machines, they’ve kind of gone the way of the Dodo Bird (or the Triceratops…whichever you prefer!).  But I want to show you one of my favorite ways to use an ice cube tray and I’m out to show that they really are the best bargain out there in so many different ways.

Coffee!  I love it, and I always have leftovers every morning.  Why throw it away?  And if you’re like me (or Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction), you always buy the good stuff.  So take your leftover coffee and freeze it into ice cubes (wait for it, I’ve got a recipe, but people also like pics, so here’s a little shot of what I’m talkin’ about):

Pre-Pour (and, yes, I make French Press – I can’t use a Coffee Pot to save my life):

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Post-Pour and ready for some Freezer-burn.

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Waste not, want not, right?  Freeze your little ice cubes and then store them in a bag for later use.  Howwwww do we use it?  I’ll show ya:

L’s Frap-o-cheap-o Coffee

  • About 1 cup of frozen Coffee Cubes
  • 1 cup of milk product (or creamer, Soy Milk, Half n’ Half)
  • Sweeten to taste with Confectioner’s Sugar or if you’re feelin’ fancy and have all the time in the world, then use Simple Syrup**

Frappe in your handy-dandy blender, serve immediately.  (And you can thank me later when you start saving $3 for every time you have a Frappuccino-attack from Starbucks).

**Simple Syrup

  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Cup water
  • Optional: Flavorings (like Vanilla, Hazlenut, Almond, Cinnamon, Cocoa, the sky’s the limit!  Rather, your favorite coffee flavor is the limit)

Bring to a boil, dissolve sugar, set aside.

This is just the *basic* recipe, but you could switch it up  and add Caramel, even Cocoa Powder, or, heck, if you take your joe black, then skip the sweetener altogether, though you do still need a liquid, so milk is a must!  And the bonus point is that when the coffee cubes melt, they don’t water down your drink – score!

So, do it!  Go out and buy an ice cube tray and start making your own icy drinks.  Though, admittedly, now it’s starting to get cool and it’s really not the best time, but stock-pile this idea away for a hot day.  How else do I use it?

  • Create fun cocktail ice cubes (H2O with citrus zest, fruit juices – how incredibly good would a Cosmo be with a Cranberry Juice Ice cube, huh?).  Remember, though, unless you have Liquid Nitrogen sitting around, there really isn’t a very good way to freeze alcohol.
  • On the topic of drinks – any liquid will do – teas, fruit juices, Coca-Cola, etc.  I’m not a big fan of H2O ice in my drinks (what can I say, I agree with the Europeans) mostly because it waters down the flavor of your drink, so pick your poison and freeze’er up.
  • Though I wouldn’t normally recommend this – you can actually freeze leftover wine, too! Toss the cubes into a Sangria or to cook with later for de-glazing dishes.  Wine is a *terrible* thing to waste, though I wouldn’t recommend “drinking” said cubes.
  • I cook a lot with Chipotles in Adobo, but they come in cans and then I’m left with chipotle cans sitting in my refrigerator for months until I whip up another batch of Chili.  Separate the chipotles and a wee bit of sauce and then freeze them and store in a bag.  When it’s time to cook with them, just chop up the “Chipotle Cube”.  Not only is it easy to cut, but it won’t stain your cutting board and leave Adobo sauce on your hands!
  • Too much Basil in your garden?  Whip up gobs of Pesto, freeze in small ice cube portions, and then store for later.  It’s so easy to put on Pasta, Baked Potatoes, Salad Dressings, etc, etc.  And the best part is?  You can have garden fresh Pesto year round!

Any other fun uses for ice cube trays?  It’s a little unsung hero in your kitchen and if you don’t own one, it’s worth the $3 to go out and buy one!  We can’t resurrect the Dodo Bird, but we can resurrect an Ice Cube Tray!

Home Discovery: Blackberry Bush!

Hello, Readers! We are still writing and updating about our new (to us) house. I actually completed my first full week living here and I have many aches, pains, bruises, and pricks to prove it! Keep reading and sending us comments and let us know how we can improve the website and what we might be missing. I am in the process of developing a new site through iWeb (a Mac-based program) and I’m hoping to research some new websites to see who might be the most user-friendly so that we can have more functionality on our blog. Keep checking back for updates as we will be updating often!

But back to our home’s tastiest discovery; a blackberry bush over the fence! We have a fence that separates our property from the school behind us and we found a blackberry bush was gently dropping berries on our property – finders keepers! Here’s a view of one half of our yard with the blackberry bush on the right growing over the fence:


So while Mom was in town last week, we went out to pick a few berries to have for dessert and, OUCH! We found out they are worse than rose bushes when it comes to pricklies! I guess that explains why they are so expensive in the store – hrmmm…. So our Blackberry bush discovery became both a happy accident and a massive pest, all at the same time! Yet another trivial nuance about the Pacific Northwest – berries grow like weeds out here! There is something about our very acidic and volcanic soil which they absolutely love and so we have every berry varietal known to man growing wild (and cultivated) our here: blackberries, boysenberries, raspberries, black raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, marionberries, huckleberries, berries eeeeeverywhere! Here’s a close up view of our blackberry bush:


But back to this blackberry nuisance. One of the best parts of our property is actually a tree that is just on the other side of our property that grows shady over our backyard. It’s great for privacy and it’s big and leafy and green, so it’s really great for eating breakfast outside in the morning as it covers up most of our Eastern sun – score! So when we started picking these blackberries, we noticed that this blackberry had literally “infested” the bottom of this tree with its stickers and prickers! My Mom, being a wonderful gardener, told us that if we don’t take care of it, the Blackberry will suffocate the tree and it will die – oh, no! So it was either the shady tree or the blackberries. Not to mention all of those blackberries were coming out the Magsters (our dog) on the other end – yuck! So we spent most of the day Friday clearing out blackberry bush and trimming back overgrown ivy, which was weeding its way under our fence and up our evergreen trees – never a good sign. We also cleaned up our backyard of construction debris (yes, 4 years later!), and began the painful process of weed pulling and Round Up treatments. Here’s a little in-process photo:

But what about those pesky (yet tasty) blackberries?


Well, not to be deterred, I sat down outside with garden gloves, tongs, scissors, and a bag filled with blackberry branches and picked myself about 3.5 cups worth of Pacific Northwest Oregon blackberries, all for free! Gotta love livin’ off the land! I looked up on FoodNetwork.com a couple of Blackberry Pie recipes until I sort of combined a few aspects of several different recipes to create one that would work with the ingredients I had because I’m lazy and didn’t feel like running to the store. So here’s basically what I came up with:

L’s Better-than-Store-Bought Blackberry pie!

(Yes, it’s a smily face – ha ha!)

Crust:
You can certainly make your own or take a little help from the store like I did 😉

1 Package, Pillsbury Pie Crusts (Freezer Section)
1 egg + splash of water for the crust

Filling:
3.5 cups, Fresh Blackberries (stickers optional!)
1/2 cup, Sugar (I used raw cane sugar and it tasted great!)
1/4 cup flour
Juice of 3/4 of a fresh lemon (I swear by using fresh if you’ve got it)
Dash of Cinnamon
Couple of Pinches of Nutmeg (from the nut, never pre-ground – oh, it’s SOOO good)

Follow the Pie Crust instructions for defrosting. Once defrosted, roll out and place 1 crust in your pie dish. Pinch the sides together so that you have no extra crust.

For the filling. Wash your blackberries and remove any stickers that might be straying. Put them in a bowl and combine with remaining ingredients. Gently mix (I would recommend using a plastic or silicone spatula for this technique – and go slow or you’ll have blackberry blood all over you! Don’t use a wood spoon – it will stain!). Pour the blackberry mixture into your pie dish and spread evenly.

Place the remaining pie crust over the blackberry mixture and create slits in the top (smily face is optional). Be sure to pinch off the sides as well to get a good seal on the crust. Brush on the egg mixture as best you can and then wrap the sides of the pie dish/crust with tin foil, place on a cookie sheet, and bake! I set my oven for about 375 and it was in the oven for about 40-45 minutes. After about 20 minutes of baking, remove the tin foil and continue to bake until the crust is a golden sunshine-y color. Enjoy!

I’ll be the first to admit, the pie didn’t last 24 hours! It was so good, in fact, that Mom called my dad on the East Coast at midnight to tell him how good it was. Mmmmm…..


So there ya have it! We’re still discovering and enjoying many things about our new home. It’s all an adventure, we hope you stay tuned for the journey!

xoxo,
J&L