December 16, 2010

I've done it again...

Where am I? What is happening with the garden? Why am I not posting?

Well, kids..

It all happened one fateful day in August when I found out this mother of one will become a mother of two. My rapidly expanding uterus combined with gross-out hormones raging through my body forced me inside rather than out, preventing any productivity in the garden. My husband took over some of the harvesting but it was too little, too late. The plants suffered greatly, the garden was overrun by weeds. In October, I even tried to go out and pull up the remains with limited success. There are now withered tomato plants buried under inches of snow. I hate to think of all the volunteer tomato plants I'll be pulling up next year.

Speaking of next year..

The newcomer is sure to arrive by the first of April. Planting a full-scale garden and taking care of a newborn does not seem to go hand-in-hand. My husband I both decided to plant what we are calling a Salsa Garden. A few tomato plants, pepper plants, onions, and basil. If we're feeling adventurous, maybe a block of corn, a pumpkin or melon. But seriously, that's it. No more cramming 14 tomatoes in two rows and planting bush beans when you only get to harvest enough for maybe one canned jar.

2011 will be a practical year.

July 11, 2010


The garden has seen exponential growth during the month of June. Good rains and warm sunshine boosted the warm-loving plants and bolted the rest. The paths are overrun with weeds: the mulch has mysteriously disappeared and my neglect for various reasons have not helped. The eggplant and potatoes are being devestated by flea beetles and I'm starting to notice aphids on the tomato plants. Ladybugs, where are you??

I've had a few nice harvests along the way. The only one I didn't capture on film are the Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes: the first, second, and third ripe ones were eaten in the garden.

May 5: Cilantro

May 15: Purple Plum Radishes

June 3: Five Color Silverbeet Swiss Chard

June 7: Strawberries from Waterman's Market (hand-picked)

July 3: Royal Purple and Contender Bush Beans

July 10: Costata Romanesca Zucchini, Delikatesse Cucumbers, Bush Beans, Odessa Market Peppers

June 3, 2010


Five Color Silverbeet in the garden

and ready to eat for dinner!

To prep chard, fold in half and cut the leaf away from the stalk. I like to chop the stalks up like celery and throw them in the pan to soften before the greens. LOTS of good vitamins: A, C, E, and K as well as B complexes including folate. Chard is usually cooked like other dark leafy "greens", sauteed with onions and garlic. I've also used it in place of lettuce on sandwiches; it's just a touch chewier. If you aren't growing it, it should be available in the markets from June to August.

May 21, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Spring Green Risotto

The Barefoot Bloggers have some kind of nerve. Last month, just as my husband and I vowed abstinence from carbs, two cookie recipes were posted! Normally, I would have made them (and devoured them), but I made a promise to my husband and myself - NO MORE CARBS!!!

Then, just like that, May recipes are posted...Risotto. Damn.

Instead of making it the main dish, it became a side dish for our boneless, skinless, boring chicken breast. The arborio rice was also out. I searched the grocery store for a short grain brown rice to no avail. I settled for the brown version of sushi rice, a medium grain. Besides, it's a two-fer. Now experimentation with brown rice sushi can begin!

The problem with brown rice is that darn bran, the healthy part. White rice is stripped of the bran, therefore more readily gives up all those delicious starches. And starch makes for a creamy risotto. So I stirred and stirred. For an hour I stirred that rice into submission. I even have the blister to prove it.

A few minor substitutions were necessary, besides the rice. I replaced the wine with chicken broth. Cream cheese was substituted for mascarpone. White asparagus was the only variety available at the store. And I cheated - cooking the asparagus and peas WITH the rice instead of blanching separately.

The first picture shows the risotto process first starting. The rice has not absorbed the chicken stock nor released any starch. The second, the rice is plump and there is a thicker consistency to the stock.

I want to love risotto. This version was better than my previous attempt by a mile. The problem is that I always except far more creaminess than actually exists, and when there is still a bite to the rice, I'm put off. It's a texture thang. Plus, the peas weren't fully cooked and soft (cheats never work), so that added another texture issue. My tot loved it. I liked it. My husband would be fine never eating it again. The recipe is a good one, regardless of aforementioned indiscretions.

May 18, 2010

C'mon Big Red!

I'm so proud I was able to accomplish everything on my list over the weekend. Well, truth be told I didn't go fishing. None of us did for fear of the brutal thunderstorms looming on the radar. The only fishing I did that night was fertilize the tomatoes with fish emulsion. As expected with Indiana weather, the rest of the night turned out to be beautiful with nary a raindrop fall.

I only transplanted six of the tomatoes: Matt's Wild Cherry, Green Doctors, Depp's Pink Firefly, Indian Stripe, Kellogg's Breakfast, and Big Beef. They survived a week's worth of hardening off, along with all six of the Odessa Market bell peppers. The problem lies with the others. Not only their leaves but the stems were damaged during hardening off. I left them outside overnight and perhaps watered too infrequently while I was away from home. One is an Indiana Red that I've been anxiously waiting to grow out and taste. Here are a few pictures of the damage.

There are a few developing suckers (one which you can see well in the last photo) that I will grow out to help it develop foliage and better roots. Maybe it's salvageable?

The tomatoes weren't the only plants affected. While the bell peppers have tolerated my negligence with grace, the hot peppers have been a bit nasty. The white habaneros dropped all but four of their leaves and the black pearl has been turning, well, almost purplish-black. They are now back under the lights following a good dose of fish emulsion. Not a one has died and all are sprouting new leaves.

May 15, 2010

Before The Rain


Top Row: 3 year-old Weigela, Newly planted Dahlia, Newly transplanted Matt's Wild Cherry tomato
Middle: Pea, Boxed in garden, Purple Plum radish harvest
Bottom: Newly transplanted Odessa Market bell pepper, New birdhouse, Rocky Top lettuce mix.

Very successful day in the garden! I accomplished all the tasks mentioned in the post below with the help of my husband. All before a big nasty rainstorm approached central Indiana.

The time is right to plant, in my opinion. It will be cloudy and overcast the next 3-4 days, nighttime temperatures will remain in the mid-50s, and rainshowers are expected! I didn't want them to burn up under the hot sun. Only time will tell if I did the right thing. I still have half of the tomatoes left under my lights - they aren't fairing too well. I may pot up those and give them another week or so, along with the hot peppers and eggplant.

The Plan

1. Box in the garden.
2. Plant half the tomatoes & bell peppers.
3. Sow beans, cucumbers, zucchini, and basil.
4. Harvest radishes.
5. Sow more carrots.
6. Plant flowers in the planters & bed in the front.
7. Go fishing!

May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

What a wonderful day it has been. I was woken by my husband and son after a peaceful night's sleep. They came bearing gifts that, while unnecessary, were thoughtful and generous. The three of us have since spent the day together eating a delightful breakfast, shopping, and playing in the park under partly cloudy skies. I do believe I'm just about the luckiest woman alive.

If the weather was warmer, I would spend the afternoon in the garden enjoying its tranquility. Temperatures just above freezing tonight keep me from putting the tomatoes in the ground. My only task right now is weeding, but that too can be oddly therapeutic.

Happy Mother's Day to every mother out there. Keep up the good work of teaching our children many things, but most importantly honesty, respect, and patience.

April 18, 2010

Hairy Legs & Fireflies

Close-up of the Indiana Red. She's a hairy one! The others have fuzz, but not like this. Wonder if it means anything?

One tomato plant is not like the others. The Depp's Pink Firefly has a very different leaf formation. I'm guessing it's a potato-leaf variety.

April 17, 2010


Last weekend, I spent an hour transplanting the rest of my seedlings. I had already repotted my bell peppers, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and thyme. They have been doing great! In fact, they spend several hours outside, taking advantage of these warm and sunny days. The tomatoes and hot peppers had started to look affected by their compact quarters. I think they've appreciated the upgrade.

I went the cheap route and used plastic 16oz party cups. I filled with an unmeasured mixture of potting soil and peat. And, I even remembered to poke holes in the bottom! After separating the roots, I used Craig's method of pushing them down into the soil. It was quick and easy. Then I watered and left them in filtered sunlight for the rest of the afternoon. They are all now looking healthy, have good growth with more leaves. I have lost one tomato, Costoluto Genovese. I have two cups that apparently skipped the marking we'll see what becomes of those!

Speaking of the bell peppers, there are six Odessa Markets that are looking healthy and happy! I noticed three of them have started a flower bud. Thinking I should pinch it off, giving more energy to root growth and foliage. They aren't going in the ground for at least another two weeks, so it would be a waste of an unpollinated flower.

April 13, 2010

What's Happening

Things have been moving right along here in the victory garden. The onions have been moved into their permanent home, alongside sowings of Swiss chard, radish, and spinach. All tomatoes have been upgraded to roomier accommodations under the lights along with the hot peppers. I even threw down some grass seed and soil, hoping to reduce the blinding bareness of the backyard.

As a side note, I've been reviewing the self-made videos of Craig LeHoullier. The man lives and breathes tomatoes. He was responsible for bringing Cherokee Purple to Seed Savers Exchange, a tomato which is now extremely popular at Farmer's Markets around the country. He demonstrates a dense seed sowing method and how to transplant young seedlings. Although I will never (at least not now!) require as many tomatoes as Craig is planting, I did enjoy using his thumb method for my transplants this weekend. Please support his blog @ nctomatoman.

April 7, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

Making yogurt at home is incredibly easy and requires minimal supplies. Today, I tasted my first batch and it was delicious. Helping me along was Dr. Fankhauser. I varied the procedure a bit.

8 Half-Pint Jars
2 Stockpots
Measuring Cup
Kitchen Thermometer

1/2-gallon Milk
Plain Yogurt

Seriously, this is easy. I cut the original recipe in half and used smaller jars.

First, sterilize your canning jars. I do not have a dishwasher, so I use the old-fashioned method of boiling the crap out of them. I do this in a very LARGE (worried it will break the ceramic stovetop one day) pressure canner.

Next, pour milk into stockpot and slowly bring it to 190 degrees. Immediately place it into a sink of cold water. Cool to 130 degrees.

Place a half cup of the cooled milk in a measuring cup. Add enough yogurt to make one cup. Stir to completely blend.

Add this mixture slowly to the cooled milk and stir to blend well.

Pour evenly amongst sterilized half-pint jars. Add lid and ring. I left very little headspace in mine. Place jars back back into the pot you sterilized your jars in. I wrapped a towel around them to help insulate. Place the whole pot in the oven with the light on. The light provides enough warmth for the GOOD bacteria to grow, we cooked the milk to kill the BAD bacteria.

Allow this to sit for about 12 hours and you will have delicious yogurt!

March 31, 2010

2 Day Spring Break

Adult spring breaks come in short little bursts of beautiful weather. These are our only chances to get out of the office and back under the warm sun. The past two days have been just that. Gorgeous clear, sunny skies that make all the tree buds pop open and flowers awaken, forcing even the most antisocial-ites outside to enjoy the weather.

Projects are in the works for landscaping the backyard. Most are small projects. I want to create two flower boxes and one raised area to plant blueberries. Then we'll dig up two woody bushes in the front yard and replace the area with hostas and indigenous wildflowers. I told my husband to leave the backyard to's my domain. There's also completely reseeding the dog area. The ex-dog (we had to divorce her, it was a bad relationship) destroyed it with all her pacing. It'll be a project, that's for sure.

Speaking of the hubs...I would have had pictures of everything to share with you, but he took off on a scooter ride and took the camera. I'm sure it'll be worth it. His videos and pictures are always great!

March 20, 2010

In The Garden

Oh how wonderful it felt to be out in the garden, even if it was only to complete a few tasks. The weather was warm, still the wind was a sharp reminder of March. I'm convinced that spring is here, in her infancy.

When I set out to the garden, my goals were to turn the soil and plant peas, radish, and spinach. I also took the onions out to acclimate them to their new environment. Once I stepped foot into the garden, I realized the soil conditions had changed. It went from a nice loamy texture to hard, wet clay. It rained for a few days prior and the dog had been running around, leaving mud-molded paw prints behind.

With a little effort, I was able to turn a row. By the fence, I noticed that the soil remained that loamy soil from before the rain. The sun always hits this side first, helping it to dry out faster. Easily, I turned this soil and prepared it for the peas. I spaced them about 4" apart in a long row. I decided not to sow the other seeds, dut to unfavorable soil conditions. We're expecting another rain now, so the next dry spell I'll go out and start again.

The onions did well outside for two days. It will be a few more before they return; I have to work. I bought potting soil and perlite at the store, ready to pot-up the peppers and herbs as they are setting their third set of leaves. I have lots of pepper plants. I hate to cull them. If I have room, I will pot-up and either give them away or sell them. But that's for another day, during nap-time.

I've also been busy changing the look of the website, adding new products to My Happy Kitchen and also adding a My Happy Kitchen facebook fan page. So many things to do and simply no time with a little tot running around. Then again, I wouldn't trade that for the world.

March 13, 2010

March 11, 2010

Barefoot Bloggers - Individual Meat Loaves

It feels good to be back with the Barefoot Bloggers. It allows me a(nother) good reason to make really great dishes from one of my faves: Ina Garten. Like I've said before, she writes recipes that are simple yet exquisite, often infusing French cuisine a la Julia Child. Today was anything but French. No wine, no butter, no herbes de Provence. Only good All-American food. Here's my tale of the mini meatloaf.

Recipe: Individual Meat Loaves

The first thing I thought about changing with this recipe was the meat. Friends at work have been raving about a turkey meatloaf which I've been meaning to try. However, after two straight nights of chicken, I was ready for something heartier. Ground sirloin certainly made it a leaner meatloaf, much better than the chuck I've used in the past. I cut back to two pounds for a total of four mini loaves.

Ina explicitly instructs the cook to soften the onions without any browning. I disagree. A bit of carmelization I feel is necessary to bring out the natural sugars and add a touch of sweetness to the meat, which the ketchup on top mimics. I also didn't have any fresh thyme to add, it's still in the seedling stage under grow lights. Instead, I utilized the pesto I made in the fall with ALL that basil. The rest went together as written and cooked in 40 minutes flat.

I made a side of redskin buttermilk mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts with shallot and balsamic vinegar. The meatloaf had a nice texture and held together well. There was little fat, yet remained moist even around the edges. My husband has expressed his pleasure with the meal, repeatedly. It's definitely one of the better meat loaves I've made.

There were these light green roses at the entrance to the grocery store today. I couldn't resist. They lift my mood everytime I walk by. Spring is in the air around here.

March 9, 2010

First Bloom

How delightful this early March weather has been! Mild, sunny, and just warm enough for my bulbs to send up their leaves. Today, while I was out playing with the tot, I noticed three bright yellow crocuses were awake, bowing their delicate heads towards us as if to say 'hello'.

I once read that when the first bloom appears in Spring, peas should be planted in the ground. The garden is not quite ready and rain will be hitting the area hard all week. My goal is by St. Patrick's Day. Along with the peas, I will sow chard, lettuce, beets, radishes, and bok choy along with setting out the already started onions.

Here's todays list of started seeds!

Matt's Wild Cherry(OP)
Green Doctors(OP)
Depp's Pink Firefly(OP)
Indian Stripe(OP)
Indiana Red(OP)
Granny Cantrell(OP)
Kellogg's Breakfast(OP)
Costoluto Genovese(OP)
Big Beef Beefsteak(F1)

Eggplant, Rosa Bianca

Hungarian Paprika

March 3, 2010

Mapped Out

It's funny how the old-school shit just works better.

I've been using online garden planning software over and over again to figure out what exactly is going where this spring. Tonight, after many frustrated attempts, I purchased plain ol' graph paper. In a matter of a few hours, the entire thing was drawn. I've made more room for tomatoes (12, if not 14), created succession/companion plantings, and confirmed that bush beans DO have a spot in the 2010 victory garden! Potatoes will be placed in bins along the south side of the house and herbs, except basil, will be kept in containers on the deck.

I've yet to figure out where to place the peas this spring. Maybe in the middle of the garden where the tomatoes will go...? A fall garden needs to be planned, too. I'd like to include cauliflower and broccoli. Again, maybe start seed between tomatoes to provide protection during the hot weather and as they grow, the tomatoes will be dying off. Or not. Timing is everything.

February 23, 2010

Seedling Setup

One of my biggest failures last year revolved around seedling maintenance. Although I improved the situation over the prior year's South-facing window with a florescent shop light above the refrigerator, there simply wasn't enough room to grow everything out and maintain a close light-to-seed proximity. This year, I decided to buy a shelving unit and place a shop light on each shelf, allowing more lighting height flexibility and definitely more room. Following my husband's advice, I placed it in the laundry room. Not only does it fit beautifully, it always stays warmer than the rest of the house, and it is tucked away from the prying hands of a toddler. I have one more light to add for now, then more will be added as needed.

I started pepper and herb seeds a few weeks ago, February 13th to be exact. Dates next to variety are the date they germinated.

Odessa Market (Bell), 2/23
Dragon's Claw (Hot), 2/21
White Habanero (Hot), 2/21
Black Pearl (Hot), 2/21
Thyme, 2/18
Rosemary, 2/22
Cilantro, 2/22
Parsley, 2/23

The onions seem to be doing well. I was concerned for a bit because the tips were browning and curling up. I thought perhaps I kept them too close to the light or over fertilized them, although I only used a very dilute fish emulsion solution. They have all put forth another leaf (if that's what you call them) and appear vigorous. I have not fertilized them again. I've read to keep them snipped to 3-4 inches to promote better root growth. They'll be due for a haircut soon.

February 12, 2010

This is what I do on a cold snow day...

...make bread. For a long time, this Farmhouse White (as it's called by Susan of A Year in Bread), was my go-to, daily bread. It's a hefty dough, using almost eleven cups of flour. I'm always worried the Kitchen Aid won't be able to withstand the stress, as it whines and moans with each turn of the dough hook. The reward is great - three wonderful loaves of sliceable bread. Somewhere along the way I strayed, finding myself in search of greener pastures. And while those adventures were wonderful, here I am again, yearning for an old staple. Here is my interpration of a classic.


All-Purpose Flour, 566 grams, or about 4 cups
Yeast, 2 TBSP
Sugar, 2 TBSP
Olive Oil, 2 TBSP
Milk, 4 cups
Bread Flour, 825 grams, or about 6 cups
Salt, 1 1/2 TBSP

Oh, did I mention we're going old school today? By hand, folks!! Mix the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Add olive oil and warmed milk, creating a very wet mixture.

Slowly add in the bread flour, about one cup at a time. I used about 4 1/2 cups, since I tend to add a lot when kneading. The result should be slightly sticky. Turn out onto well-floured surface and begin to knead, adding extra flour to prevent sticking.

Once the dough becomes smooth, place bowl back over dough to rest and autolyse. After twenty minutes, remove the bowl. It should be springy and hold an indentation. Pat the dough out and begin incorporating the salt by sprinking it on throughout a second knead.

Once dough is once again soft and supple, place into your well-floured dough bowl and sprinkle with flour. Cover with a damp kitchen towel. Wait until doubled. I place mine on the stovetop and set the oven to "warm", which keeps my dough at about 75 degrees Farenheight.

Once doubled, cut into three even portions and shape into loaves. I only have two loaf pans, so I saved the extra for another time. Place in a preheated oven at 375F for about 35 minutes. Immediately remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Then wait. Wait for about an hour to slice, if you can stand it. It'll be worth every minute!

**Submitted to YeastSpotting.

February 10, 2010

My Happy Kitchen

Please check out my online store if you haven't done so already. I've made a few items available for purchase, such as these very soft, very organic dishcloths.

Aprons, potholders, and kitchen curtains to be added soon!

February 6, 2010

Onions in Winter

Snow fell again yesterday. Big, thick, wet flakes accumulated on the ground, about four inches or so. Not nearly as much as my good friends in the D.C. area, 27 inches of snow!! I'm completely satisfied with my four. There was plenty of wind, too. It drifted snow up against our cars and carved out snow in beautiful shapes around other areas. I finished knitting a pair of mittens for my little one so we could get our play on!

Unaware of freezing temperatures outside, the onion seeds I started February 2nd sprouted up from within their little cells. I don't have the shelving and light setup for my seedlings. I'm using the old setup on top of the fridge for now. Finally a start to the gardening season.