Welcome to our garden

It’s hard to believe that just one year ago, we were completely immersed in a rehab and preparing to move — whew!  In contrast to the spring of 2016, we’ve spent the spring of 2017 turning the yard at our new house into a garden to rival our old commuter garden.

Speaking of the old garden, it is more or less finished.  Matthew had considered continuing to use that land for low maintenance, high space needs crops, like winter squash.  For better or worse, the municipality where our commuter garden was located — let’s call it Jerkwood — squashed that plan when they decided that the chicken wire fence that kept rabbits out of the garden for YEARS was no longer acceptable.  No affordable rabbit prevention = no garden.  I started a longer post dedicated to the subject last fall, but at this point, it’s probably best to let it go . . .

. . . so here we are with our very own backyard garden!

After a few years of helping with the commuter garden, I’d largely removed myself from the garden scene — the all day Saturdays, especially in the heat of the summer, were just not working for me.  Matthew has done the majority of the work to date in our new space, but with a bit more free time now that my classes are over for the year, plus the incentive provided by the harvest, the garden is sucking me in, bit by bit.

Kale yeah!

Turns out that weeds threatening to choke out my beloved cilantro (and other yummy plants) are great motivation to weed!  Also, weeding is strangely satisfying (though having less of them to remove will also be quite satisfying).

Gabriel’s garden

Gabriel has his very own 4×4 plot.  He is most excited about his beloved ground cherries (not yet planted in the above pic).  Matthew wisely suggested radishes for a quick spring win, and Gabriel was very proud to contribute his radish harvest to our meals.

After a misguided attempt to have grass paths in between the beds (too much work!), we’ve reverted to our coffee bean bag pathways.  I’m interested in trying a biodegradable weed barrier that I read about in Mother Earth News (like this).  I assumed that it would be prohibitively expensive for the amount we’d need, but for a little over $100, we could cover almost all of our vegetable beds, and if it works, that would be money well spent!

Currently harvesting

  • Kale (a few different varieties — Red Russian is my fave!)
  • Spinach
  • Cilantro (a little bit — would love to have more)
  • A few strawberries
  • Garlic scapes
  • Lettuce
  • Arugula
  • Artichokes
  • Turnips (we like the sweet haikuri variety)
  • Rhubarb

Each of the beds is 4′ x 30′, and there are twenty-seven vegetable beds.

Coming soon (or soonish)

  • Sugar snap peas
  • Snow peas
  • Swiss chard
  • Fennel
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Broccoli and other cruciferous (if they don’t get too grumpy in the heat)

In the ground for summer harvest

  • Garlic (planted last fall)
  • Tomatoes — lots of varieties
  • Sweet peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Potatoes
  • Corn
  • Green beans
  • Basil
  • Cucumbers
  • Summer squash
  • Edamame

In the ground for fall harvest

  • Celeriac
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Peanuts

. . . and probably more than a few things I’m forgetting!  We also have blackberries, red raspberries, and black raspberries planted, plus a bunch of baby fruit trees and blueberry bushes.  The trees won’t yield much this year (and I think we’re supposed to remove any fruit that sets so the trees can put their energy into general growth), but they’ll be fun in years to come!

Stay tuned for more garden posts!

Just when you think you’ve hit your groove

My first year of being a non-traditional student was less than typical, as it started with a child recovering from a serious injury and ended with a home purchase and renovation — not for the faint of heart!  I was looking forward to a calmer round this academic year, and Fall 2016 delivered in some ways, though it was complicated by getting used to new routines with Gabriel starting kindergarten.

I thought the fall routine was tricky, but this semester was more so, as I scrambled to rearrange things to get to a class that started at the same time as my child’s school and to meet the requirements of my practicum course.  Lots of running to and fro, and more of it than I would like to far-flung suburban destinations.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my classmates, who does not have children, but is around young kids a decent bit, commented that she doesn’t know how I do it — kid, school, etc.  Her comment echoed the thought that has gone through my head almost every Monday and Wednesday morning at 8:55am this semester, when I am somehow, miraculously, in class on time, with my assignment to hand in, having orchestrated my own and a five-year-old’s morning, including dressing, eating a wholesome breakfast, and packing lunches and snacks.  Add on the bike ride, and it feels like I’ve completed an Olympic event before I sit down for class — I don’t know how I do it week after week, either, but here I am!

Big Blue helps schlepp props for a class presentation

The above circus would not be possible (or would, at least, be more complicated and expensive) without some help getting G to school: my FIL faithfully showing up for a Monday morning breakfast date and school drop-off, and Matthew taking Wednesday morning school duty.  Meanwhile, my MIL and the handy-dandy school bus have helped free up some time in the afternoons.

After tomorrow morning’s exam (extra fun because it starts at 8:00am, an hour earlier than the regular class start time), I’ll be two-thirds of the way through the school part of this journey.  This second year, more than the first year, the doubts are rearing their heads — Was this the right choice, or was I too hasty? A responsible use of my time? A responsible financial choice? Worth going into debt for? Will I find a job a want? With an acceptable commute?  And on and on.  The answer, of course, remains to be seen . . . .

Diving into the deep freeze

Our chest-style deep freezer was overdue for a defrosting and inventory check, so I’d been keeping my eye on the forecast, hoping for (while also dreading) one more really cold day so the freezer contents could chill outside while I tackled the frost.  I had to wait awhile, given the unseasonably warm winter, but I finally got my chance last Thursday (note to the weather, thanks for the cold day; now bring on spring!).

I unplugged the freezer and hauled all of the food up the basement stairs and out the back door.  Once empty, I attacked the frost with a plastic dust pan (note to self: a windshield ice scraper would be a good tool here).  The freezer has a drain opening, but the freezer is not located particularly close to the floor drain in the basement, so instead of letting the ice melt, I chipped it off and then scooped it into a 5-gallon bucket.  (Note: Apparently the manufacturer does NOT recommend my “chipping the ice off” method, but I was careful — using plastic, and not metal, to scrape — and this method was so much faster than letting it all melt that it’s probably what I’ll do in the future.)


My method proved relatively speedy and efficient, and next thing I knew, I was plugging the freezer in again.  By this time, I was overdue for my morning snack, and I was sorely tempted to just throw all of the food back into the freezer, but I took the time to inventory the contents of the various cloth bags and pillow cases that we use to “organize” (ha!) the food, knowing I would thank myself later.


Our freezer is not a huge, “there’s definitely a dead body in there” size, but at 15 cubic feet, it’s fairly big, and having a list helps us make the most of our frozen food: using the oldest food first, planning meals around items that we have in large quantities, and avoiding food waste.


We use a high-tech organizational system involving a large white board and a variety of “bags” (which include extra canvas bags, old pillow cases, and anything else sturdy and bag-like we can find) to keep track of what we have where in the freezer, and it works fairly well.  In the past, I’ve tracked what is in which bag (e.g., green beans in flowered pillow case), but this gets messy quickly when bag contents change, so I’m trying a new system that’s more of a straight list.  I try to keep bags with older, “use first” items toward the top for easy access.

Now I am looking for ways to use plums and broccoli, as well as the priority older items, before we start freezing 2017 goods.  Frozen broccoli is not my favorite ingredient to work with, but friends have chimed in with some helpful suggestions, and I’ve already reduced our broccoli count by two bags by making a broccoli-rich version of lemon-egg soup.  The best uses for frozen broccoli seem to be soups or casserole-type dishes, and I like partially thawing it and pulsing it a few times in the food processor first.

Kitchen riffs

It seems like just yesterday it was October, and still hot, and I was itching for cooler weather and “oven season.”  Well, oven season is in full swing, and our recent icy weekend gave me a chance to spend extra time in the kitchen.

St. Louis pretty much shut down on Friday with the impending ice storm (which was, at least where we were, rather underwhelming).  I made a quick grocery store run first thing on Friday morning.  A small amount of freezing rain fell right before I left, making untreated areas a bit slippery, but 98% of my route was treated.  I debated the wisdom of bike over car, but I was happier on the bike.  Definitely a day for sticking to the streets and eschewing the untreated greenway.


I was a bit nervous about what I would find when I left the grocery store, but the precip had stopped and the temp had risen a few degrees, so everything was just wet for my return trip.


Not your stereotypical “bread, milk, eggs” grocery store run.  Obviously my biggest fear is being iced in with no fresh produce!

Come dinner time, I turned to a new cookbook, The Veggie-Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook, a Christmas gift from my sister.  I certainly love veggies, and I’m quite fond of sriracha, and the “Sriracha Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie” caught my eye.

As usual, I used the recipe as a guide, not a dictate — I tossed in some red cabbage and subbed lentils for the tempeh (my original plan was to use both tempeh and lentils, but I was in a hurry to get it in the oven, so I skipped the tempeh).  I also went a little light on the sriracha with G in mind (even though he was “stuck” at grandma’s for the day and night) — you can always add more sauce at the table.


We invited a neighbor to dine with us, and we all enjoyed the flavorful, filling dish.

Most of my kitchen experiments are intentional, but every once in awhile, there’s an accident.  On Saturday morning, we had a little kitchen mix-up.  Matthew was making waffles, and I found a small jar of what I thought was oat flour.  I gave it to him to toss into the waffles.

Several minutes later, he brought me a sample of a waffle with great flavor, but a pronounced crunch, a crunch beyond what we experience when adding a bit of cornmeal to the waffles.  We weren’t sure why they were so crunchy, and he continued making waffles while I went about my morning.

I was walking down the basement stairs when a thought hit me, and I froze.  Suddenly, I was pretty sure I knew what had been in that jar, and it wasn’t oat flour.  A few months ago I experimented with making my own calcium supplement from eggshells — the process was laborious, requiring boiling, baking, and then grinding (in small batches in our coffee grinder) the eggshells.  The result of my efforts was a small jar of finely ground eggshells that I quickly forgot after putting in a jar in the refrigerator . . .

. . . until now.  After a few moments’ deliberation, I fessed up to the mix-up.  We now have a triple batch of “Calcium Crunch Waffles” in our freezer.  Edible, but not something I would have done on purpose!

Keeping with the [intentionally] trying new recipes spirit, I used this Morrocan Farro and Lentil Soup recipe from Food & Nutrition magazine as a guide for a week night meal.  I’d been eyeing the recipe for awhile, but I wasn’t in the mood for soup, so I used the spicing as inspiration for a veggie and grain bowl.  It was a fun change from the standard spicing and flavoring I use.


Another night, I was looking for something new to do with millet, and I found this recipe: Millet Cakes with Carrot and Spinach.  It was a little involved and time-consuming for a weeknight, but I managed to pull it together by skipping the chilling step, which worked okay because I baked them instead of frying (without the chill time, I think they would have fallen apart when frying).

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of America’s Test Kitchen’s “Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” (thanks, library), which I discovered through the millet cakes recipe.  More kitchen riffs to come, no doubt!

Finally, in the sweets category, I made these Kahlua Truffle Bars.  We received some of these truffles as a Christmas gift a few years back, and I was quite taken by them.  A soft shortbread crust with a rich, dark chocolate topping — what’s not to love?


For some reason, the crust on mine came out crunchy (no, it did not have eggshells in it!), which was not bad, but also not what I was hoping for.  Matthew really likes it with the crunch, but I want to figure out how to get a softer crust next time.

In the spirit of closing a couple of random tabs I’ve had open for weeks, while still keeping track of things, here are a couple of items on my “To Try” list:

Oatmeal Plus

A bowl of oatmeal has been an almost constant breakfast companion for over ten years now.  While I am clearly a creature of habit, my bowl has evolved over the years.  Here’s a quick look at my oatmeal evolution, followed by a recipe for the current iteration.

2006 — instant oats cooked in the microwave, topped with peanut butter, bananas, cinnamon, [sweetened] soy milk, and a bit of brown sugar

2009 — switch from bananas (distinctly not local) to locally grown fruit, when in season (primarily apples), or dried fruit (primarily raisins)

2010switch from instant oats to rolled oats, still cooked in the microwave

??? — ditch the added sugars by switching to unsweetened soy milk and eliminating the added brown sugar; dried fruit makes for plenty sweet oatmeal

2012 — start making an extra-thick, stove top version with rolled oats that works as finger food for G when cooled; make in big batches

2013 — when G moves on from the finger food version, I continue making big batches of stove top oatmeal for both of us; I serve G’s really thick to help it stay on the spoon; bananas reappear as a “sometimes” food

2014 — start using a mixture of rolled + steel cut oats, with an overnight soak

2015-2016 — experiment with adding in other grains, including millet, quinoa, brown rice flakes, and amaranth

Each of these iterations took the flavor, texture, and nutrient variety up a notch.  The amaranth is the most recent addition, and it almost didn’t make the cut.  It’s seedy taste really stood out in the first batch, and I wasn’t a huge fan.  By the second batch, I had adjusted to the flavor, and now I’m really enjoying it.

The overnight soak helps the longer-cooking grains, like steel cut oats, cook quickly in the morning.  It’s still more of a time investment than microwaving instant oats, but it tastes better AND you’ll have breakfast for several days.  The recipe below makes about four days’ worth of one parent- plus one child-sized portion.


Recipe by Melissa
Serves 5-8


2 T. amaranth
1/2 c. steel cut oats
1/4 c. millet
1/4 c. quinoa (rinsed)
1 c. rolled oats
3 1/2 c. water
1 1/2 c. unsweetened soy milk


Measure grains into pan and pour water over the top.  Let sit at room temperature overnight.  In the morning, add the milk, bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Can be served immediately, or turn off heat and let sit, covered, for an additional 5-10 minutes.

Add [soy] milk to thin to desired consistency, and top with cinnamon, fresh or dried fruit, and nut butter of choice.  Additional toppings: hemp seed, chia seed, chopped walnuts, nutmeg.

After the first morning, reheat in microwave with milk.  For a take-to-work version, place oatmeal, additional milk, and toppings in a wide mouth, pint size jar and reheat at work.