A Garden of Love….and possibly some fresh mint

Before Matt & I became serious about being parents, we had talked about our hopes and dreams for things we wanted in our first home. Jokingly (but not really a joke) we needed at least 1.5 bathrooms. We wanted room to expand our family, a place we could express our own sense of style and flair. No pool (even though since we now have one we have come around on the idea of swimtime during the summer) and a space to throw summer barbecues whenever we could.

But more than anything else, Matt wanted us to have an herb & vegetable garden that we could use to our advantage. When we needed that little bit of basil or possibly a fresh tomato, what better place than to grab the necessities from our own backyard? Prior to our house-hunting whirlwind we had attempted a bucket garden at our year-round rental. We used big buckets with potting soil and wrapped chicken wire with stakes around it to keep rabbits and squirrels from tampering with our project.

While our attempt at vegetables yielded only one little measly yellow squash plant with fungus on it, we found that the herbs were a lot more abundant! (And you know, no fungus.) Thyme, rosemary, and dill grew like wildfire from just a few seeds, so we found ways to incorporate those herbs into more of our dishes. Chicken dishes, tuna fish, homemade tomato sauce….we found ways to use as much as of it as possible. Eventually we just couldn’t find the time to keep up with pruning and drying out our abundance, so the garden fell to the wayside.

Fast forward to now….where Matt & I finally have the home, space, and enough time to work on such a large project. And so since this idea was Matt’s brain child, he set out to bring this garden to life.

If you had looked at the list of our YouTube searches, you may have chuckled a bit at seeing “How to Build a Keyhole Garden” in between “Little Baby Bum” and “Baby Shark”. We discussed what herbs and vegetables would work best with the way we cook, as well as looking up articles and videos on the best options for growth.

With a goal in mind, Matt set to work on creating on our garden project. First came a handful of Home Depot trips to select the correct lumber, chicken wire, topsoil, and potting soil all while scoping out potential plants. Next, Matt started skillfully building a keyhole garden, making sure that the ground was even before setting down the cardboard for the bed of the garden and loading it with the proper soil mixture.

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Starting our garden

And finally came the best (but most important part): selecting what we should grow in our garden. We wanted to have vegetables and herbs that we normally use in our cooking, as well as a few fun ones to try out in new recipes.

Of course the herbal basics (basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and parsley) were automatic shoe-ins for the main part of the garden bed. As a bonus, we added lavender, lemon balm, and sweet mint to round out the lineup. That holy trinity will be beneficial come iced tea/lemonade recipe time. And for that savory factor, lavender is one of the key ingredients in Herbs de Provence.

For vegetables, that became a little trickier but not impossible.

One of the best basics for a garden are tomatoes (even if it is considered a fruit). We decided on Roma tomatoes because they’re smaller than Beefsteak or Jersey, but are considered a good tomato for making homemade sauce. And usually smaller tomatoes are easier to grow, which means if this goes well maybe next year we’ll add cherry tomatoes to the mix.

Next came cucumbers, as my husband is half-Greek and I made pretty good homemade pickles using my great-grandmother’s recipe. There would need to be two types of cucumbers in our garden as the seedless are better for salads and tzatziki while Boston Pickling cucumbers are better for just that: pickling. And so we added those to our list.

With peppers we realized that while red bell are perfect for me as I am minimal on the heat and more on the sweet, Matt could get more into harvesting hot peppers for potential chili and just spicing up a few of our favorite dishes. By accident instead of grabbing four Tabasco pepper plants, we grabbed two Tabasco, one red chili, and one Santa Fe Grande plant. If all goes well, there will be very little need to replenish hot sauce.

For our final plant we had initially talked about spinach as Max has shown an interest in finally eating a green vegetable. (He ate spinach in Francaise sauce, which was a small victory in our house.) But since Matt could not locate a spinach plant anywhere, another great option was to attempt fresh romaine. With a handful of plants, we could pluck ripe leaves from the plant and have a salad without completely uprooting the whole plant. Sounded like a great compromise. Also, spinach is almost always on sale near us so that’s never a problem.

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Ta-da….we have a garden!

The lineup was complete and with some configuring (and eventually re-planting of some of our crops), Matt & I worked together in bringing our garden creation to fruition.

We’re waiting with bated breath to make sure that crops start growing so we can harvest our end product and I can’t wait to share what we make when/if we do!

Stay tuned for potential recipe adventures and stories of our gardening experience.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

 

It’s a little bit butternutty….

While I did it for the sake of Max’s little tummy at the time, adjusting to a dairy and soy-free life wasn’t easy.

With the constant need to read ingredients the process of eating became more of a challenge, more like an Olympic sport! Every item placed in the cart at the grocery store was scanned for any mention of dairy and/or soy. (I recommend the ShopWell app….saved me many times over at the grocery store and you can adjust it for just about any type of dietary restrictions.) I had to advise every waitress when I went out to eat of my dietary restrictions, sometimes even reading over a menu several times before I walked into the restaurant.

I lived with the feeling that it must have been frustrating for the cooks in the kitchen to have to adjust my meal, just because I didn’t want my son to cry in pain from any dairy or soy in my food that would get transferred to his breast milk. This frustrated me to the point that I really didn’t want to eat out at all until Max was cleared or we stopped breastfeeding. (After about nine months, I was able to finally go back to normal when Max started eating solid foods and showed no reactions as I reintroduced dairy and soy into my diet.)

But aside from that I will admit: I had missed dairy on occasion. There were moments I wished I could have a big slice of cheesecake, a plate of buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, or a big bowl of fettuccine alfredo. Sure, there were alternatives like the Daiya products to give me the feeling that I was eating cheese or ranch dressing. (By the way, their pizzas and macaroni & cheese were pretty decent for not having any gluten, dairy, or soy in them.)

More than anything though, I really missed a good pasta in a cream sauce. Fortunately, I was able to locate this gem of a recipe courtesy of Cookie + Kate, which used pureed butternut squash in vegetable broth to replicate that decadence one craves when you order anything in a cream sauce. (And another added bonus aside from being healthy for all you non-meat eaters: it’s Vegan!)

You can check out the recipe on the Cookie + Kate website here: Creamy Vegan Butternut Squash Linguine with Fried Sage. And if you’re not that big into linguine, I recommend using fettuccine as evidenced by the featured photo. It was a delicious substitution and I mean, who doesn’t love fettuccine in a cream sauce?

While I am not a vegan or vegetarian by any means, this dish at the very least satisfied my palette. With my diet back to normal, I would more than likely add some heavy cream and possibly some Parmesan to give it that extra kick of salt. Yet I learned that if you need to be healthy, healthy can be delicious.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

Spicy Tips: Back with a fun Iced Tea Tip!

It certainly has been a while since I have found time to sit down and write out new recipes. Being a parent has that ability to deplete any time you had hoped you would have to share your thoughts with others. (Just looking at the amount of drafts I have yet to finish is enough to give me palpitations….I need to do better.)

But never fear, I am back with a fun tip for those looking for ways to quickly make one of my favorite warm weather drinks: Iced Tea!

Now I have done the sometimes laborious process of making tea with hot tea bags, followed by whisking in honey to the warmed mixture to incorporate and a whole lemon or two to make one delicious drink! Yet sometimes, time is of the essence and if you’re short on time but still want to make that summertime nectar without using a pre-made mix, I’ve got a great solution!

So one of my favorite shortcuts to making an easy iced tea is all thanks to Lipton® and their fabulous Cold Brew Bags. (They’re in just about any supermarket and you can click here for some info: Lipton Cold Brew Bags). One bag per 4 cups of water (you will probably use 2 bags per pitcher, unless you want to add a flavor) and it only takes about 5 minutes of brewing time before it’s done. If plain tea isn’t enough and you want to add a flavor to it, you can always brew a few cups of hot water and add your flavored tea there, then mix the two together.

And if you’re like me, you want to add some flavor like lemon or honey/sugar to that mix. For a nice little hit of lemon flavor, I have to admit that my name is Jenn and I am an addict of the Arnold Palmer. For those of who you don’t know what that is, it is half iced tea and half lemonade mixed together. But for this purpose, I would recommend using maybe 1-2 cans of Minute Maid® Lemonade to one pitcher. (Not the frozen kind, but a can from a 12-pack. You can also get a carton or container of lemonade of any brand you like and adjust the amount of lemonade you put in to your liking.) Not quite the half and half of an Arnold Palmer, but leaves the iced tea with a nice sweetened lemon flavor that I know most of us love.

More importantly, it is a way to add sugar to your drink without the sweetness being too much. The lemonade blends nicely and if you still find that the lemonade makes it a little sweet for you, always remember the best part about iced tea are those ice cubes that clink around in the glass when you go to take a sip!

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V