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

 

 

A little sweet….a little spicy….and great flavor!

First of all, I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for those of you who reach out to say how much you enjoying reading my posts. I am by no means a professional cook (or have nearly the amount of experience Matt has in the kitchen), but I am still humbled by the positive feedback and for those of you who follow my Instagram and request recipes just by looking at a photo. So again, thank you and I will do my best to keep bringing you new and delicious recipes!

Now, I’m sure I have mentioned by now how Matt and I love our bacon-wrapped shrimp. (And for grilling season, it can only get better!) Shrimp is a fairly inexpensive protein (if you know how to look for a good sale–you can get 2 lbs. frozen raw shrimp for under $20!) and lends itself to some great flavor profiles. Matt and I normally go simple with this one: Old Bay seasoning (because when you live by the water, Old Bay is the go-to) and of course, bacon! And when you do use bacon, be sure to pound it out nice and thin….that way it’s easier to wrap and you can make it stretch a little bit–haha, get it? Stretch?

**And if you look in one of my prior recipes, I’ll even share how you make it!**

Still, we needed a sauce for dipping. Normally, there’s a pretty sizeable side dish that we add with the shrimp, so no sauce is needed….but we went rather simple with our side. Some diced avocado in lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper–therefore, sauce was necessary.

While it’s not always my favorite thing, I will say this: Matt is a pepper and hot sauce fanatic! If he can make it hot, he will. Me….I can’t eat spicy the way he can, but that’s not to say I won’t try to incorporate more heat into our dishes. (As long as I can control how much it will burn my face off, I’m okay.) Although, I am proud to say that more and more recently, I have been experimenting with peppers in our dishes (seeds removed, of course) and the results have been successful. Poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, green long hots….I’m working on it.

So it was no surprise when Matt suggested a honey sriracha dipping sauce, I was on board! I would say an accurate measurement of the honey v. sriracha ratio is 2 parts honey, 1 part sriracha. You can always adjust if you want it sweeter….or spicier. (And if you have never had sriracha, please know that a little goes a long way. Unless you’re Matt, who can douse so many things in sriracha.)

I stress this many times over: don’t be afraid to spice it up from time to time! (If you can handle a little bit of spice.) And if you’re wondering if it was delicious….well….I’ll let the picture speak for itself:

Enjoy!

~Jenny V