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

 

 

This tea is twisted (and soothing) in a delicious way

If there was a drink that I could drink practically every day (aside from red wine and coffee), it would have to be tea. Sweetened, unsweetened, Green Tea, herbal tea, etc…you name a tea, I most likely have tried it! (Fun fact: I get more excited about finding Tea Rooms over a bar….and Tea Rooms more times than not have delicious blueberry scones with clotted cream……mmmmmmmm) So it’s no surprise that when the warmer weather starts to peek out a little bit, I go for my various teas and herbs to create some fun new iced tea concoctions!

And especially when Matt is away for work purposes, the creative concoctions can get a little interesting, like my latest new love: French Lavender. Now, most of us know that lavender has an extremely soothing fragrance, but can also be applied to use in the kitchen. And thanks to my absolutely fabulous friend Julie, who purchased the French Lavender I had placed on our wedding registry, I got inspired to try out this aromatic in my standard recipe for iced tea!

With iced tea, I encourage experimenting. It doesn’t always need to be the standard. You can add herbal teas (and mix’em up), you can add honey, mint, lemon, different spices, etc. I always try to be different by making half of the tea bags I use a regular tea, while the other half are a flavor/specialty tea. It’s always nice to impart just a bit of flavor if you’re not too keen on going solely on one flavor.

The possibilities are truly endless! And to be different, try using Mason Jars instead of a giant pitcher. It looks prettier and also a great way to serve drinks for a party/get-together! (I unabashedly admit that four of those jars of Peach Lavender tea are already gone….three of them within a couple hours.)

While this is only one take, I encourage each and every one of you to try a variation and make it your own! And remember, the measurements I use don’t have to be what you use. Adjust accordingly to your own tastes, especially on the strength of the tea. But I do recommend a little extra water to boil first, because some of it will evaporate in the process.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Peach Lavender Iced Tea

Ingredients:

10 bags of Black Tea

8 bags of Peach Tea

3-4 teaspoons French Lavender (if you have an infuser ball, I recommend using it for the lavender)

1/2 – 3/4 cup honey

20 cups water (in an 8 qt. pot)

Optional:

12 Mason Jars (in place of a pitcher)

Directions:

1) In an 8 qt. pot, pour water in and cover on high heat

2) Unwrap all tea bags and either twist all strings together or cut strings entirely (Note: it makes life easier if you cut the strings, especially since the bags will need to sit and brew for a while)

3) When water is close to boiling, put in French Lavender in infuser ball and place in water. (This will stay in even as tea steeps, but since the flavor is very delicate, you want to allow time for the lavender to impart flavor into the water.)

4) As soon as water is boiling, add honey and start whisking in (You want to put the honey in when the water is hot – it’s a great way to get sweetness in and the temperature of that water will allow for it to meld quicker.)

5) Place tea bags in water and turn off heat. Cover and allow time to steep, at least 15 minutes (or longer, if you prefer a stronger brew). Place pot on a towel or cool burner so that the tea has time to cool down before you put it in the fridge.

6) Once cooled slightly, ladle into mason jars, close with lid, and place in fridge for 2-3 hours before serving. Garnish with lemon.