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.

20190508_213349618_iOS

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.

20190517_204257750_iOS

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

 

 

Advertisements

Spicy Tips: For An Early On Mom-To-Be

Well it’s official: Matt and I are expecting our first little one in November!

Of course when I first found out, it was all over a rather drastic change in my eating habits. Matt had been the first one to notice that the beautiful half-rack of ribs that he had made me for dinner one night only warranted a nibbling on 2-3 ribs before I announced I couldn’t eat anymore. I kept asking for dinner later rather than right when I came home, when I would normally be ready to eat my hand! My sleeping habits also took a change when by 9:00 pm I was barely able to stay awake. And so with Matt’s encouragement I took a test one morning and over three months later here we are!

 

Since I am starting my second trimester, I am happy to report my eating habits have started to improve. But if you endured the food aversions like I did, then meats like chicken and beef became your arch-nemesis. I couldn’t even stomach the thought of chicken for almost a solid month and a half until I tried chicken breast at two family events. There were minor cravings for junk food but mostly I stuck to the staples that I knew I could handle without too much fuss.

 

As I am finally feeling a little more peckish these days, I thought I would share some of my tips that got me through the first trimester. Granted, they may not work for everyone but hopefully a few of them do help those mothers-to-be just starting out:

 

1) Keep it plain (and hopefully healthy). I know, not always the easiest thing to do when you have been cooking with lots of spices and flavors. But during that first trimester the thought of food doesn’t always sit right with most women. You may not throw up, you may have a constant wave of nausea, or you may be praying to the porcelain gods. Seriously, keep food plain. Pasta is good and if you feel like a little bit of sauce, add just a little bit. Bread, crackers, tons of water, fresh fruits and veggies–these are the things you want to eat the most of. If you want meat keep it simply seasoned.

 

2) Don’t be afraid to eat the same thing over and over. When you find a food that you can handle you may be eating it several times in a week. For me it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, unsweetened applesauce, and lots of tomato soup. It felt like for several days a week (minus a few where I did get cravings) these were my main staples. Just be prepared to stick to a regimen that you know your stomach can handle.

 

3) Go with your cravings if you get them. On the days that I would get a craving during my sick period, I went with it! My husband has started to understand that if I crave cheese fries or a chocolate milkshake, it’s good to cave to my craving. It means your body is obviously wanting something from that craving. For the milkshake it reminded me that I more than likely needed more calcium in my diet. With the fries I needed something more filling in my system than just fruits and veggies. You may pay for the cravings later but still go with it. In early pregnancy you can’t avoid the changes that are going on in your body. But more importantly: make sure that what you crave is okay to eat, so talk to your doctor about food “dos and don’ts”.

 

4) It is alright to not eat, but keep hydrated (and you can do this with more than just plain water)! I mean this especially since this was drilled into my head: water is vital. I went days eating minimal. I couldn’t help it when the thought of food would turn my stomach in the nastiest of ways. But water? Yes, you need that. You need that every day in mass quantities. If you’re like me you will get sick of just water, so it’s okay to change this up a little. To settle my stomach I had my Ginger Peach tea with some lemon and honey in the mornings and an occasional afternoon cup (using the same bag–because limiting caffeine is important). Juice with club soda or seltzer was a great way to cut the sugar down and get some light effervescence into my diet. And lemonade? Oh that is just a beautiful citrus bevvy that I would gladly drink every day!

 

5) Getting Sick = Healthy Baby. I can’t take credit for this adage but it’s important to share nonetheless. Every time I paid for my food choices I had to keep remembering that I was getting sick for a good reason: it means my body is producing the hormones needed to help the baby grow. Not everyone deals with morning sickness and some get it a bit too much, but for me it was a reminder that my little one is working hard to get to the proper size and that my body is always in a constant state of adjustment to accommodate that.

 

Whether these tips work for you or you find your own way, just remember that you know your body best. And once you get out of the morning sickness phase, be ready to eat with a vengeance! (Case in point: Matt walking into the house to find me eating a large order of cheese fries and a double Italian Hot Dog. The bit of ketchup I had on my face must have been quite endearing.) And most important for moms-to-be….

 

Enjoy every moment of it!

 

– Jenny V

Sunday Dinner Memories….

While Matt is my main inspiration for posting recipes, he is not the only reason why I do this.

You see, when I was a little girl, not more than four or five, I remember Sunday dinner was always at my Grandma Parson’s house. (She was my great-grandmother and a force to be reckoned with on a culinary level!) I can still remember the way the smell of the pot roast and the sweetness of buttered carrots wafted through the air before I was even able to get my coat off and run into the kitchen to give her a hug. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that that smell *was* the initial hug, welcoming me into her home. It was just that good….and so was she.

I have memories of watching her pull that roast out, testing it to make sure it was done, then grabbing the salt and pepper in her arsenal and by instinct, seasoning perfectly. I’m sure in earlier years she had used them, but there was never a recipe in front of her. It was all by instinct, and the spread was glorious! Pot roast, creamed cauliflower, mashed potatoes, buttered carrots, and applesauce. And me, sitting next to her at the head of the table, greedily filling my plate with all the goodies.

My Grandma Parson passed when I was a sophomore in high school at the age of 98. She outlived her own daughter, my Grandma Shirley, by only a little over two months. My Grandma Shirley wasn’t a cook by any stretch of the means, more like the woman who would serve you Sanka using hot tap water. (I still love to think I get my sense of adventure and rebelliousness from her though, even though she couldn’t cook.)

I hadn’t thought about her too much until last year, as a bridal shower gift, my parents gave me my Grandma Parson’s recipe box. When my mom told me what it was, I think I sobbed for a good few minutes holding this treasure trove. It was more than just a box of recipes she collected. It was like receiving a piece of her in the process, a part that I could have in my home and visit whenever I needed guidance in the kitchen. And the best part? Her smell still lingers on those index cards; every time I open it, I’m that little girl running to greet Grandma Parson all over again while she has the oven ajar, preparing the drippings for gravy. Fun fact: the main picture on my blog is that recipe box.

I don’t mean to bore any of you with the details, but there is a point. My point being that with last night’s dinner, I felt my version of slow-cooker roast would have made her proud. As I prepped everything to go into the Crock Pot, including searing the roast in a cast-iron skillet, her guidance was ever-present. I liberally seasoned the meat, I tapped some salt into the cast-iron before searing, and as I put in all the ingredients to help develop those flavors in the Crock Pot, I understood her need for instinct in the kitchen.

I’m sure she would have been proud, because as I watched Matt take that first bite of roast, I felt like I was getting the opportunity to watch what face I used to make when I would eat my Grandma Parson’s roast: satisfaction. And I’m sure in those moments of love, she felt pride (like I felt) at being able to provide a delicious meal for her family.

Grandma Parson….this one is for you. Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Sunday Dinner Roast a la Crock Pot

2-3 pounds top round roast (you can use any kind you like, but I prefer the cuts of meat that are on sale and can always use a little love)

2 cans beef broth

1/2 – 3/4 bottle red cooking wine (don’t pour all of it in at once, only half – save that quarter to de-glaze your cast iron!)

3 stalks celery, sliced into snack size pieces

1 package pearl onions

1 large potato, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Steakhouse seasoning

1-2 bay leaves

Worcestershire Sauce (a few shakes will do it)

1 1/2 tablespoons Gravy Master

1-2 tablespoons butter

Directions:

1) In the Crock Pot, add all ingredients (including bay leaf) except for roast, butter, little bit of red cooking wine, and seasonings. Turn on high.

2) Turn on stove on high heat and place cast-iron down on flame. While cast-iron is warming up, season roast with salt, pepper, and steakhouse seasoning. Sprinkle a little bit of salt into the cast-iron and after a few minutes of letting it come up to temperature, place roast into screaming hot skillet. Cook each side for about 3-4 minutes to get a nice crust on it, then transfer into Crock Pot and push down into the juices. Use the little bit of red cooking wine I told you to leave out to de-glaze cast-iron, scrape gently, and transfer liquid into Crock Pot, pouring it over the roast.

3) Cover and cook on high for an hour, then on low for four to five hours. Flip roast halfway through to keep moisture throughout. Baste liberally every 30-40 minutes. When done, remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

4) While resting, remove vegetables and transfer into a serving dish, remove bay leaves and toss in butter into Crock Pot with juices, allowing it to melt into drippings. Transfer drippings into gravy boat and serve over the vegetables and roast as you like it.