Sunday, June 5, 2011


Fresh herbs are some of my favorite things in the world. I love the way they look, I love the way they taste, and I love the way they smell.

If you're new to gardening, starting a small herb garden is a great way to get your feet wet and thumbs green. Many herbs are low maintenance, hardy to extreme conditions, and perennials (come back year after year).

We had a very successful herb garden last year, and this year, we're almost running out of space in the small beds as the herbs compete with each other for the spare room. We definitely have more fresh herbs than necessary for our family-of-two's weekly menu. So I've taken to finding other uses for our abundance of herbs.

Use numero uno: herbal arrangements

Here's our dining room table centerpiece - a vase filled with rosemary. It's a beautiful splash of green at the table, gives off a wonderful aroma, and we can season our meals with fresh rosemary as desired.

Here is a decorated jar filled with lavender. I set this one in the bathroom instead of a chemical air freshener. You can pump up the scent of the fresh lavender by dipping a cotton ball in lavender essential oil and setting it in the bottom of the jar.

Use numero dos: dried herbs

Drying herbs preserves them indefinitely for uses in just about any dish. Here's the process, 1. Cut the fresh herbs 2. Tie a string around the stems of a bunch of herbs 3. Hang the bunch of herbs upsidedown in a dry, well-ventilated area 4. Let dry for several days 5. Remove dried leaves from the stems and store in air-tight containers

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Flowers of our Labors

It has been a HOT May in Middle Georgia, which is awesome for our heat-loving plants. What is not awesome is the horrible lack of rain - we haven't had one drop in over 3 weeks. We've tried our best to conserve water (and our utilities bill) by extending time between waterings. The compost, mulch, and leaves serve double duty by holding moisture in the soil and feeding the plants.

So far, it's been too hot (or I've been too lazy) to do any "official" fertilizing, pest or weed control. But I have been using some DIY mixtures which seem to do the trick for the most part.

For weed control:
1 part white vinegar to 1 part water. Shake it up in a spray bottle. Be careful you're only spraying weeds - it WILL kill your flowers and veggies. This works wonders!

For bug control:
1 tsp. dish washing liquid soap to 2 quarts water. Shake up in a spray bottle and spray both the top and underneath sides of the plant leaves. It works well for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, but test on one leaf for more delicate plants. I recommend using this in the evening - it can scorch on leaves if it dries in direct sunlight.

For fertilizer:
1/2 Tb. Epsom salt to 2 quarts water. Shake up in a spray bottle or mix together in watering can. Pour at the base of young tomato plants. Spray on blooms of tomatoes and peppers.

With these simple management techniques, we have a heck of a garden this year!

Tomato (these are the ones I started from seed!)

Little Tomatoes

Big Tomato

Cayenne Pepper


Pole Beans

Zinnias (finally about to bloom!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strawberry Mania!

I really meant to blog about my strawberry experience last week, but alas. Better late than never! Anyway, here's my story and I'm sticking to it...

Last week, I decided to redeem my Groupon for a local orchard and strawberry patch. Don't get jealous, but get this: the Groupon was $13 for 10 pounds of u-pick strawberries. 10 POUNDS OF STRAWBERRIES! FOR THIRTEEN DOLLARS! And your grocery store is making you think you're getting a deal by paying $2.50 per pound. Anyway,

I think I set some sort of strawberry picking record, because I single-handedly picked 10 pounds of strawberries in under 45 minutes.

Here's what almost 10 pounds of strawberries looks like washed and laying out to dry (I say "almost" because at the point the photo was taken, I'd already started using some of the strawberries).

After washing the strawberries in batches and laying them out to dry on a bath towel on a card table, I set to work: freezing some, making some into jam, and leaving the rest for munching.

How to preserve strawberries by freezing:
1. Wash and dry strawberries.
2. Remove hulls (the green part). I do this by using a paring knife to cut a straight line across the top of the strawberry
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
4. Place strawberries on the baking sheet, making sure they're not touching one another. If you remove the hulls with a paring knife, this makes a perfectly flat edge to set the strawberries.
5. Place in the freezer until frozen solid.
6. Remove strawberries from baking sheet and put in a freezer bag. They will keep up to 6 months.

Strawberry Jam

I'll spare you the recipe since most people are partial to their family's recipe. Having never made strawberry jam before, I used the recipe straight from "Put Em Up!" by Sherri Brooks Vinton. She recommends in her Quick Jam recipe using Pomona's Universal Pectin, which cuts down on the added sugar in the jam. After using this pectin, I will never go back to grocery store pectins. This was my first attempt and I think it turned out pretty well!

Prepping jars and cooking the jam

The finished product

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Garden

Here are some recent photos from our yard:

Pretty Peas

Trying something new this year: pole beans on bamboo poles and cucumbers on trellises
Companion plants: marigolds and zinnias

Azaleas (which I've never lifted a finger with these...I guess we're blessed)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Veganville revisited

I was inspired to make a lentil pot pie after flipping through a Cooking Light magazine. But all recipes I found looked a little boring and didn't quite fit with what I had on hand. So you guessed it - I made up my own! It turned out to be so darn good, I thought I'd share it.
*Quick note about my recipes: measurement amounts are not exact; all spices are added to my personal tastes, so adjust as necessary for you and your family.

Curry Lentil Pot Pie
3/4 c. dry red lentils
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
1 small-medium onion, chopped
1 package frozen spinach
2 T. oil (vegetable or olive)
2 T. flour
1 T. (or so) curry powder
1/2 tsp. (or so) ground red pepper
1/2 tsp. (or so) ground ginger
1/2 tsp. (or so) ground cinnamon
1/2 - 1 c. vegetable broth
6-8 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Oil Spray (like PAM)

Preheat oven to 400.
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with cinnamon stick, star anise, and a few pinches of salt. Add lentils and cook for 10 minutes (until al dente). Remove cinnamon stick and star anise and strain. Meanwhile, cook frozen spinach and strain.
Heat oil in medium-large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion; cook until soft. Add spices and flour; continually stir until you have a thick paste (add flour if necessary). Gradually add vegetable broth (I find a whisk helps work the paste into the broth). Add lentils and spinach; stir until well blended. Salt to taste.
Pour lentil mixture into a casserole or pie pan of your choice. Tip: Save any excess lentil mixture for another meal.
Place one sheet of phyllo on top of lentil mixture. Spray (or brush) with oil. Repeat with each sheet. Fold down edges of phyllo into the pan to prevent burnt edges.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until phyllo is golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

This pairs perfectly with a dry Reisling like Oceana.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Garden Prep 2011

You know the saying, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."? Well, there's nothing like a two-month hiatus to renew my motivation for blogging about our DIY projects.

For years, Fall has been my favorite season. I've always loathed Spring because where I'm from up North, Spring means wet, sloppy messes on the roads and in the yard. Here in Middle Georgia, Spring Rocks (and is quickly becoming my favorite season)! There are beautiful blooming trees, mild temperatures, and best of all, NO SLOPPY MESSES! And probably my favorite part of Spring is the anticipation and preparation for the garden. Last year, I let my husband take the lead in planning and planting. This year, I've grabbed the bull by the horns.

I've already taken a gardening class, sent in my soil sample to the University(for which I'm anxiously awaiting the results), and started seeds indoors.
Here's a picture of my make-shift mini greenhouse:

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This attempt includes tomatoes, jalepeno peppers, and zinnias.

And the perennial herbs have been hard at work too!

A little mint making a resurgence.

One reason to let cilantro go to seed: it comes back!

Super Chives!

I've also decided to give peas another go:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Veganville revisited

It's been a while since I've reported from Veganville. The truth is, it's extremely difficult to be entirely vegan living in the same household as my husband, Mr. Hunter. Over the past few months, we've been inundated with his kills: deer and wild hog. Eating meat from these animals may seem disgusting to some, but here's my thought: would you rather eat a farm-raised, hormone-injected animal that lives in high-stress, overcrowded, diseased conditions? OR would you rather eat an animal that is healthy and runs wild and natural? Do you like eating products that come from God-knows-where, no-named factory farm? Or do you like knowing exactly where your food comes from? Being connected to our food source is something my husband and I are dedicated to - be it hunting or vegetable gardening or shopping at farmer's markets.

Anyway, my husband has been away for the past week which has allowed me to dive back into Veganville. Hooray!

Here's a recipe to try if you have a hankerin' for Broccoli-Cheese Soup - it is super delicious and filling.

Creamy Broccoli-White Bean Soup

1 head broccoli cut into florets, stems thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 15oz. can cannellini beans, drained*
2 1/2 c. vegetable stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. pine nuts, toasted

*I buy dry beans instead of canned beans. If using dry beans, soak 1 c. beans in 2 c. water 6-8 hours. Drain. In a small saucepan, bring 2 1/2 c. water to a boil. Add beans. Simmer for 1 hour. Drain. Use as needed in recipe.

1. Steam broccoli florets and stems until tender and bright green. Let cool slightly.
2. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add beans and stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Remove from heat and add broccoli. Puree in batches in a blender until smooth (or blend using an immersion blender). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pine nuts.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

DIY Aromatherapy Candles

Attention: No bees were harmed in the making of these candles

Come to think of it, I can't quite remember what inspired me to try candle-making. Being a beginner, I started about as simple and basic as one can get with the craft: container candles. And for the candles that turned out "okay", some lucky individuals received these as Christmas gifts.

Lavender Aromatherapy Candles

Mason jars
soy wax
lavender essential oil
dried lavender flowers

Prepare jars using pencils to center wicks in the jars. Melt wax in a double boiler. Once melted, add essential oil. Gently pour wax into jars until desire fill. (*If you want to put a lid on the jar, I'd recommend filling about 3/4 full). Set on flat surface to dry. Once initial "crust" has formed on the surface of the candle, sprinkle lavender flowers over the wax. Once completely dry, trim wick.