Once I got my foot in the door… (also known as “landwar part 2”)

The first year of my actual gardening (2011) was a bit of a struggle to convince my husband to give up even a small patch of his turf, but I loosened his grip.  The next year was much easier.  My garden of 2011 was great, but I was sure we could do better.  As far as gardens go, better means bigger, right?  Yeah, baby.

I engaged my husband’s inner handyman and we designed a new, considerably (like 5 times) larger, raised bed.  The new dimensions are 8x16ft.

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Wow! What was I going to do with all this newly acquired space? More space =  more veggies.  I purchased two more greenhouse trays to go with the one I saved from last year plus the handy-dandy refill peat pellets.  


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I planted tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, green beans, kale and jalapenos. We purchased trellises for the cucumbers, sugar snap peas, and green beans.  They turned out to be too small, but hey, you live and you learn.

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If you look closely at this picture, you can see the best part of my handy man husband’s contributions…an irrigation system!

In 2012, the midwestern US had a summer of nonstop oppressive heat and very little rain.  Luckily for my baby plants, the irrigation system quenched their mighty thirst.  Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to help all the heat.  All in all, the garden still fared pretty well.  We harvested bumper crops of zucchini and cucumbers.  It was super exciting at first, but then I was running out of things to do with all these veggies.  My husband isn’t a big vegetable eater on his own.  I added zucchini to spaghetti sauce, several batches of zucchini bread, and even some zucchini brownies.  I also tried canning for the first time.  I grew enough tomatoes and jalapenos to produce 2 quarts of salsa and I canned 4+ gallons of pickles (I lost count.)  I think my favorite of all the garden rewards was the kale.  I LOVE baked kale!  It’s so easy.  Just rub your torn kale leaves with some olive oil and salt.  Roast on a cookie sheet at 350 for about 20 min.  They are even better with sriracha.  Drizzle sriracha over the kale pieces after coating with the oil and salt, bake as before.  Yum!  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Never get involved in a land war in Asia…

One of the best things about living out here in suburbia is the SPACE.  We have a lovely spacious yard.  Now, my husband and I disagree about what should fill that space.  My husband is in LOVE with his lawn.  Even in mid August, we have a lush green outside carpet.  I admit, it is nice to look at, and even nicer on the bare feet, but not very useful for anything else. Several years ago, I voted for a swimming pool, but I was vetoed in favor of the sprinkler system.  My next request was a garden.  My husband looked at me cross-eyed.  Tear up even a small section of his beautiful park? Initially, he suggested one of those upside-down hanging gardens.  I agreed to try it out, and it was a dismal failure.  I’m still not sure what we did wrong, but trust me, it was nothing like “as seen on TV.” Is anything…ever?

I realize I’m making my husband sound stingy with his lawn, but in his defense, I’m not always the best at follow-thru with my little pet projects. The following year, I restated my commitment to home-grown veggies and suggested a small raised bed garden. He was still dubious, but then I informed him that if I was successful, it would mean fresh, homemade salsa for him.  Bingo!  My husband graciously agreed to give up a small parcel of his green gold.  I quickly went shopping for the seeds and accompanying gear.

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I picked out a greenhouse box with these little peat pellets.  You soak the pellets in water and they expand to form perfect little seed homes.  Because of the promise of homemade salsa, I planted tomatoes, Habaneros, and jalapenos.  I put the lid on the box, placed it in a sunny window and volia….plants!

These babies stayed inside until about mid-May when it was time to be moved to their new home in the great outdoors.

We found one of those kits with particle boards.  It’s basically a 3.5x7ft garden in a box….snap sides together, lay on grass, cover exposed grass with newspaper, and fill with soil.  Easy peasy.

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This worked great for our first attempt as amateur gardening.  We harvested a somewhat successful crop of tomatoes and a few handfuls of peppers.  We created some mighty nice salsa and some pepper infused vodka for bloody mary’s.  Yum.





My salsa recipe is pretty basic. We like it pretty spicy though, so be careful. 

  • 3-4 large tomatoes, diced (seeds removed if you prefer)
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped 
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (you can leave this out, sometimes I do)
  • 3-4 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced (when you remove the seeds, you remove most of the heat)
  • 1-2 Habanero peppers, seeded and minced (you may want to wear gloves when you chop the peppers)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or white vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt

Mix and enjoy!

Sunday dinner

As I look back at my childhood, Sunday dinners are especially memorable.  I should probably start with some background info.  I come from a long line of cooks.  They were not trained chefs mind you, but these women fed my family. The women in my family show their love through food.  This isn’t great for the waistline, but it’s wonderful for creating those warm fuzzies.  Although I have food memories of most holidays, Sunday dinners stick out the most.  My mother would usually prepare something that took all day to cook.  As the day progressed, the house would fill with the most delightful aromas. Whether it was roast beef or hearty Italian style meat sauce, we eagerly awaited the dinner bell.  These dinners brought so much comfort to me.

Now that I am married with a house of my own, I find myself trying to recreate those feelings.  I often spend considerable time combing through my grandmother’s and mother’s recipes.  Pinterest can also be useful in this endeavor.

Last week, my husband asked if I would make the brisket in our freezer for dinner on Sunday.  I had never cooked a brisket, nor do I remember my mother or grandmother preparing one.  Honestly, the only reason we even had a brisket is that we have started buying our beef in bulk.  I wanted to start eating all grass-fed, hormone free beef and now we get it one-half cow at a time.  Because of this, I am faced with unfamiliar cuts of beef. So, I fired up my laptop and started searching for recipes.  I really had no idea what I was doing.  The only kind of brisket I remember eating is the smoked kind you get at a barbecue joint.  We don’t have a smoker and we don’t have a charcoal grill.  After some frustration, I turned the job over to my husband.  He came across this recipe from Paula Deen.  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/texas-oven-roasted-beef-brisket-recipe/index.html

Initially, I was not impressed by this recipe.  I did have all the ingredients on hand, so it became a winner in my book.

Here is what Paula’s brisket looked like.


My first doubts about this recipe were quickly squashed.  It was exceptionally easy to put this together. And once it was in the oven, it required very little attention.  I made a few changes to the recipe after reading some of the user comments on the food network website.  I used a Lagunitas IPA to add to the beef broth instead of water and I added some liquid smoke.  The house quickly filled with lovely smells of roasting beef.  This brisket was the perfect dinner to replicate my memories.

Here is my version.


It was delicious.  Although it tasted similar to a traditional pot roast, the dry rubbed crust made it distinctively different.  Finally, this recipe was great because it created wonderful leftover meals.  On Monday, I sautéed thin slices of the beef with chili powder, garlic, cumin, red pepper, onion powder, and paprika.  I served it fajita style with sautéed onions and red bell peppers.  Yum!  Later in the week, we had French dip sandwiches with provolone cheese.  The juices from the brisket made an excellent dipping sauce.  This brisket not only made a wonderful dinner, but made my life easier in the week to come.

All in all, it was just what I wanted for Sunday dinner.