Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Poor planning

About that kale.  I planted some seeds.  And they sprouted!  Not that that’s terribly unusual, at least when you use seeds that are from the last couple of years.  Now, I have 3 different kinds of kale, and nowhere to put them now that they’re doing their thing with the growing.  

I don’t have the greatest planning skills, clearly.

But there are these things that I’ve been looking at for a while.  SIPs.  Self Irrigating Planters.  You can buy them in any number of stores or online, but those suckers are expensive.  Like, $40 for a tiiiiiiiny planter.  

Why not just use a regular pot?  
Or the ground?  

Well, I have this problem.  With sand.  My backyard should be oceanfront, that’s how sandy it is.  

There’s this other problem.  With my apartment.  I don’t have a spigot in my backyard.  It’s the worst.  I have to haul water from the house.  And for someone with my proclivity for dropping things, it can be... messy.

So these SIPs.  I read on a blog (imagine that) instructions for making my own 35 gallon SIP.  And it looks pretty damn easy.  With things that I could easily find in any home improvement store.  I even made a spreadsheet for material costs!


Where Found:Item:Cost:Quantity:Total:
Home DepotSterilite 35 gal. Latch Tote$14.972 $29.94
Easy Gardener WeedBlock3 ft. x 50 ft. Polypropylene Landscape Fabric$9.97 1$9.97
1/2 in. x 10 ft. PVC Sch. 40 Plain-End Pipe$1.78 1 $1.78
4 in. x 10 ft. PVC Sch. 40 DWV Plain End Pipe $16.51 1 $16.51

So, not including the potting mix or fertilizer, two of these are going to cost around $60.  Which is amazing, considering I haven’t been able to find any of this size for under $200.

Now, I just have to make a couple of these puppies, stick my kale in their new high-rise luxury condo, and wait for the sweet, sweet taste of ingenuity.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese with a twist

I love macaroni and cheese.  But really, who doesn’t?  Well, except if you’re lactose intolerant, or vegan, or gluten free, or just don’t like cheese (who are you?  We probably can’t be friends.)

Anyway, because of my love of macaroni and cheese, I don’t make it very often.  It’s a matter of dignity, see, when I come face to face with a dish of homemade mac and cheese, I lose it.  It’s messy.  There’s some grunting, and rooting, and noodles and cheese sauce flying...  And then it’s over, and I end up bloated with my pants unbuttoned and cheese in my hair.  

Ok, so maybe it’s not that bad.  I don’t usually get any cheese in my hair.  

But because I’ve found that I can’t seem to control myself when it comes to this, I’ve tried to make the dish a little more redeeming.  I add healthy stuff to it.  Specifically squash or pumpkin.  It doesn’t change the texture at all, the overall flavor is just slightly sweetened, and I find the color a little more vibrant than if the squash is left out.  Overall, it’s still delectable, but with some added fiber and vitamin content.

Here’s what’s in it:

⅓ c. butter
⅓ c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 c. cooked winter squash pureed or mashed * (I’ve used pumpkin but this time it was butternut)
3 c. milk (I use 1% since this is what we drink in my house.  I’ve done it with skim before, too)
1 lb cheese freshly grated** (I prefer a mix of things, this time I used half NY extra sharp and VT      extra sharp)
lots and lots of fresh ground pepper
1 box dried macaroni (I used Dreamfield’s crazy low carb pasta.  Use what you like)

In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium low heat.  Whisk in flour to make a roux.  Keep stirring over medium low heat to remove the pasty taste from the flour.  Here’s where I’m weird, I add the dried spices now.  Mustard, garlic, paprika all go into the roux.  It turns an awesome color.  Toss in the squash*.  Whisk in the milk.  As it heats, it will begin to thicken.  

Toss the pasta into boiling salted water.  You had that going, right?

Once your sauce thickens, you can add your cheese.  If you’re baking this at the end, reserve about a cup of cheese to sprinkle over the top.  If you don’t want to, that’s fine too, I’m flexible.  I typically turn the burner off at this point and let the residual heat melt the cheese slowly.  Then I turn it back on because it’s taking too long and I’m impatient.

Check your pasta.  You want it on the slightly underdone side of al dente.  Drain, and toss it back into the pot.  Now dump in your cheese sauce.  Marvel at the beauty that is macaroni and cheese.  But you’re not done.  Taste test for seasonings.  I typically find that mine needs some salt to counteract the sweetness from the squash.  And then I stand over the pot with my pepper grinder for about a full minute.  I like pepper.

Taste it.  Go ahead, I give you permission.  Add more of whatever it needs.  More garlic powder?  How about mustard?  Be creative, fresh or dried herbs, veggies, anything can go in this stuff.  Done?  Okay then.  This is where we divide.  Sometimes I like to eat my macaroni like this, straight out of the pot, coated in creamy sauce.  However, most of the time, I bake it.  Throw it into a 9x13 inch pan, top with that reserved cheese, and throw it in the oven at 400F for about 15-20 minutes.  Heaven.

Recipe Notes:

*Mine was mashed and then I used an immersion blender once I added the milk to smooth it out since I didn’t want the chunks of squash to be noticeable. This method also has the added benefit of smoothing out any bits of roux that may be gloppy.  But I bet it would still be totally awesome if you left some bigger bits of squash in there.

**Pre-grated cheese has this stabilizer powder coating it that makes it not stick together, this is yucky and I don’t like the way it melts, which is why for melting purposes, I always grate my own cheese.

***Unrelated: I have actually found that my mac&cheese with the squash re-heats in the microwave better than the un-squashed version. Maybe the squash holds the sauce together and doesn't allow it to separate upon re-heat? I have no idea. Just a fun little fact.

This is clearly not a low-cal dish.  Again, why I don’t make it often.  It usually lasts long enough for dinner and maybe two lunches the next day.  But that’s just me and my very tall boyfriend with an enormous appetite.  He had three helpings for dinner last night.  I had two, and some broccoli thrown in the second (because I’m being healthy).  What?  Don’t judge.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Better late than never?

As per my usual M.O., I have nothing ready to go in my winter “garden”.  It’s almost November, and I don’t have a cabbage or broccoli seedling to my name.  

This time, it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Ok, so maybe it sort of was a lack of trying.  But I managed to start a flat of seedlings in September.  An entire flat guys!  Eight or ten different varieties of plants.  About six of each variety.  

I was all excited about my new coconut-based organic seed starting mix.  A little dry, but it held moisture pretty well.  And the color change from wet to dry was so drastic that I could see the difference even from my upstairs bedroom window.  

I did everything right.  Appropriate watering, sunlight, protected from the more harmful elements.  I could taste the kohlrabi now.  It was going to be a glorious winter of cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli...  Mounds of snow peas...

Three days later, the first seeds popped their heads out of the dirt.  Awwww.... I love it when they’re so tiny like that.  Three tiny plants striving for the sun.  I couldn’t wait for their brothers and sisters to join them in that journey towards... feeding my face.

Days later, those three little seedlings were still standing.  But they were the only ones.  

My germination rates SUCKED!

To be fair, I was using seeds that were 1-2 years old.  But still, I should have had a better time of it than that.  I even over-seeded all of those cells.  So many tiny cabbage seeds wasted...  

I bought some new seeds.  They’re in, waiting for me to get my crap together again.  I just haven’t had the heart.  I keep looking at that abandoned flat and shake my head.  

  • “Where am I going to put them if they sprout?”  
  • “I just don’t have the time.”
  • “I’ll need to buy more potting soil.”

Whine, whinge, complain, bitch, moan.

But now I want some kale.  So I’ll be planting those suckers today.  Temperatures be damned.

Don’t worry, I’ll keep updating on their progress...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Soil Problem

In my area, the main component of my soil is fine sand.  Technically, as I learned today,  it’s called “Bonneau fine sand, 2 to 5 percent slopes”.  The USDA has this handy website that has data from soil tests from all over the country, so if you’re really excited to learn about your soil’s “parent material” (mine is sandy and loamy marine deposits), you should check out this website: http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/

Right, the reason I brought up my soil composition is because of my plans for my new (since August) tiny backyard.  I have these plans.  They’re for growing plants.  In the dirt.  Novel, right?  Now, I’ve been a small container gardener for a couple years now.  And it’s ok.  I can stick a plant in a pot and it’ll usually do pretty well.  I’ll get some veggies, and I usually won’t kill it.  But that’s not how I was raised to garden.  I like to really get in there.  Digging deep, dirt flying, soil up to my armpits.  Did I mention that my boyfriend calls me his dirt child?  Yeah...

Anyway, this sand, this planting medium that I’m plagued with, isn’t the greatest for holding organic matter.  Compost, manure, leaves, mulch, they all disappear after a time.  And I don’t mean that it breaks down (though it might...), I mean that it’s gone.  Poof.  Like it gets eaten, or blown away, or carried off on a swift current.   According to the USDA, my area’s typical profile looks something like this:

  • 0 to 9 inches: Fine sand
  • 9 to 29 inches: Fine sand
  • 29 to 38 inches: Fine sandy loam
  • 38 to 84 inches: Sandy clay loam
That’s a lot of sand to amend.  And the sand is eating my soil amendments.  From what I’m told, it’s not impossible to amend sandy soil, but it requires a lot more work and money that I am willing or able to spend.  

So I’m going to ignore the sand almost altogether.

Enter the world of raised beds.  

From my research, I have narrowed my options down to three.  
  • Hugelkultur
  • Lasagna or Layered beds
  • Purchased garden soil
Each has its pros and cons, and I’ll be going over all of them in depth in later posts.

Now, I’m still working on the logistics of this.  Do I want to contain my raised beds, or just build a pile of stuff?  Should I dig into the sand?  Or just lay everything on top?  I have many questions, and I’m excited to find my answers.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moving on up! Erm, right?

This is more for my personal reference than anything else.  But if I find it useful, maybe someone else will, also.

The USDA released a new hardiness zone map in January of this year.  It appears that I have been bumped.  Instead of staying in zone 8b, my city has, by the skin of its teeth, been moved into 9a.  Not a huge difference, to be sure.  But this may actually require some attention.



Where was I?

What happened?

October is sorta close to June, right?  Right?  Anyone?

Life got away from me, I guess.  Or rather, I got distracted by living my life and quit writing anything down.  It happens.  In fact, now that I'm settling into a new routine, I have more ideas than ever.

New place, new ideas, new dirt...

I'm ready to get (re-)started.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eat some dirt

There was an interesting Op-Ed piece in the New York times yesterday.

Dirtying Up Our Diets


I can't really sum it up any better than this:  "Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us."