Gourmet Delivered to Your Door

Last Friday night my husband and I came home from a “dinner out” to find our kids watching Shark Tank. Not their usual sitcom, I thought, odd, but fine. Sitting down with my son, I watched the episode with him and soon these two young men appeared, pitching the concept of organized dinner prep delivered right to your door.

Okay. You have my attention. I’m an author who tends to get carried away with her stories. It’s not unusual for four o’clock to roll around and the kids ask, “Mom, what’s for dinner?

“Dinner?” Gulp. “I totally forgot!”

I assure myself that I can grab a few items from the pantry (or my garden) and whip up a fabulous meal in no time! I’m a positive thinker, that way. Believe and it shall happen! Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, I’ve found myself mid-meal prep with missing ingredients. Ack. No problem. I’ll improvise.

Ask me again, “What’s for dinner?”

“Chicken Marsala! (sort of).”

If only my family appreciated my creativity. Easy to see why the concept of a totally organized meal with complete ingredient list and accompanying recipe would intrigue me. I mean, could anything more perfect have been invented?

Not for me. Not for many a busy mother, corporate executive or plain old person looking for a tasty, fresh gourmet meal ready-to-cook delivered doorstep. Plated is the perfect solution. Fresh ingredients, savory recipes, and everything you need to pull it off. I’m going to be a hero at the dinner table. Seriously. The applause will soon follow. I’m certain of it.

One might suggest takeout as an obvious solution, however that would entail me getting into a car, driving to the restaurant, waiting, and driving home with food “not quite hot.” Ever tasted a French fry after fifteen minutes of driving? Green beans? Not as tasty as fifteen seconds stovetop-to-table. I enjoy cooking. I’m simply distracted when it comes to preparing for it. Busy.

Plated is the answer. Simple, fresh, delicious and delivered right to me. How’s that for a reminder? Hey, the family needs dinner. What more could one ask for? Not only do I love Plated’s logo and concept, but ten minutes of watching Nick and Josh and I’m convinced. These two are young, smart and dynamic. They’re going places and taking their concept with them. Gourmet at your door, same day or next. The only thing missing in my opinion are the organic vegetables from my garden out back!

The family will be pleased. They appreciate good food and Plated delivers. My garden blog is all about easy and organic. Plated is easy and gourmet. Perfect fit, wouldn’t you agree?

Try it. I think you’ll like it! Plated

Bloggers in Bloom!

Taking part this year in the Authors in Bloom Blog Hop where you’ll find ten days of gardening tips, recipes and giveaways! Decided the more the merrier and why not? Gardening is merry and fun. :)

authors in bloom

Better yet, creating scrumptuous dishes with our produce makes it all the better. For new gardeners, herbs are a great way to begin the adventure and lend themselves to all types of recipes. A simple way to use herbs are by making pastes and freezing them. Not only will you lock in the flavor, but you’ll make it easy to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all year round.

For a simple basil paste, I use about 4 cups of basil (or 4 oz. stemmed) and approx. 1/4 cup olive oil. Place the leaves in a food processor and drizzle with olive oil. I pulse to begin and then hit a steady high if need be. Transfer paste to freezer-safe bags, flatten to remove all air and place in freeze. That’s it! Fresh herb paste ready to use when you’re ready.

basil paste

Variations include oregano and parsley. Use other herbs that don’t keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers. More

Blueberries are Worth the Wait

I don’t know about you, but I love blueberries. On my yogurt, in my cereal, plucked straight off the bush. They’re delicious and healthy and only have one downside. They stain your teeth. Ugh. Bring a toothbrush out to the garden, right? A little staining isn’t going to stop me from enjoying this delectable fruit!

And mine are finally here, in varying stages of growth.

blueberries almost ready

Really beautiful… And that’s pine bark you see in the background. Blueberries like acid and pine is full of it making it the perfect mulch for your blueberry garden.

gobs of blueberries

You do want one, don’t you? Of course you do! And now is the time to find blueberry plants at your local garden center. Just remember, blueberries need to cross-pollinate so make sure you purchase at least two different varieties for your garden. I have several, including Southern Highbush Sharp Blue, Windsor, Jubilee, Jewel and Gulf Coast. If you can get your hands on some Highbush Misty, they are supposed to get along well with Highbush Sharp Blue. I also have some Rabbit Eye varieties to round out my berry garden.

Special note: Blueberries require a certain amount of “chillng hours” to produce fruit. Chill hours are considered between 32 degrees F and 45 degrees F. I chose these varieties because in Florida we don’t get a lot of cold weather and these bushes require the least amount of chilling hours, ranging from 200-500 hours. So choose wisely according to your growing region.

Granted my clusters should be much plumper but I’ll admit, I had some watering issues throughout the year and my bushes have not fared as well as they should have. Don’t let this happen to you. Plant in organic-rich slightly acidic soil (4.0 — 5.0 pH) and mulch well. Feed with a 12-4-8 fertilizer and prune during the summer months after harvest for more vigorous growth.

This week they should be ready to pick! Unless the birds get them. The other downside to growing my favorite blueberry…

Think “OUTside” the Garden

With so many things to do in the garden, it’s a wonder you can plan for tomorrow, let alone next week or month—but you should try.  The payoff will be well worth it.  From fastidious pruning for an increase in yield, to prepping for vegetable storage when your harvest comes in, you’ll want to be ready for the abundance of joy you’re going to reap!

What should you be thinking about when it comes to crafting this marvelous plan?  Why, your kids for one!  Are they weeding?  Digging?  Bug dispatching?  Wonderful!  Reward them with some “down-time” in the garden, as in “no chores.”  You do want them to come back, don’t you?

teacher's gift

We’ve all heard about creating the classic corn husk dolls, but have you considered using those same husks to make mini baskets?  Basket weaving is an excellent exercise for little fingers to practice dexterity—beats the DS hands down—as well as producing a keepsake for their bedroom, or a share for school.

Growing berries?  Perfect!  How about mixing them with a dash of organic sugar and make your own preserves?  They make great teacher gifts.  Speaking of teachers, how about teaching your children the value of seed saving?  When all these vegetables reach maturity, they’ll be chock-full of seeds.   How about collecting them and storing them in your very own seed packets?  (You can find simple how-to templates in the Kid Buzz section here on the website) More

Get Composting!

Composting is one of the easiest aspects of gardening. It requires little maintenance and produces amazing results. You remember my compost chickpeas, don’t you?

compost chickpeas

Well, they’re aren’t the only thing that’s been growing in the compost pile. I’ve grown, potatoes, squash (that’s a little squash there to the right), tomatoes, beans…the list goes on. And trust me, I do very little when it comes to composting, other than faithfully dumping my kitchen scraps and fall leaves.

Compost is the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

inky compost

Basically, a compost pile consists of plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like.  Formed into a pile and turned occasionally, nature takes its course and the materials break down.  We add compost to our garden soil because it provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants. More

Trying My Hand at Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are one of my favorite beans. I love them in hummus, fresh on my salad, mixed with Indian curry spices… In my opinion, there’s nothing not to love about these beans. Which brings me to my latest venture. As I always say, “Grow what you’ll eat.” I eat chickpeas. I should grow chickpeas. My compost pile seems to have no problem growing them! (That’s them, to the left. They look sort of like ferns.)

 compost chickpeas

Shoot. If my compost pile can do it, I can do it, right?

First up, I amended my soil with the very same compost. Seems a no-brainer. Next, I set out a drip hose (chickpeas like low water and NOT on their leaves) and planted my organic beans along its line. Once they sprouted, I scattered some corn gluten (excellent weed preventer) and voila — chickpea sprouts! NOTE: Wait until you have sprouts before scattering your corn gluten. Otherwise, you guessed it. Like unwanted weeds, your chickpeas won’t sprout, either.

chickpeas

Aren’t they adorable? Chickpeas don’t require a lot of fertilizer, especially nitrogen. As with other legumes, they fix nitrogen into the soil, so choose a fertilizer that is low to nil on the nitrogen. I like a bit of seaweed emulsion and bone meal.

Each plant will yield several pods, each containing about 2 peas. Not a lot, which is why I planted so many! Seeing as how these are doing so well, I’m already planning another row of them. After all, I have 23 beds in my backyard garden. Why not fill them with the stuff I love?

Enjoying Okra

I’m planting okra this week and I’m doubling–no, tripling!–my beds this year. Why? Because I discovered just how easy it is to grow, freeze and fry these babies up for a delicious side dish to our dinner meal. While fried okra might not be the healthiest version of this veggie, it is one of the tastier versions not to mention my son’s favorite. Hint to parents: when you grow your child’s favorite vegetable, you will be amazed by how eager they are to take part in the planting, feeding and harvesting duties of said vegetable. As a woman in charge of a 4000 sq. ft. garden, I’ll take all the assistance I can get!

okra small and large

Now back to the business of growing. Okra are one of the easier veggies to manage. All you need is warm weather, a general fertilizer and water. They thrive on their own without a lot of maintenance on your part and will continually produce for an extended harvest. One thing to note about okra is size. Size does matter. Big okra are tough and un-delightful to eat. Small okra are tender and very delightful to eat, say about 2 – 3 inches in length. For those of you who are scrunching your noses right now because you can’t understand how anyone would eat the slimy pods, try them “fresh from the stem.” Freshly picked okra are not slimy, but rather crisp and delicate in flavor. More

Hello Spring!

With spring upon us (well, some of us :)), it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  By being prepared, you’ll be certain to be ready for your first day of planting.   While this day varies from region to region based on frost dates, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  You can start many of your seeds indoors and get a jump-start on the season!  Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds.  Grow what you’ll eat—not what’s easy.  I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine because no one wanted to harvest it. The “excitement” factor was missing. The “ah-ha” moment, if you will. Rule number one: Gardening should be fun!

2 – Design layout.  If building container beds, get your lumber now.  I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.  Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now will help speed the process later.  “Oh, honey…  About that little favor I mentioned! “

3 – Sharpen your tools.  Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them.  You get my drift. The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it.  Mine is indispensable because it weeds (its primary function), digs, buries and levels.  You gotta love a multi-tasker.  Other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle. 

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows.  Not me.  I’m a busy gal with a bad back — “till as you go” is more my speed!

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you?  It’s too easy not to—just toss, pile, and turn.  Easy as 1-2-3!

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting.  Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close.  Besides keeping the harmony, it provides a natural pesticide helping ease your workload.  The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds and keeping track.  Bear in mind your crop rotation as well—unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine!  For serious techies, try this nifty program for planning your garden.  Really cool.

6 – Check your water supply.  Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads.  And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before spring fever hits and they’re scooped from the shelves by other eager beavers.  Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark…  All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me.  Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn. 

8 – Prepare soil.  Remove weeds and add compost.  100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need.  Also, till your beds ahead of time.  This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil.  If your worms have been busy, be sure to harvest their castings ahead of time, giving the “worm poop” plenty of time to dry before use.  Word to the wise:  after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch).  Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene.  In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

9 – Soil test.  If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot.  You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit.  They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise.  Then, depending on what you’re planting, you might want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. 

10 – Dream.  Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Sharing Seeds

One of my favorite aspects about gardening is sharing…sharing tips, tricks, harvest and of course, seeds–the magic beginning to that next great crop. As a self-sustaining gardener, saving seeds is the name of the game. No more trips to the seed store, we grow our own, harvest our own and start the process anew—all on our own. Wonderful, isn’t it?

But from time to time you come across a fellow gardener doing something awesome and you find you find yourself filled with green. Not the jealous kind or green, or the envious kind. (Well, a little, maybe. I mean, after all, one gander at their growth and you want it for your own!) I’m mostly talking the curious green-thumb kind of green.

“Hey, what’s that you’re growing? How did you do it?” More

Love in the Garden…

***Reposting the ever-popular “If your man were a plant” for your Valentine’s weekend!***

Have you ever wondered about the similarities between plants and men?  Probably not!  Most sane people don’t.  But me, when I’m not writing, I spend a lot of time in my garden—maybe too much—and my thoughts?  Well, they naturally veer in that direction and I realized men and plants have much in common!

Ever wonder, if your man were a plant, which would he be?  Just for fun, I’ve listed a few.

Corn – Tall and slender with silken hair, this man provides well and yields a harvest of golden treasure.  While pleasing to look at, beware:  he also tends to be needy; easily blown over by the slightest of breezes—not the man for you hardier types!

Peanut - This good ole boy is made of solid stuff, on the inside and the outside, not to mention he’s filled with sweet old-fashioned appeal.  For most ladies, it’s a tough combination to resist.  Add the fact the kids love him and you’ve got yourself a marrying man!

Watermelon – This well-rounded fun-loving guy is always welcome at a summer barbecue and usually proves a big hit with the kids.  Prone to balding, his colorful personality distracts one from notice.  However, take heed.  If left to his own device, this one can grow wild and get quite out of hand!

Garlic – This fellow is somewhat distant, as he spends long periods of time out of sight, only to emerge when conditions improve.  Strong and distinct, he’s not for everyone, but given the right environment, he can show great depth, even mellow his pungent tone with time.  A worthy peer, indeed.

Okra – Strong, of firm build, this one likes it hot and enjoys it spicy—very at home in the Big Easy, too.  Generally speaking, he blends well with others, can plant himself anywhere, but caution:  he can be seedy, even a bit slimy at times. More