Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Garden Goodness

This weekend I had the pleasure of using quite a few of our garden plants for various things around the house. Here's what we made:

Raspberry iced tea: We steeped the tea bags with the raspberries (in a strainer or tied up in a coffee filter works nicely) and some lemon balm. Then, we added the sugar while the concentrated tea was still warm so the sugar would melt. Finally, we added the appropriate amount of water to get two quarts and enjoyed some ice cold goodness!

We picked some blackberries and black raspberries from some of our bushes that have been thriving in the heat wave. We added them to cereal, yogurt, and just enjoyed them to munch on. Nothing like living off the land!

I added some fresh basil to a store bought pizza (of course purchased with a coupon that was doubled during super doubles at HT) and it really helped to perk up the flavor. I've also added chives or cilantro in the past and that's been yummy too.

Benny added some fresh cilantro to his enchilada casserole. This really brightened the flavor of all of the canned ingredients. It's also a nice pop of color in the dish.

Lastly, and this one I haven't gotten to yet, I plan to do a few cut flower arrangements with the herbs and flowers fresh from the garden. The calla lilies are blooming now, as are the Easter lilies I bought last year (after Easter for 75 cents a plant... score!), and I think these would be gorgeous in a small glass vase or floating the lilies in a shallow bowl. The lemon balm and mint would add some nice fragrance to wild flower arrangements on the mantle and in the kitchen window.

So, how does your garden grow this week? Are you enjoying any of the fruits of your labor? I'd love to hear from you! Here's to living and saving green in the summer garden.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Things I'm Loving

Today's post is all about things I'm loving, especially for outdoors this summer. I hope you enjoy the pictures and links and that they inspire you to think about how you can make your outdoor space more enjoyable.

Rain Barrel I'm loving this from Lowe's and think it might be the next purchase to improve our garden area. It will certainly make watering in front of the house easier and will help to recapture some rain water, rather than using our potable well water for watering the flowers.

This hammered spray paint from Rustoleum is helping us to transform some slightly rusted white iron outdoor furniture (thanks to wonderful kitchen diva Aunt Debbie and ranger Uncle David). The white would have been beautiful in the right setting, but this paint felt more in keeping with our colors and outdoor design. With some outdoor pillows, it will be perfect for relaxing on the deck in the evenings.

I'm loving having my fresh herbs this summer to use in the kitchen. The lemon balm is a great addition to cut flower arrangements. I'd love to have an herb basket, something with a nice handle and a low frame, to carry around the yard when I gather herbs and flowers to keep both hands free when I need them. I'm thinking something along these lines, with the hope that I can find one at Goodwill or a yard sale. This one came from an Etsy shop, Carol's Cupboard, but it's a bit out of my price range for a basket.

Along those lines, I'm loving our library's current collection of landscaping and gardening books. It's allowed us to get some great ideas for free, as well as providing me with resources on how to deal with some of the pruning details and soil amendments that I had questions about. I've also found some fantastic summer reads at the library, many of which come from the staff pick section, which is a nice way to pick up something quickly.

Lastly, I'm loving adding to our pottery mug collection. I found a cool one last weekend at Goodwill in Raleigh for $2.50... score! It's the perfect colors for our kitchen and living room and has a nice shape. I don't have any like this stoneware mug that I found on Etsy. I like the shape of this mug, and the handle seems to be large enough to suit our needs and taste.

So, what about you? What are you loving this summer? Had any fantastic Goodwill finds or ideas for your summer garden? Here's to living and saving green in your summer ventures!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer Batch Cooking

This summer, I'm exploring more of the idea of batch cooking. The idea has been rolling around for a while, but a conversation with a friend last week really helped to get the idea solidified.

First, I'm doing more crock pot batch cooking for us (whole chickens for shredded chicken for casseroles, soups, chicken salad, etc., pots of beans for three bean salad, beans and rice, baked beans, etc., and other recipes I come across), so that the freezer is always stocked with the essentials to put together an easy and healthy meal. This is really easy in the summer when produce is so abundant at home and at the farmer's market. (And I love to cook apples in the crock pot in the fall... yummy) I've also made quite a few vinegar based salads, which will keep in the fridge for a week or two. (I'll post my bean salad recipe later today, and maybe my kitchen diva aunt's squash salad recipe.)

But to take it a few steps further, Michele offered to teach me how to do some canning this summer. She has some great recipes for a squash relish and raspberry/blackberry jam, and if the tomatoes turn out great this summer, we might try making our own tomato sauce. I'm so excited about this! It will be great to have some of this summer's harvest on the pantry shelf for fall and winter, and will definitely save us some money in the food budget. (Not to mention the jam will make great Christmas gifts.)

We've also talked about creating a freezer supper club with people, so that we'll all have well stocked freezers with a variety of things. For example, one month, I might agree to make a lasagna, while Michele might make a soup and Beth might make a chicken casserole. We'd each triple the recipe and make one batch for each person, so that we'd all end up with one of each thing. I'm really hoping that this will take off, because I think it would truly simplify life for everyone and give us the chance to try some new recipes.

What are you enjoying making this summer in the kitchen? Have any great canning recipes you'd like to share? (It looks like we'll have an abundance of squash and peppers, so send those recipes my way!) Here's to living and saving green in the summer kitchen!

Community Living at it's Best

This summer we have the pleasure of having my cousin live with us. She's in grad school here in the High Country and needed a place to stay for the summer while she takes classes and has her first practicum experience at the speech and language clinic on campus. It's been a great time to get to know her better, since we kind of drifted apart during those high school and college years.

One thing that she's helped us to think about more is vegetarian cooking and eating. She's a vegetarian, primarily out of her love of animals, and has been for several years now. While we're not vegetarian, we do have an understanding of how many livestock animals are raised in this country and feel that we have a moral obligation to use our purchasing power to curtail this. So, for us, this means purchasing less meat overall. (Did you know that it takes a vast amount of petroleum resources and grain stock to raise a beef cow, than to support a vegetarian lifestyle?) Secondly, it means purchasing from reputable sources, such as the ones we find at our local farmer's market or Earth Fare. By simply doing these two things, we can feel much better about how our food is grown and raised, and it means that we have a smaller carbon footprint, since our meat doesn't have to travel as far or use as many petroleum based machines for processing.

With my cousin living here, we've also learned a lot about communal living, which is something our small group has explored for a while. We've shared several meals together, meaning that the work is less on all of us to prepare that meal. She's been able to enjoy having a dog around (which she always wanted as a kid, but couldn't have due to asthma in the family), and Lavender has learned to be much more social with one more person. She's helping to keep the upstairs part of the house neat and tidy, which means less work for us. And it means that while we're on vacation, she'll be here keeping an eye on things and making sure things go smoothly here at home, including the vegetable harvest.

Later this summer, we're hoping to add another friend to the communal living arrangement for a few weeks while his house is being finished. He's offered to help us with some major landscaping projects in exchange for the room, as well as lending a hand in the kitchen with his excellent culinary skills. And, since his family will be using our basement to store their things for the short term, it'll be incentive to clean out the basement.

We're hoping that this will better prepare us for the one-day basement apartment and sharing the house with a renter. It's also definitely helping us complete some projects that we might not otherwise get done, or would put off due to the time/cost investment.

What are your thoughts on sharing your space with someone else? Could you do it, or would it be too much? How could you make it work for everyone to provide a better quality of life? What would you learn from each other?

Here's to living and saving green, and spreading that beyond your household!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Let the Mercury Rise...

It's officially summer in the High Country... it hit the 80 degree mark inside yesterday. With summer comes a few tips for staying cool and making the most of a hot day at home (yay, school's out for summer!).

In the summer, I generally try to get up early still to make the most of the cooler morning temperatures. This is when I do any baking that needs to be done and I try to cook ahead for the evening. I use the crock pot a lot in the summer, since it doesn't heat the house up as much as the oven, and to get it ready for evening meal time, I need to get it going early in the day. For example, on Tuesday, I made a batch of turkey soup in the crock pot for friends who just had a new baby. It cooked all day and used way less energy than making it on the stove top. Yesterday, I baked a carrot cake (from scratch... used the recipe in the New Best Recipes Book from Cook's Illustrated... totally yum), early in the day so that I wasn't roasting in the afternoon. You can also keep things cool at meal time by cooking on the grill or having a no cook meal, like salad and sandwiches or antipasti (which I prefer to sandwiches, mostly).

After the baking and meal prep work is done, I move on to laundry, since I can hang this outside during the sunny day and be guaranteed that it's dry by dinner time or sooner. While the laundry goes, I might take the opportunity to work in the garden weeding or planting, so that the morning temps make it easier and the moisture from the dew helps the weed pulling go easier. I'm loving our veggie garden right now... tons of baby green tomatoes and today I spied our first baby bell pepper! (I'll post pics when I can snag Benny's phone to get some. They're so cute!)

I usually devote the afternoon to errands, since these are generally to air conditioned buildings, like the library and Post Office. When I don't have errands to run, I spend the time relaxing reading, watching a movie, or doing some other low key house thing (crafts, organizing a closet, etc.). I try to make sure the curtains are drawn during this part of the day, at least at the front of the house, so the heat of the sun doesn't pour in. (This does cut down on the natural light, but I still get plenty from the back windows.) This is also when we have the windows open wide and the ceiling fans on. We keep things this way throughout the evening until the sun starts to dip, and then the curtains open up again. We're loving the cross breeze we get with our new screen door across from the front windows and are hoping to install a screen door on the front door sometime this summer.

Summer time is also when the bed gets a makeover... the down duvet comes off and the lightweight quilt goes on. We transition from flannel or sateen sheets to cotton, and may use a lightweight blanket. This means that we can keep the window open wide and still stay warm enough when the evening chill hits, without roasting under the down comforter.

All in all, these things enable us to stay comfortable without running the air conditioning. (Although we may run it for a few weeks in August if it gets excessively hot and humid.) So, how about you? What do you do to stay cool in the summer? How do you keep those energy bills low (and save on fossil fuel use) when the mercury rises? Here's to living and saving green, even in the heat of summer!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Another weekend packed with fun and savings

Last night, Benny and I had another cheap (ok, inexpensive) date night. This time, Benny had found two online reservations at Chick-Fil-A for their new Spicy Chicken Sandwich. Since they were rolling this out this weekend, they were giving away free sandwiches, as long as you had a reservation. We combined this with our calendar coupon for a free water and fruit cup, added a kid's meal (traded in the toy for icecream), and ended up spending all of $3.22 for the meal. Oh, did I mention that we had a sandwich leftover for lunch today? Not too shabby!

Then, we were off to Lowe's again for more plant hunting deals and to find a shepard's crook to hand the bird feeder on. I found tons of petunias and begonias on the clearance rack at Lowe's for ten cents a piece (they were just in need of some dead-heading and water), along with some squash and cucumber plants in peat pots for the veggie garden. Once we used our coupon and gift card, we paid about $3 there also. All in all, a $6 date night isn't too bad at all!

Today, we got up bright and early and went to one of our favorite breakfast places, Stick Boy Bakery, for sticky buns, courtesy of our gift card from one of my students. Then, we were off to the plant sale at a local church where we found tons of perennials and lots of knowledgeable local gardeners. After making our selections, we walked out with our loot... 10 plants for $8.50, and all guaranteed to make it through a Watauga County winter! Apparently, this is an annual event at this church and the proceeds go toward helping families in need in the community, so we'll definitely be back again next year.

When we got home, we unloaded the car and I spent all morning planting things and transplanting some things around the yard and gardens. This afternoon, we had some great small group friends come over to help us prep the squash and cucumber bed, where we planted 9 plants, including those in peat pots and some that one of my students had grown for science fair and donated to my little veggie garden. (I have fantastic students!) We added some organic composted manure to the soil and are hoping for some rain tomorrow afternoon to give things a good soaking. With four of us, this took much less time than we thought, so we had an early dinner (steamed shrimp, veggies, and wild rice--all bought with coupons from my stash and Corinne's) and enjoyed some time chatting around the table.

How does your garden grow this weekend? Have you seen any butterflies or humming birds dancing around? Here's to living and saving green, and having fun doing it!