Posts from the ‘Garden’ Category

One week and an update

One week from today…that’s all I have left at my current job. It’s amazing how fast and yet how slow the last couple of months have gone. I finally have gotten most of my measurements done; I plan on going over my results with my colleagues tomorrow, and I really, really hope they don’t have any other major things I need to measure to wrap things up. Though, even if they do I guess it’s okay since everything is up and running at the moment. I want to be done, but I also want it to be complete before I move on.

I’m still waiting to hear back from the two jobs I’ve been interviewing for, though at this point dragging out the process and delaying actually having to make life-changing decisions is just fine with me! I also just submitted another job application today. The job announcement was forwarded to me as a group email yesterday, and I thought about it overnight. When I came to work today, I found that my boss had independently printed it out and put it on my desk for my consideration. I took that as a sign to just go ahead, so I filled out all that stuff today. We’ll see how that goes, especially as those other two opportunities simmer on the back burner until time to deal with them.

I’ve also been working on the July challenge of trying four new recipes this month to spice up my inspiration in the kitchen. Challenge aside, I’ve been more motivated about cooking in general, which is a relief, though I am still struggling to stay as organized as I used to be. I imagine that once next week rolls around and I’m unemployed, I’ll actually have more time to be creative, too.

The challenge so far has been interesting in that, of the three recipes I have tried so far, all three of them I have approached with a significant amount of skepticism. For all of them, I have experienced the exact same sensation when sitting down to eat it–an odd expression comes over my face as I wonder how on earth this is gong to turn out, and I do not look forward to trying it at all. It’s very strange how I have managed to pick recipes that all elicit this sort of response.

If you recall, I recounted my experience with Recipe #1, chicken tikka masala, in the original post. It was okay at first and I wasn’t really sure how I would rate the dish, but I have to say it was one of those dishes that did improve as leftovers; I guess the spices really had time to mingle and incorporate. So it ultimately turned out to be a success and there was no hesitant facial expression when eating it again!

I also said that I intended to try sweet potato and black bean tacos for Recipe #2. Same facial expression, similar response upon first taste. It’s okay…nothing wrong with it, but I was just inherently skeptical about sweet potato and black beans together inside of a tortilla. DH said it was good, and it certainly was fine, but for leftovers I just ate the potatoes and beans alone instead of done up taco style. I can’t say the combination was one I will repeat in the future.

I decided that for Recipe #3 I would take advantage of the abundance of Swiss chard I have in my garden. I’ve heard so many people say they love sauteed greens, so I thought I should give it a try. Now, despite the irony that I have a green smoothie and a salad for breakfast and lunch every single day, I really don’t like greens that much, especially not on their own. But since sauteed chard comes so highly recommended, I decided I needed to give it a try. Same facial expression when I sat down yesterday, and this time I seriously for real didn’t like it. For one, I had used too much garlic and onion to season it and it was overwhelming to me. Moreover, I just didn’t care for the flavor of the greens (what little I could taste through the seasoning!). DH said it was fine, but in the end I was glad I didn’t make more than two servings of it.

I’ve decided that for my final recipe, I need to try something that I’m actually looking forward to trying. This might require being slightly less healthy than these other three dishes. Maybe more carbs and fat and less veggies? 😉 I did see a risotto recipe a few weeks ago that looked so creamy and delectable…

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I can almost taste it

One thing that helps keep me going is thinking of all the fantastic things I will get to do once all of this is over! I will technically still be working after I defend (my appointment ends in June, I believe), but I don’t intend to do anything too complicated because I definitely need a break! It’s so close now, I can almost taste it all…I am so ready.

First of all, I’m finally going to start cooking again. I do still cook as much as I can, but I’m relying heavily on simple, quick-fix meals in my repertoire that I don’t have to think too much about, or ones that DH knows how to cook, as he does a lot of the meal prep for dinner most days. Unfortunately, most of these meals get repetitive and don’t feature as many veggies as I’d prefer to prepare for us. It takes quite a bit of time to be creative and find new recipes that incorporate a variety of foods to keep things exciting. Once you get them down, they become part of the repertoire, but it’s a slow process for me. Plus, with spring and summer coming, new foods and cooking methods abound! Out with the endless soups and casseroles, in with grilled veggies and fresh fruit. Yum, yum!

Related to food, I also plan to tend a veggie garden again this year. The weather is unseasonably nice for March (usually our snowiest month), and while I don’t want to rush things as there’s always a chance for snow through May, it’s already time to get the garden beds ready. Once I am done, I’ll have time to plant veggies, sow in rotation for continuing harvests through the season, and water (or plan some sort of drip system, which I’m very motivated to do this year). I already have some lettuce coming up in a planter, too! I’m super excited for gardening and plan to enjoy it when I’m done.

I also plan to exercise! I am sick of sitting at this desk in this chair for hours on end. I am not the world’s fittest person anyway, but I do try to get out and do some cardio and strength training every week. That’s gone down the tubes the last month, but I will get back into it when my time frees up. With the weather getting nice, I have grandiose plans of becoming a runner, too (I’ve tried at different times, but I always get off track and never can climb back on). Then more strength training and flexibility and stretching. I know I’m so out of shape right now that it’s going to hurt to get started again, but I’m determined!

There are also a ton of craft and home projects I want to get back into, most of which are on my 101 in 1001 list. The top priority is painting most of the trim and baseboards in the house. I’ve been putting this off for three years, ever since we repainted the walls and thought we might get new carpet and didn’t want newly-painted trim to get banged up. I was a little sloppy with the trim thinking it would get done soon…oops. I just bought the paint last weekend, so I am ready to jump on it. My second project will be making a home inventory.This involves going room to room and cataloging what you own and all its value, essentially what it would cost to replace if your whole house burned down or you got robbed. Your normal home owner’s insurance policy covers some percentage of your home value to go toward personal effects, but you typically have absolutely no idea how much it would actually cost to replace everything, especially if you’ve got nice clothes, fancy electronics, expensive instruments, professional tools and the like. We initially wanted to do this out of curiosity, but it is really practical to know in case you need to adjust your insurance coverage, and better to do it now than after your house burns down or blows away. You can’t just assume it will never happen to you.

I am also determined to finish knitting this one blanket I started over a year ago. Maybe closer to two. It’s knit in individual squares that are then seamed together at the end, and I’ve just been so slow finishing it. It’s bright and colorful and just interesting enough without being too complicated; I have no idea why I haven’t gotten into it. I have had exactly 0 % knitting motivation recently, but I intend to get the darned thing done now.

I also want to get out and about! We’d like to take a trip this summer, but we’re just playing that by ear. Even if we don’t go anywhere big, I’m still ready to get out of the house and go explore Colorado or surrounding areas.

Since I still don’t have a plan (i.e. job) after I finish, I really don’t know how the whole summer is going to play out. Are we going to have to move and sell the house? Will we stay here a few more months, or few more years? So I do have to keep that on the radar. However, I think most of my plans I can do regardless of other circumstances. I’m just so darned ready to get some semblance of a real life back. I’d say it can’t come fast enough, but I still have a lot to do in the meantime!!

Signs of spring

This has been somewhat of an unusual winter. We got a lot of snow early, then nothing until January. Since then we’ve had plenty, including record-breaking snow in February. Now we’re entering March, which to most people is finally the start of spring; for us, it’s traditionally our snowiest month. At least the weather gets much milder between snowstorms, but still. If our whole winter was shifted by a month, then we might actually be home free into summer! But I won’t hold my breath, though. :p

However, while I am skeptical about a milder than usual March, I can’t help but catch a little spring fever from the clear signs of spring I’ve seen. Yesterday, it was supposed to snow a few inches, but it didn’t do anything here. Now the forecast into the weekend is a slow drift toward 60, where it will be for a few days. I could swear I see a few tiny tips of green from new irises springing up in the flower bed. I’ve also seen my first baby calves recently, a sure sign of spring that I look forward to every year! The days are getting longer, too. While I remain realistic about the likely weather events we will yet have, I’ve decided to defy March; I’m hedging my bets and making a few tentative plans.

While the average last frost date isn’t until May 15, I have this insatiable urge to plant something now! And with some careful planning and ingenious tricks, I am going to outsmart March and get some stuff growing. My plan is to plant some lettuce in containers. Lettuce actually prefers the cool weather and won’t do well once the snow stops and the temperatures immediately soar (there’s no intermediate spring-with-no-snow period here). Therefore, sowing into portable containers will allow me to grow them on the deck during these sunny, near-60 days and pull them inside if it gets below freezing. Using three or four containers, I can stagger my planting so I have some plants maturing all the time instead of more than I can eat all at once. And then, when the weather is finally warm enough, I can begin to sow everything in our normal garden plot while already enjoying a few fruits of my labor. Clever, eh?

I’ve never grown lettuce before, but I eat a ton of greens, so this is quite exciting for me. I’m incredibly hopeful that home-grown lettuce will be yummier than store-bought, because, I’ll be honest, I eat it but I don’t love it. We’ll give it a try, though. Last year I tried spinach and chard, also greens I eat often. They did okay but not great, but I’m determined to give them another go. This morning I bought lettuce, chard, and spinach seeds at the local hardware store, so I am ready to get my green thumb on.

So maybe I can get a few seeds into soil this weekend so they can have a few warmer days to germinate outside. There is nothing like fresh, new life poking out of the dead landscape to give one renewed vigor and hope that this desolate time will soon be over. I could say the same about my thesis as well…

Pantry challenge update

Last week I described my Use-Up-My-Pantry-Stash Challenge, so I thought I’d give a quick update. I did succeed in clearing out a couple of items from my pantry last week…unfortunately, they were regularly used items, not stuff I was necessarily trying to get rid of! However, I suppose it’s still an accomplishment, as it does prove that 1. I do actually have useful stuff in the pantry, and 2. that I actually use it. Though relatively inexpensive, having to replace them did notch up my grocery bill for the month by a bit.

One thing that set back my cooking depletion schedule was bringing home a ton of leftovers from a church dinner we had on Friday night. We were able to eat that and our own leftovers for two solid days when I had already planned to make a meal with some frozen meat I wanted to start chipping away at. However, it’s silly to complain about free food and not cooking, so I’m not going to. 🙂

I already sense that the use-up-my-pantry-stash challenge is going to extend way past September anyway. One big impedance to my progress this month is that DH is going out of town for over a week. That means I’ll go through less than half the food we would normally go through in a week. On the other hand, this will be a great opportunity for me to test some new recipes with these less often used ingredients, like quinoa. I’ve cooked it before, and neither DH nor I just loved it. Now that I’ve done some research and am armed with some better cooking techniques  and recipes, I might be able to transform this lonely seed languishing on a shelf into something we both like and that I actually have the confidence to cook on a regular basis.

(And if anyone wants to share a yummy quinoa recipe, I’m all ears!)

Another catch in my plan has been finding some very good deals on items I do use regularly. It was just downright unconscionable to pass up the prices with sales and coupons. Therefore, I did again inflate my pantry stock as well as my grocery spending on the month, albeit a good investment. I don’t feel bad. Hey, I even made twenty cents after coupon on two packages of clearanced gum yesterday! Who could fault me for that? 😉

And if anyone has any good recipes for yellow squash and tomatoes, that would be awesome. I have them coming out my ears, and making meals out of them would be a fantastic way to not buy more groceries and use up the bounty from our garden. This recipe, subbing squash for zucchini and making a homemade marinara sauce, sounds like a winner! I’d love to hear your ideas, too.

So, that’s the current standing of the challenge. I know you are so excited to hear about my pantry every week, but it’s at least a nice change for me to think about food instead of physics once in a while. 🙂

The Use-Up-My-Pantry-Stash Challenge

As I mentioned yesterday, for the month of September I am doing a Use-Up-My-Pantry-Stash challenge at home. Here’s the basic premise: I’m sure I’m no different than most of you out there. I do 99.99% of the grocery shopping, and I try very hard to keep us stocked with a variety of healthy, yummy, and interesting foods for a reasonable price. We eat a lot of produce and use a fair amount of other perishables such as milk and eggs and meat, and the majority of my weekly grocery shopping focuses on keeping those fresh and available at the house. Meanwhile, I continually make note of and maintain a stock of non-perishable items at the house so, for instance, I don’t have to go to the grocery store for a jar of sauce every time I want to make spaghetti. If I can stock up on these when they go on sale or I have a coupon (or both!), even better! I also maintain a stock of frozen items at hand. This includes a lot of meat and whatever fruits and veggies I can freeze, such as beans that I cook and freeze or packages of frozen corn. I also make stock and freeze it for use in recipes.

However, I am sure I am also like many of you in that I stock up my pantry and freezer with items and then forget about them and never use them. Gradually I have become more and more annoyed with the disorganization of my pantry and freezers, which is a clear sign that I should probably go through and reevaluate my stock. Therefore, I decided that September would be a great month to make a challenge to 1. get rid of old, expired stuff or stuff I’m just never going to use, and 2. use the ingredients that I have to make my meals for the month. Once the ingredient is used up, I can either get a fresh (possibly smaller ;)) container to work with in the future or not replace it at all if it wasn’t a huge hit.

Not only will this address organization and efficiency, another important aspect that lead me to this challenge is the money savings of eating the food that I already have. DH and I aren’t strapped for cash, for which I am grateful, but we’ve both realized that it’s easy to, over the course of months, gradually spend more than we realize on the basics. Over time, it can really add up! So, my goal is to not purchase any more food for the month unless it’s produce, milk, or eggs; furthermore, I hope to decrease my total dollar amount in food expenditures by 25-50% on the entire month.

That’s quite a goal, so it’ll be interesting to see how close I come. One key piece to this is, of course, eating from the pantry instead of the grocery store. Maybe I want to take walnuts as a snack for lunch, but I will choose to take almonds, which I already have at home, instead. Maybe I want a yummy Italian loaf to go with my pasta meal, but I could make a loaf of my own bread with ingredients from the pantry instead…and consequently it’ll be yummier and healthier anyway! The second key piece is that our garden is in full force right now, so I should choose to make a meal with tomatoes and squash free from the garden instead of a meal requiring potatoes that I’d have to purchase.

This challenge will hopefully set up a clean slate in both pantry space as well as food budget. It’ll also require me to be creative with meals, which is exciting and scary at the same time! Who knows, I may come up with a recipe that’s a new favorite that we can enjoy for years to come. If anything of particular interest comes out of the challenge, I’ll be sure to share it with you. 🙂

A garden update

In the past week or so, we’ve gotten a few more things out of the garden. There’s been more squash, of course, part of which I used in a nice, big casserole for a dinner at church last week. There’s also a strange Siamese squash growing now, like two squash in one. Our squash plant is a total monster, and it’s trying to overtake one of my tomato plants, but I dare not disturb either one of them. I just wish it had started growing the other direction where there were no other plants. Ah well.

I also have harvested tons of tomatoes, which is very exciting (and by tons I mean a couple of pounds so far). Our tomato production in previous years has been paltry at best, but this year we finally have enough to do something with! In fact, last night for dinner I made spaghetti sauce from scratch using all the tomatoes I’ve been collecting the last couple of weeks (they are small, so it took a few). It turned out pretty well, very light and fresh. I sauteed garlic and onion in olive oil, then added some salt, a little more olive oil, and the peeled and chopped tomatoes and let it simmer/boil for, oh, maybe twenty minutes or so. My tomatoes are a bit watery, so I needed to let it reduce a bit. Finally I added some oregano and then some fresh basil at the end and served with fresh angel hair pasta. Voila! Home-made from my own tomatoes, and, with the exception of the olive oil and salt, it’s conceivable one could make this entire sauce directly from their own garden.

Our pinto beans, so beset by bunnies earlier in the season, are now producing pods! That’s very exciting, though I was disappointed in the small number of plants that came up from seed this spring. I couldn’t figure out why we got such a poor yield, but I’m thankful for the ones I have, especially since they got munched on by bunnies for many weeks before we got a perimeter fence up. Likewise on the black-eyed peas; even fewer of those plants came up. But I’m happy for the few survivors anyway.

Finally, I’m planting more spinach and chard for a late summer/fall crop. They do very well and are even frost tolerant, so I can harvest stuff from the garden well into the end of the year. As the rest of the garden plants run their course, I can replace them with greens, too. I’m curious to see if I can sustain myself on greens for some amount of time, be it a couple of days or a couple of weeks. I go through a fair amount eating a green smoothie and a salad almost every day, so we’ll see how it goes!

Squashzilla

While we were gone for a week, I often wondered how our garden was doing. Was it getting plenty of water? Were any veggies growing? Did anything die? When we got back, we found our garden was a little wild but doing pretty well.

Our tomato plants are going a little crazy, which is great! This is the first year we’ve had any luck at all with tomatoes. They are kind of crowding our bell peppers, but they don’t seem to mind; there are half a dozen little peppers coming along (which is also the best luck we’ve ever had with peppers, too).

The most amazing sight to behold, however, was the gigantic squash we had. When we left, I couldn’t remember seeing a squash any bigger than my pinkie finger. But in ten days’ time one had developed to be a monster. We harvested it, along with a smaller one (what I would usually consider normal!) and set them out for comparison (even with vegetables, I can’t quit measuring!).

Squashzilla is nearly one foot long! The other squash is the same size you’d get in the grocery store, or even slightly larger. For reference, here’s how squashzilla compares with my dachshund, Murphy, as a reference.

Squashzilla appears to be not much smaller than the main body of our pup! That’s quite an amazing squash. It’s also amazing that I got a picture of Murphy sitting calmly beside the squash instead of sniffing and investigating.

Now, I just have to decide what to do with these squash and the many more that will inevitably follow. I will usually either bake or grill them, which is simple and very yummy. I often saute cubed squash with other veggies for use in main dishes. Feel free to share your favorite squash recipes, though, because I envision having more than I can possibly deal with in the near future!